An A to Z guide to caring for your new puppy
Welcoming a new pup into your house can be exciting, wonderful... and kinda hard too. We're here to help!
This list is still a work in progress, but there's enough here to get you started. And even if you don't find what you're looking for just yet, there are some lovely puppy pics to look at.
A is for arrival
Before your new puppy arrives, there are a few things you need to get sorted.
It's really important for things like toilet training to have some consistency to when your puppy will be fed and taken outside (and who will do it). Now you don't have to have military precision, but you do need to establish a rhythm to the way the house works so your pup has something to adapt to. Remember your pup will initially need plenty of quiet nap time during the day.
Your pup also needs consistency with commands. You might have bought yourself a genius, but don't expect your pup to differentiate when one person says 'down' as command to sit, another says 'down' when he jumps up.
Don't go crazy with collars and beds as these things tend to get grown out of and chewed up rapidly. You just need food and water bowls, some chew toys, washable bedding and maybe a crate.
Where ever your pup is going to be spending time, make sure:
- loose cords and cables are secured/hidden
- chewable plants and furniture are removed or out of reach
- things like remote controls are kept out of reach
- any good rugs are put away until toilet training is well and truly established
- there are plenty of puppy-friendly things to keep your pup amused and busy.
B is for bothersome barking
It’s the end of your first day with the new puppy. You’re tired, she’s tired. Everyone needs a good night’s sleep.
You take your tired puppy to her comfy new bed. It might be in the laundry or bathroom, or maybe you’ve got a confinement crate or play pen. You shut the door, take a few steps away and suddenly, your sleepy puppy is wide awake and barking or whining at the top of her voice.
You think: ‘What have I a got myself into?!’
First, you’re not alone. This happens to almost everyone with a new puppy. Even if the first night is quiet, don’t be surprised if the barking starts on the second or third night. Or she might bark when you leave her alone during the day.
Your puppy won’t be used to being alone. And it’s natural and instinctive for her to call out for someone to come, just as babies do. She’s not being bad – she’s just being a normal puppy.
It’s also natural and instinctive for you to want to go to her when she’s barking and comfort her.
The problem is that this reinforces the behaviour. She barks, you come to her and she learns that barking is the best way to communicate with you! The more you respond to her barking, the more you teach her to bark. If she doesn’t get attention from barking, she’ll (eventually) give up on that method of communication. Note that punishment doesn't work to stop barking and crying – it just increases the stress (and can damage your budding relationship).
Your goal is to teach her to relax when you are not around and/or she is confined. The key to this is going to her and providing her with attention ONLY when she is quiet. You need to be both patient and consistent.
It is important not to wait and wait while she makes more and more noise and then go to her. This teaches her that persistence pays off! The more you do this, the harder it will be for the puppy to unlearn this reinforcement. If you stop reinforcing a behaviour, eventually it will stop. The more it has been reinforced, the longer this process will take.
You can help your puppy to accept being alone or confined more quickly by:
- introducing her to the confinement area gently
- providing plenty of good quality chew toys as a distraction
- getting her used to confinement during the day with you around
Increased mental stimulation during the day will also help to tire your puppy out. And maybe help both of you sleep better at night time!
C is for chewing on everything
Between the ages of 3 months and 6 months, your pup is going to lose his 28 baby teeth and get 42 new adult chompers.
While he's going through this intense teething period, he's going to chew, and chew, and chew.
You can't and shouldn't try and stop the chewing. But you do need to direct it toward safe (and non-precious, non-living) things.
Pups have individual preferences about types of things they like to chew. Try and mimic these preference with the toys you buy. The pup who is attacking the wooden legs of your furniture might like hard rubber toys. The pup going for your clothes could be into ropes or stuffed toys. The one that likes fingers and toes might be impressed with squeaky toys that move. Sometimes it's just trial and error.
Toys that stimulate mind and not just jaws can be good too. Bored dogs tend to be destructive dogs.
D is for diet
Whether you haven't had a puppy in a while or you've never had one before, don't be surprised if you feel overwhelmed when you look at the pet food section of the supermarket or pet shop.
Let's bust through the marketing and keep things simple.
Do I need to feed puppy food?
Pups do have different dietary requirements than adults. Their growing bones need the right balance of calcium and phosphorus and they usually need more calories than an adult dog of a similar size would – they simply burn more energy by growing!
So ready-made puppy food is a convenient way to meet your pup's needs.
Is one brand better than all the others?
Not really. Like many foods that we eat, there are good quality and poor quality versions. We stock Hills and Royal Canin, but there are lots of other good ones. Price doesn't always reflect quality.
When you get a new pup, it's easier to use the food the breeder was giving at first. If you want to change to something, do it slowly over about 5 days. This will help prevent diarrhoea.
You could make your own, but honestly, it takes a fair bit of phaffing around getting the nutrient balance right.
Should I feed wet or dry puppy food?
It's up to you. There are pros and cons for each.
Most puppies will prefer a wet food when you first get them home. You might have been given some kibble by the breeder only to be surprised when your puppy doesn't seem interested. A lot of the time, breeders will moisten the dry food, so try adding a bit of water to the food and see if this creates interest.
And that's the main difference between wet and dry food: water. They both have protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, but wet food has a lot more water. So the nutrients are sort of 'diluted' meaning you usually have to feed a greater amount of wet food to get the same amount of calories/nutrients than if you just feed dry.
A very, very rough rule of thumb is 1 cup of dry food has about the equivalent calories/nutrients to 3 cups of wet food.
Wet food is usually more palatable but dry food tends to be more convenient and can help with teeth too (although feeding standard kibble isn't usually enough to keep teeth clean).
How many times a day should I feed my puppy?
The younger and lower body weight the puppy, the more frequently she will need to eat. This is because puppies are not born with the ability to convert body tissues into blood glucose. We all need a constant supply of glucose in our blood to keep our brains (and bodies) functioning.
Adults can breakdown fat and convert it to glucose during periods of fasting, but with puppies, all their blood glucose comes from what they eat. When the glucose from food gets used up, they need to eat more or risk the brain showing signs of a lack of energy: lethargy, seizures, coma and even death.
If you have a Toy Poodle or Shihtzu or Chihuahua (ie something little), you will probably need to be feeding around 4 times a day until 12 weeks or longer. If you have a Labrador, you could be moving from 3 feeds to 2 by 12 weeks. Each pup is different, we can advise you on what your pup needs when you come in for a new puppy check or puppy vaccination.
How long should I feed puppy food for?
Again this one depends on size, or rather how much your puppy to going to grow. Small breed dogs have generally finished growing by 8–12 months, so they can go onto an adult food then. Some giant breeds are still growing at 18 months, so they need puppy food much longer.
E is for exercise
A common question we get is, 'When is it okay to take him with me on a run?'
There are no hard and fast rules here – and there's almost no good scientific evidence to guide us. So common sense needs to prevail.
We've got two types of exercise: natural play and forced exercise. Forced exercise is anything beyond what your pup would do when playing with other dogs his age. It includes running and jogging as well as repetitive ball fetching. Unless you're a power walker or mountaineer, walking is not forced exercise.
Once your pup is around 5 or 6 months, he will probably be able to keep up with you on a run. The problem is that at this age, he's a teenager without the brains to know when stop – he'll go until he drops! It's possible that this kind of forced exercise could place stress on his growing skeleton and cause issues later on.
That said, not doing exercise is likely to cause worse issues.
Basically, playing and walking are good. You might want to wait to start the long daily runs until your pup's bones finish growing.
F is for farting
As funny as farts are, there are times when you look at your pup (while pinching your nostrils) and think, 'Holy moly, is that normal?'
First, let's start with what farts are. Farts are basically excess gas in the intestines. The gas comes from:
- swallowed air (especially in dogs that gobble food quickly and in pushed-in face dogs who mouth breathe more than nose breathe)
- the enzymatic process of digestion
- the bloodstream (gas can diffuse from the blood into the bowel)
- bacteria within the intestines
Most of the gas passed doesn't smell (although it can cause remarkably loud tooting). The smelly ones tend to contain hydrogen sulphide and come from bacteria in the colon. Fibre isn't digested by your pup's digestive enzymes. But it is eagerly digested by gas-producing bacteria. So, fibre-rich diets tend to promote these bacteria and those sort of farts.
Although flatulence is a normal part of life, if your pup's farts are off the charts, you might want to:
- discourage rapid eating (put an upturned small bowl or tennis ball into a larger bowl)
- avoid beans (eg soy, peas)
- avoid fresh or dried fruits
- feed smaller meals more frequently rather than one larger meal daily
- feed a mixture of wet and dry (dry generally has more fibre in it)
- avoid feeding foods containing lactose (milk, cheese)
- avoid canned food that contains carregeenan (this is a texturing agent that interacts with gut bacteria)
- change to a 'high digestibility' or 'low residue' diet (these tend be digested and absorbed before they get to the colon)
You can also try probiotics. But remember the bacteria producing the gas are in the colon and it's hard to imagine that swallowed bacteria are going to go through the whole digestive tract to get to the colon and have an effect.
Charcoal tablets and biscuits don't do much to fix farting.
G is for grooming and bathing
Yes, you can wash your puppy before she is fully vaccinated. If she's grubby, she can be washed. Just make sure you use a very gentle shampoo.
For pups like Shih tzus who have hair in front of their eyes, it is good to trim this. Lot's of people think that because the hair grows there 'naturally' that it should stay there.
First, there's not much 'natural' left in today's pooches – when you remember that all dogs descend from the wolf, it's easy to see how much we have manipulated their genetics.
Second, no one can see properly through a hair hedge. And training is so much easier when your pup can see!
If you're nervous about using scissors around the face: use blunt ended scissors, try while she is asleep, use someone else to hold and distract her (but never tightly restrain a puppy) or pop down to your local groomer.
It's a great idea to get her used to having her feet touched, even if her nails don't need doing yet.
As pups go from baby fur to adult coat, don't be surprised if you see a bit of dandruff.
How often you need to brush her depends on what sort of furry friend you've bought.
H is for help!
No one expects you to know everything about puppy care. If you need help with anything:
If you've got an emergency and it's after hours, you can call:
- Advanced Vet Care (in Kensington) on 9092 0400
- CARE vet (in Collingwood) on 9417 6417
- AEC (in Moorabbin/Highett) on 9532 5261
H is also for hiccups, which are completely normal in puppies!
I is for insurance
Should I get pet insurance?
People often ask us if pet insurance is worth it. This is a tricky one – the cost of pet insurance will be somewhere between $30 and $130 per month. But the value of it depends on your budget, your attitude toward risk, how you use it and the policy you get.
If it comes down to a yes or no answer, it has to be yes. We can now provide levels of care that rival human healthcare. But with no tax payer support funding pet treatments, this care can be very expensive, and the bill is all yours. Insurance can literally be a life saver in some cases.
What insurance should I get?
As pet insurance has become more popular in Australia, more and more companies have entered the market. There are now dozens of providers with a range of products. Choice is nice, but as each varies in price, benefits and limitations, it's also incredibly confusing.
Putting things simply, having pet insurance means that you can claim back part or all of your vet fees (up to an annual limit). What you can claim for depends on the type of policy. There are three basic types:
- accident only – this covers your pup for things like cuts and fractures. It's generally the cheapest and has the fewest exclusions. It won't cover disease or illness, and it won't cover things that you might consider an accident like eating rat bait or rupturing a cruciate ligament
- accident and illness – this covers accidents as above but also 'illness', which is a bit of misnomer because it covers things where your pet isn't 'ill' such as a ruptured cruciate and post-op rehab. Most policies don't cover dentals
- comprehensive – this is accident and illness coverage plus some routine healthcare like vaccinations and worming. This is the most expensive type of policy
When you look at different policies, it's important to look beyond the monthly fee. You also want to find out:
- what percentage of the vet bill is covered (this is the reimbursement rate) – this varies from ~65% to 100% and may change as your pet gets older
- the excess amount, which is the amount excluded from your claim and varies from $0 to $150 – note that some policies only apply the excess for the first time your pet is treated (each year), while others apply it to every vet visit
- the annual limit, which is the amount you can claim per year – this varies from ~$5000 to $15,000+
- pre-existing conditions – now this isn't generally an issue for a new pup with no history of illness, but beware that coming to the vet for a bout of diarrhoea (very common in pups) could see you unable to claim for gastrointestinal illness for a year or two – if you're going to get insurance, get it early!
- exclusions – some breeds will have exclusions – if you've got a purebred, read the fine print
I is also for icy poles! For pet-friendly recipes to you through the hot 'dog days' of summer, here is an article I wrote for Australia Post Pet Insurance.
K is for krate training
Okay, so crate doesn't start with a K, but lots of people ask us about crates and C was taken. And there must be some language where krate is legit.
First things first – a crate won't teach your pup anything – that's your job, you can just use the crate as a tool. It's also entirely possible to successfully raise and train a puppy without a crate.
If you use a crate properly, it can can help your puppy realise that it’s okay to be alone for a while and that confinement isn't scary (helpful if she ever needs to be confined for travel or illness).
A crate can also stop your pup from doing things your don't want her to do (eg chewing walls and furniture) and creating bad habits while you can't supervise her.
Misused, a crate becomes a nasty cramped jail cell. We're not looking to have a puppy-in-box.
When you're home and able to supervise her, your puppy should be out of the crate so that she can learn about the world. You can have it open though, so that she can come and go. Having her comfortable with the crate is good goal.
If your puppy is having accidents in the crate, it may be because:
- you are asking her to hold on longer than the she is able. Change your schedule or else she'll learn that keeping her sleeping area clean isn't a priority
- she isn't well – lost of puppies develop diarrhoea in a new environment
- she was raised/housed in a cage before you got her (especially the case with pet shop puppies, shelter puppies and puppy farm puppies) – she's already got used to living close to her own waste
Anytime your puppy is soiling the crate, get the puppy out of the crate for a while and use a different confinement method (eg play pen or a baby gate across a small room). Having an enclosure that your pup can see out of tends to be better and less stressful than being behind a solid door.
M is for microchipping
A microchip is a grain of rice sized device that, when scanned by a reader, shows a number. This number is linked to your details via a computer database.
The chip itself doesn't store your details, nor is it a tracking device (although you can get tracking collars now).
The chip is inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades, where it roughly stays for the rest of your pup's life. We say 'roughly' because the chips can migrate a bit (the older ones used to migrate a lot).
The system isn't perfect, mainly because we have more than one database in Australia. Sometimes when we scan a pet, we still have trouble finding the right database with the owner's details. This is usually only a problem with pets chipped interstate.
Probably the biggest issue is when puppies come to their new home with a chip, but the new owner details aren't updated on the database. It's not uncommon for us to scan a 5 or 6 year old dog and find the chip is still linked to the breeder's name and number.
M is also for mouthing
Puppies spend a lot of time interacting with the world via their mouths. This is normal but not exactly welcome when it comes to your hands, feet and clothing.
You can't stop your pup from chewing on things, but you can train him not to mouth people. Having chew toys that act as a substitute for your flesh is important but you can also teach your pup something called 'bite inhibition'.
You've seen pups playing with each other – they rough and tumble and they do bite each other. Sometimes a bite will be too hard and you'll see the victim yelps and stops playing (temporarily). This teaches the biter to control the intensity of his bite so that play can happen without interruption. Pups can learn bite inhibition from people too.
Initially, let him play with your hands until he bites hard. Immediately make a high-pitched yelp (or make a stern/gruff noise if you're into yelping) and make you hand go limp. Your pup should seem startled and stop mouthing – praise him for stopping. Repeat this two or three times (over about 15 minutes).
If the noise making alone doesn't slow him down, try using a time out. This is where you still yelp, but instead of your hand just going limp, you remove your hand and ignore him for about 20 seconds. If he stops, resume play again but if he keeps trying to mouth you, get up and walk away for 20 seconds. Again, repeat this a few times.
Once your pup is not longer mouthing hard, repeat the same procedure with less and less hard bites. Over time, you can teach him to be very gentle and eventually not mouth at all.
Note that there are some things that you might be doing that actually encourage mouthing, such as:
wiggling or waving your fingers or toes in his face
touching him of the side of the face to encourage play
sharply pulling your hands away when he bites – this encourages lunging and grabbing
slapping or hitting him for mouthing – this just usually causes him to bite harder as you've just escalated the aggression in the play (or you can make him fear you, which can trigger real aggression)
If your pup starts showing signs of aggression, come talk to us as soon as possible. This isn't usually something a pup grows out of and you can end up with a dangerous pet.
N is for neutering
Unless you are going to breed from your dog (and before you do, think about the thousands of dogs sitting in shelters needing a home), we strongly recommend neutering.
Neutering (or spay for females and castration for males) has both health and behavioural benefits. There are very, very few risks associated with neutering and no health or behavioural benefits to not doing it – unless you're involved in dog fighting or something else where aggression is good.
Spaying a female lowers her risk of mammary (breast) cancer, ovarian/uterine cancer and uterine infections (called pyometra, which can be life-threatening). It also costs less than caring for a litter, and is about a quarter of the cost of a caesarian.
Castrating a male reduces marking, aggression and roaming. It also reduces being constantly 'shirt fronted' by Tony Abbott, sorry, not Tony, by other dogs, who see your male pup as a threat.
Around 5 or 6 months is a generally a good age for most breeds, as this is just before puberty really kicks in. For some giant breeds we may wait a bit longer. We don't do the juvenile neutering done by shelters and some breeders.
O is for other pets (cats, rabbits etc)
If you already have other pets living in your house, try and get a pup that has been raised with other small animals. Pups that have got used to cats or rabbits or guinea pigs living around them are less likely to see them as prey.
When it comes to introducing your pup to your other pets, take things slowly.
At first, you just want the two of them to be able to see each other, but not touch. One of the easiest ways to do this is have the smaller pet in a secure enclosure (up on a table) or behind a gate and let the pup see it, but then keep the pup focused on you with some tasty treats or a toy. Success here is for the pup to be able to be distracted away from the other pet and eventually ignore it altogether. This may take several goes/days/weeks.
Once your pup can ignore the other pet, you can move to the next phase. This is where you get someone to settle the other pet in a room and then you bring the pup into the room (but not near the other pet). Again, your mission is to keep the pup's attention on you while the other pet is allowed to move around (or be carried) at the other end of the room. Your pup can look at the moving pet, but still needs to be able to be distracted by you.
If your pup can stay calm, she can then move closer to the other pet. While you talk to her calmly, you let her look at the other pet then get her attention again – repeat this until she appears relaxed at looking at the other pet.
The next stage is allowing the other pet to roam freely around the room, while still keeping your pup's attention on you. It's worth having the pup on a leash in case she lunges at the other pet as it comes close. If the situation is remaining calm, you may be able to let them sniff each other (but be vigilant). The goal is to be able to still get your pup to respond to you even when sniffing the other pet.
If your pup become totally fixated by the other pet and cannot be distracted, go back a step and work there for a while.
There are some dogs who just cannot be around smaller pets. Apart from being unable to get through the above steps, warning signs that you have one of those dogs are:
- once your dog gets excited she becomes uncontrollable and won't listen to you
- your dog stalks other animals
- your dog displays aggression around its possessions or territory (if this is happening, talk to us asap).
R is for regularly popping into the vet
Not for anything more than to say hello, get weighed and score a treat or two from the nurses.
Dogs who associate the vet with nice things feel much less stressed when they really need to come and see us.
S is for socialisation
Like with insurance, this entry is still in progress, but don't let slow typing stop you socialising your pup! Until she's fully vaccinated, avoid dog parks, but do get her out and about and mixing with dogs (that you know to be healthy, friendly and vaccinated) and other people.
T is for toilet training
Toilet training can be one of the most frustrating aspects to having a puppy. Did you know that people are more likely to surrender a dog for house soiling than for biting?
If you're having trouble, don't despair! A housetrained pup is within reach of most of us. And habits for life are formed during puppyhood.
Apparently if you grew up with dogs, you have a better chance of reading their body language and being able to tell when they need to go to the toilet. If you had a dog in the first 6 years of your life (when the human brain rapidly develops language ability), you might be good at picking an impending pee or poo. If not, you'll just have to work a bit harder.
Once upon a time, we all had backyards and front yards that made getting outside with your pup quick and easy. Today's apartment living makes toilet training a little more complicated.
It's also very possible that your puppy has been raised in a cage or other enclosed area. That is somewhere easy to manage and clean but an environment that doesn't help your puppy’s preparation to become a dog in a human household. Puppies that have had to get used to being close to their own waste often have no idea of seeking a toilet area to relieve themselves in.
Unlike cats, dogs don't have 'litter box instincts'. Unless repeatedly taught, puppies don't know where it's okay to go.
The secret to toilet training is matching needs and habits – it's all about having a good schedule and sticking to it. Taking your puppy out at certain regular times allow him to learn to count on those opportunities to relieve his bowel and bladder.
Your pup is most likely going to need to toilet on waking up and after eating. Make sure that at those times, you place him in or give him access to where you want him to go. Try to have one place – puppies don't have the brain power to deal with options!
It can be helpful if the place has a particular texture (eg grass) so your pup has more than just one signal. It can be easier to go straight for outdoors rather than going for puppy pads first, then retraining to go outside. This always helps create the idea of indoors being the 'home/den' and outside being the toilet. Of course, this isn't always possible.
An important caveat to scheduling is size, and breed has an effect on success too. Some small male dogs just can never handle the full run of your house without accidents. This also applies to some tiny females. Small dogs might need smaller spaces (or saintly owners who don't get worn down like the rest of us!)
Oh, another caveat is getting two puppies at the same time. We wish you luck with toilet training a dynamic duo.
Don't expect too much of your pup and don't punish mistakes. Before 4 months of age, your pup probably won't get enough warning from his own body to be able to make it to the designated area every time. If he acts acts upset when you find an accident, he isn't 'feeling guilty' nor does he know he's 'in the wrong'. What you're seeing is submission or even fear of you. You might not be able to read his body language but he can read yours!
Keeping to a schedule also means your pup doesn't have to ask to go. Puppies who have to get your attention to be able to go to the toilet can become dogs who ask for other things – they can become barkers for attention, food and other things (that you might never be able to decipher).
Here are a few scheduling ideas:
- make sure you give your pup access to the toilet area at least as frequently as pup’s age in months plus one (eg a 2 month old puppy should not be left without a chance to toilet for more than 3 hours)
- a dog of any age shouldn't be left for longer than 8 hours without access to a designated toilet area (even when your dog can manage this at night, you're inviting problems during the day – not just with accidents but also with separation anxiety)
- before you leave the house for work (or other), take your pup out to toilet at least twice (it can work better to go twice than stay outside for a long time once – some pups can fear being left out for long periods)
- when you get home, take him out promptly, even if you were gone a fairly short time
- take him out before and after every time you are going to take him with you on a trip away from home
It’s important to establish this pattern so he can count on it. It helps him learn to take the opportunity to go to the toilet before you leave and to trust that you will be home in time for when he next needs to go.
Some people use a word or phrase to help the pup know what is expected of him. For example, all guide dogs are taught that 'quick, quick' means 'have a wee'. This can help when you’re away from home or in some other situation and need to let your dog know that is an acceptable time and place to toilet.
If your dog shows body language that suggests he need to go outside the schedule – take him out. Sometimes a diet change, treat, exercise or other reason causes the scheduled time to be too long to wait.
As your puppy matures, you may be able to reduce the schedule of outings. If you are finding that a particular outing doesn't result in a pee or poo, you may be able to drop it.
People might tell you to limit access to water during toilet training. Ignore these people. Limiting water can create binge drinkers (and make house training even harder) and cause serious health risks from dehydration.
V is for vaccination
Vaccinations are the most effective way to prevent infectious disease. It can be harder to see the true benefit of vaccinations in a country like Australia where vaccination uptake has been high and we no longer regularly see some diseases. Although we don't see them so much, they have not been eradicated.
What diseases will my pup be vaccinated against?
Many different vaccines have been developed for dogs. We can divide these into core vaccines and non-core vaccines. Core vaccines are recommended for every dog and prevent severe, life threatening diseases. The non-core vaccines needed will depend on where you live, and what diseases your pup could be exposed to.
The core vaccines for dogs prevent:
- canine distemper virus
- canine adenovirus (also called hepatitis)
- canine parvovirus (also called 'parvo')
These three are given together in one injection.
There are many different non-core vaccines, and not all of these are necessary. For example, rabies vaccination is not needed in Australia (but might be if you're taking your dog overseas).
Because of its prevalence, we do routinely vaccinate against canine cough (or 'kennel cough') in Melbourne. Now the term kennel cough refers to any contagious upper respiratory tract infection in dogs – it's like saying 'cold' or 'flu'. There are many germs that cause kennel cough symptoms and they often occur in combinations. We vaccinate against two causes:
- parainfluenza virus
- Bordetella bronchispetica bacteria
These can be given either by injection or by the mouth or nose. The nose and mouth ones have been shown to provide better immunity because they create a direct barrier at the place where the germs try to invade. Although we can't protect against all the causes, reducing the infection caused by these two can potentially reduce the severity of any kennel cough your dog is exposed to.
The core vaccines are known as a C3 (canine + 3 components). When we add kennel cough to the vaccination, it becomes a C5.
Your pup's vaccination schedule will probably look something like this:
- First vaccination: at 6-8 weeks she will have been given a C3 (usually by the breeder's vet)
- Second vaccination: at 10–12 weeks she will receive a C5 (this one is usually done by your vet)
- Third vaccination: at 14–16 weeks she will receive a C4 (the C3 + the influenza component of kennel cough)
Then one year later, she gets her first adult vaccination (also a C5).
Why does my pup need more than one vaccination?
When your pup was born, her immune system was completely naive and she was at risk of infection. Fortunately, the first milk her mum produced (colostrum) was full of antibodies. When your pup drank that milk she absorbed those antibodies from her intestines into her bloodstream. She will rely on her mum's antibodies until she makes her own. Essentially, she has 'borrowed' immunity from her mum.
Mum's antibodies last for weeks to months – how long they last in your pup depends on things like which number she was in the birth order, how well she nursed, the quality of her mum's immune system. The antibodies to different diseases wear off at different times.
We don't know when the antibodies against parvo, distemper, hepatitis and kennel cough will wear off in any individual pup. But we do know that by 14–16 weeks all of mum's antibodies are gone from your pup and she'll need to rely on her own immune system.
While mum's antibodies are active within your pup, they work against both true infection and vaccines (which look like infection to the immune system but don't cause disease). Basically, vaccines can't stimulate your pup's immune system to make her own antibodies until her mum's antibodies have dropped to a low enough level.
We could wait until 16 weeks, when all mum's antibodies have gone, before we vaccinate. But this could leave your pup vulnerable if her mum's antibodies had waned earlier. Diseases like parvo often strike around 10–12 weeks of age.
So what we do instead is give a series of vaccinations (usually 3 given every 2–4 weeks) to cover your pup during the period of vulnerability when mum's antibody levels are dropping.
Do I really need to have my dog vaccinated every year?
Well, there's no law that says you have to vaccinate your dog. It's ultimately your decision. Let's look at yearly vaccinations from a few of different angles, to help you make the right decision for your dog.
First, while previous management gave all five components of the C5 vaccination every year, we don't do this. It is widely accepted that core vaccines (C3) only need to be repeated every 3 years in adult dogs. Yearly kennel cough boosters are generally recommended. Note that this meets the vaccination recommendations and guidelines of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association and the Australian Veterinary Association. By following these, we aim to prevent disease as well as prevent over and inappropriate vaccination.
Second (which relates to the first point), some diseases can be better prevented through vaccination than others. Vaccines against diseases that have a widespread effect in the body (eg parvo and distemper) tend to create much longer lasting immunity than vaccines against diseases that affect one area of the body (eg kennel cough, which is localised to the upper respiratory tract).
Third (building on the second point), while it's possible that your dog may develop very long (possibly life-long) immunity to diseases such as parvo and distemper, we can't be sure. We do know that vaccines registered for use every 3 years have been proven to provide protection (to at least 80% of patients) for that amount of time.
It is possible to test your dog's antibody levels via a blood test. Not many people do this, as it's quite expensive and if the antibody levels are below where they should be, the dog needs to be vaccinated anyway.
The last point is that although something like a parvo infection isn't likely to cause a life-threatening illness in a adult dog, by vaccinating your adult dog, you are protecting the puppies in your community. And that's just being good people.
Are vaccinations harmful?
Like when you and I go and get vaccinated, sometimes your dog might feel a bit sore around the injection site. As her immune system gears up, she may also be a bit lethargic or feverish – although this is rare and most dogs show no symptoms at all.
It is possible to have an allergic reaction to a vaccine. The classic signs of this are facial swelling and hives about 30 mins to an hour after the vaccination. A sign of a more serious allergic reaction is vomiting.
Let us know straight away if you see anything that concerns you (call 9699 7841). Allergic reactions are generally easily treated with antihistamines, but having one will alter or stop any future vaccinations.
The shift to 3 yearly C3 vaccinations is more to do with yearly ones being unnecessary rather than harmful.
W is for worms and worming
We generally assume that all puppies have worms and treat them frequently. We recommend worming:
- every 2 weeks until 12 weeks
- every month until 6 months
After 6 months, the frequency of regular worming should be tailored to the patient's risk.
We worm (or deworm) puppies frequently because worming products kill adult worms but not all larval stages. So we kill off the adults then wait until the larvae develop into adults and kill those off too.
Let's have a look at some of the worms that affect puppies. Warning – this is going to get gross and you might want to skip it!
Puppies can be affected by two types of roundworms:
- Toxascaris leonina, which can also infect cats
- Toxocara canis, which can't affect cats but can infect people!
Roundworms, particularly T canis, have an interesting life cycle (if you're into that kind of thing). Points to know about it include: puppies can be born with roundworm and fresh poo isn't infectious, but dirt contaminated by poo is.
Sometimes it's really easy to tell that your pup has roundworms – he might vomit up or poo out what looks like spaghetti! Most of the time though, you can't tell. This is one of the reasons for recommendations about regular worming.
Fortunately, roundworms are pretty easy to get rid of with either a worming tablet or a combined formula that does worms, fleas (and heartworm).
Puppies can be affected by several types of hookworms (Ancylostoma caninum, Ancylostoma braziliense, Uncinaria stenocephala). Hookworms can infect people too.
Hookworms don't just float around in the intestines, they latch on to the intestinal wall with their sharp teeth and suck blood. While this might not have much impact on an adult dog (or person), the worms can suck enough blood from a pup to cause anaemia and even death.
Female hookworms lay eggs that pass out in the pup's poo. On the ground, the eggs develop into larvae, which infect a new host by penetrating through the feet (or whatever part of the body in touching the ground) or by being eaten (ie your dog eats contaminated dirt or he eats another critter that has been infected – such as a rodent or cockroach).
Once the larvae are in the host's body they make their way to the intestine where they either:
- stay and mature into adult worms
- tunnel out of the intestine and migrate to the lung tissue, where they climb up the windpipe and get coughed into the throat, from there they are swallowed and end up back in intestine (where they join the others in maturing to adult worms).
Very young pups are infected in two other ways: through the womb or through mum's milk. Pregnancy hormones appear to trigger larvae in mum's body to wake up and head to the unborn pups and the mammary glands.
Hookworms can be treated with several different products. Only the worms in the gut can be killed though, so we need repeated dosing to kill the larvae that migrate back to the intestine.
Tapeworms are white and flat and are made up of lots of segments. These segments break off and you might find them crawling around your pup's bum or on his bedding or poo. There are a couple of different tapeworms:
- Dipylidium caninum, which is called the flea tapeworm because the only way to get this one is by ingesting a flea carrying a tapeworm larva
- Ecchinoccus (hydatid tapeworm)
Like hookworms, tapeworms bite into the intestines and suck blood. Unlike other worms though, the most common tapeworm (the flea one) rarely causes illness – but it can cause revulsion if you spot them!
On the other hand, hydatid tapeworms can cause serious problems. Fortunately, we don't have much of this type in urban environments.
The things to know about tapeworm are:
- controlling fleas also controls the flea tapeworm
- hydatid tapeworms may be an issue if your dog visits rural environments
- tapeworm isn't treated by some of the commonly used parasite treatments
- separate tapewormers can be given to dogs at risk or who have tapeworms.
Whipworm (Trichuris vulpis) is a tiny little worm that lives in caecum, which is sort of a dog's appendix. This worm doesn't just bite into the intestinal wall, it embeds its head into it! There it sucks blood.
Whipworm eggs pass out with your pup's poo. They can't cause infection from fresh poo, but after they've been on the ground for a couple of weeks, they make the soil infective.
If your pup is infected with large numbers of whipworms, he can develop inflammation of the large bowel (colitis). This shows up as bloody, mucoid diarrhoea.
Strangely, whipworm infestation can mimic the signs of a hormone deficiency called Addison's disease. We don't really understand how it does this.
Fortunately, many of our routine worming treatments control whipworm.
As mentioned, this guide is a work in progress. If there's something you'd like to know about (or you can think of something starting with J), let us know!