Like many vets, I have a love-hate relationship with “first puppy consults”.
On the one hand, they can be the most enjoyable consultations of all: adorable puppies, doting owners, and not a hint of sickness, euthanasia or negativity of any kind at all.
On the other hand, first puppy consults involve hard work: enjoyable work, but hard work nonetheless. Often the owners have never owned a pet before, so they need a full education about their new family member. My clinic makes sure that we have plenty of time to do this: a full half hour consultation time is allotted to make sure there is plenty of time for everything to be covered in detail. We also have a checklist to work through, to be double-sure that we don’t miss anything out.
So, what do vets need to tell new puppy owners?
Vaccines are the main prompt for people to visit the vet with puppies: there may be debate over how often booster vaccinations are given to adult dogs, but there is uniform acceptance of the absolute need for puppies to be given at least two vaccinations to protect them against the main serious canine infectious diseases in the UK: Distemper, Infectious Hepatitis, Parvovirus, and Leptospirosis. Every practice has its own vaccine protocol, and it’s important to understand the rationale, and to comply with this. Vaccinations against Kennel Cough are often recommended too, especially as puppies are likely to meet many other dogs during training classes.
Worm and flea control is another key focus of this first puppy consult: this is a topic too broad for this blog post, but again, it’s important to understand your practice’s recommendations, based on local conditions and expectations.
What sort of food should the new pup be fed? The old adage “You are what you eat” applies as much to pets as it does to humans. Yet just as we humans seem to forget this as we munch our way through crisps, chips and burgers, so we forget when we feed our pets. Many animals are fed on diets that are chosen more for convenience, low cost or a human whim, rather than for the nutritional benefits to the animal.
There are many ways of feeding dogs, and no one method is universally acknowledged as the best, despite the claims of proponents (and vendors) of products and methods. Complete dry diets, tinned and sachet moist foods, fresh meat or home cooked meals? There are hundreds of different brands and flavours, and thousands of ingredients. It can be difficult for pet owners to select nutrition for their animal.
There are three important factors.
1. First, any nutrition should be balanced with sufficient protein, carbohydrate, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals in the correct proportions. I have seen puppies that have been fed on nothing but porridge, resulting in severe health problems.
2. Second, the pup needs to enjoy eating the food.
3. Third, the diet must be affordable and readily available: whether you buy it from your local vet clinic, the supermarket, a pet shop, or online, you need to be sure that you can easily obtain a regular supply.
The safest way to ensure a balanced diet is to choose a high-quality commercial diet, formulated to meet the precise needs of the pup.
People often worry about how much to give, and my simple rule of thumb is “as much as they want, within reason”. Pups rarely get fat, and if they don’t get enough, bad habits like coprophagia can start due to simple hunger. Feeding around three meals a day up to around 4 months of age, then reducing to two meals a day, seems about right, but these are not fixed rules. And give the pup as much food as it wants, “within reason”. I always add this proviso, after one owner changed from half-starving her dog to allowing the poor creature free access to an entire sack: the pup ate as if there was no tomorrow and ended up with severe gastroenteritis. This is easily avoided by gradually allowing the pup more food, until the pup seems happy when finished: if they are chasing the empty bowl around the room afterwards, it’s a sign they need more food.
The rule of thumb is that adult dogs should be exercised for around half an hour twice a day for their entire lives. This is a reasonable guide for puppies too, although they probably enjoy shorter more frequent bursts of play, rather than long boring walks. With large and giant breeds, it’s important to stress that long arduous bouts of exercise should be avoided until the animal is skeletally mature (around 18 months of age) to avoid undue stress to the growing joints.
Most new pup owners are unaware of the potential for high veterinary bills: this first visit is a useful opportunity to educate them. Pet insurance is a no-brainer: the public may accuse vets of encouraging this so that we can line our nests with more cash, but we vets know the real reason why we approve of pet insurance: it allows us to give the pet the best possible care, which means a higher chance of a happy ending, and a more fulfilling and rewarding day’s work for the vet.
Personality/ Training/ Behaviour
Different breeds have different personalities: from soft, gentle Cavaliers to energetic enthusiastic Dalmatians. The first puppy consult is a good opportunity to assess the personality of the new pup, giving the owner a few tips on what sort of behavioural approach they should take. Puppy classes are a good idea – check what your practice has on offer, or what’s available locally.
Longer term, it’s a good rule of thumb to aim at spending 15 minutes every day training a dog: this is the best way to ensure a calm, obedient pet.
Puppy owners should be encouraged to think of the medium term; what will they do when they go away on holiday? From local dog boarding kennels, to pet sitters, to home care set ups, it’s important that you are aware of what’s available in your own area. Our clinic has a printed list of kennels and pet sitters that we hand out: people appreciate this customer service, even though we try not to recommend particular establishments. This is because we’ve learned that facilities and services can change quickly, and we aren’t in a position to carry out regular inspections to ensure that all is unchanged. But our clients do appreciate the overall list: at least it gives them a starting point to do their own research.
You are no doubt reading this because you have a new puppy, or you are thinking of getting a new puppy, either way, along with you needing the patience of a saint, puppies bring so much joy to our lives and you will not regret making the decision to own one.
Good Luck and enjoy your new companion!