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New Puppy Primer

Have you just adopted your first puppy, or maybe this is just the first puppy you’ve had in a long time? There’s a lot to plan for and educate yourself about, and this article will guide you through it.

Where to Find a Puppy

Haven’t got your new puppy yet? Of course there are loads of happy, healthy young dogs looking for homes from rescue groups or shelters. Even if you’re looking for a specific breed or type of dog, with a little time and effort, you can probably still find a rescue or stray to adopt. Check out petfinder.com for a start, or check out our page of local rescue and adoption groups. Ask the rescue group how they find the dogs they offer for adoption, and if they have been checked out by a veterinarian and vaccinated prior to adoption.

Considering a breeder? Make sure your breeder of choice has the breed’s (and each puppy’s) best interests in mind. A truly reputable breeder is likely to breed only a few litters per year, often restricts themselves to just one or two specific breeds overall, and will screen their adult dogs for signs of breed-related conditions such as hip dysplasia, orthopedic disorders, cardiac diseases, ocular diseases, and others. It isn’t just a matter of the parents appearing healthy at that moment – many of these conditions do not become apparent until a dog is older (perhaps past breeding age), so it is important to screen dogs before breeding them to be sure they represent the best possible candidates for breeding. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals maintains a list of what health-related conditions each breed should be screened for (not only orthopedic issues). Check that your breeder is aware of this list!


There are many suitable choices of diets to feed a new puppy, and there is no single best choice for every dog. Puppies under one year of age should be fed a diet labeled for puppies or for “all life stages.” Dogs who are expected to grow to over 50 pounds should ideally be fed a “large breed puppy” formula, to assure they grow at a steady and even pace and help avoid future orthopedic problems. You might be interested in reading our blog post on what to feed your pet for more information on this topic.


Your new puppy may come to you after he has had his first round of vaccines, but is likely to need at least a few additional vaccinations. Some are considered “core” or required by law, while others are lifestyle-dependent or optional. Here are the vaccines we consider for each new puppy:

  • Rabies – This is a core vaccination, and required by law. A puppy is old enough to receive this vaccine when they are 12 weeks of age.
  • Distemper/Parvo combination – This is a core vaccination, administered once every 3-4 weeks until a puppy is 16 weeks old. Distemper is a viral disease that can cause respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurologic disease. The disease is often fatal, and if a puppy survives, they can still have long-term consequences of the illness. Parvovirus (“parvo” for short) is highly contagious and can cause life-threatening diarrhea and vomiting. The distemper/parvo combination is sometimes called a “four-way” or a “five-way” vaccine, and may include protection against a few other (milder) illnesses too.wyeth
  • Leptospirosis – This disease is caused by a bacteria shed in the urine of wild mammals. It can continue to survive and remain infectious in water or moist soil, and illness can cause liver and kidney failure. The disease is even contagious to people. A dog who is going to swim in a lake, may drink out of a puddle in a wooded area, or who lives in a yard that deer, raccoons, or other wild mammals wander through should probably be vaccinated against Leptospirosis.
  • Lyme DiseaseLyme is spread by a bacteria that can be introduced through tick bites. A dog who is at risk of exposure to ticks should certainly be protected via a flea/tick preventative, as ticks spread more diseases than just Lyme! The Lyme vaccination can be given as an additional measure of protection.
  • Bordetella – This is the most comment agent associated with Kennel Cough, a contagious respiratory infection that causes a cough that may last for weeks. It is not a very serious disease, but most kennels, doggie day care facilities, and many groomers will require that dogs who visit them must be vaccinated against Bordetella.


Your new puppy may have already been given a dewormer by the breeder or rescue group, but repeat treatments with a dewormer and/or testing a stool sample to check for parasites is recommended.

External Parasite Preventatives

Prevention of heartworm disease via a product such as Heartgard, Iverhart, Tri-Heart, Revolution, Advantage Multi, Sentinel, Interceptor, or others is strongly recommended. Most therapies are a once-monthly soft-chew or pill, though a few are topical products (applied as a drop between the shoulders).

Prevention of fleas is important for most dogs, as even those who do not spend a lot of time outdoors may pick them up from another dog they meet out on a walk, while at the groomer’s, at the dog park, and so on. It is much easier to prevent a flea infestation from occurring than to resolve one that is already going on in your household. Fleas can cause anemia if they are present in large numbers, and ingestion of a single flea can introduce tapeworms to a dog’s intestine.

Prevention of ticks is important for dogs who spend a fair amount of time outdoors, live in a property bordering woods, will be hiking outside on trails, or even just live in an area where ticks and tickborne diseases are common. A vaccination can protect against Lyme, but not against any of the other diseases ticks carry (such as Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, Babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and others).

Visit our blog article on flea control for a discussion and comparison of several different flea and/or tick preventative products.

Pet Insurance

Whether you decide pet insurance is the right choice to help protect your new puppy, or if you would prefer to save up your own emergency fund, it is simply important to have a plan in case of an emergency medical expense. There is a complete discussion and comparison of pet insurance providers on our blog, too.

Microchip Identification

A microchip is the only completely secure and permanent way to identify your pet if they ever get lost. A microchip with a unique ID number is implanted under the skin, usually around the shoulders. It hurts a bit more than a vaccine, so while it can be done at any time, it is generally preferred to place a microchip while a pet is already under anesthesia for a spay or neuter. If your pet is found and scanned for a chip, the ID number will link them to your veterinarian, your home address, and any other information you register with the chip company.

Spaying and Neutering

Rescue puppies are sometimes already spayed or neutered before they are adopted, but in other cases we can plan for the ideal time to spay or neuter a pet. In general, it is best to wait until a dog is done growing to spay or neuter them. Depending on breed and size, this may be from 8 to 12 months of age.

Why do we decide to spay or neuter? In addition to population control and reducing behaviors such as roaming off, urine-marking, and/or getting into fights with other dogs, there are a handful of disease conditions that can be reduced or eliminated by spaying or neutering. Spaying (especially before the first or second heat cycle) reduces the incidence of mammary cancer later in life. It eliminates the chance of cancers of the reproductive tract, as well as the development of pyometra (an infection of the uterus). While testicular cancers are not common in intact male dogs, infection or cancer of the prostate can be, and neutering substantially reduces this risk.

Training & Socialization

Training your puppy can include formal puppy socials, puppy kindergarten, and even private training lessons in addition to your own efforts at home. Bolton Vet hosts puppy socials as well as puppy kindergarten year-round. Locally, Mellow Mutt in Manchester, Tails-U-Win in Manchester, and other venues in our area also offer training classes. If you’re in search of a dog training book as a guide, check out the following:

How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves by Sophia Yin

Have you picked out a training treat yet? The ideal choice is something that comes in very small pieces (or can be broken up into very small pieces), tastes and smells REALLY good, and is not greasy or fatty (if it makes your hands slimy, it’s not a good choice). Many dog treats will be labeled especially as puppy training treats.

One aspect of training that most puppy owners are happy to accept some helpful tips on is housetraining. Extremely close supervision is essential to successful housetraining, and training your puppy to spend their resting time in a crate is a foundation for housetraining. A puppy can be expected to hold their bladder while awake for the same number of hours as they are aged in months (for example, a three month old puppy can hold it for three hours). If you are having trouble house-training, follow these guidelines:

  • Overnight, puppy sleeps in a crate.
  • First thing in the morning, take puppy QUICKLY and DIRECTLY outside to pee/poop.
  • Stand quietly outside waiting for puppy to do his business. No playing, no touring the yard, no distractions.
  • Once puppy goes, he “earns” some playtime (inside or outside).
  • Continue to closely watch puppy once you are back inside. Keep him on his leash indoors if needed to keep him from wandering away from you.
  • If you are not DIRECTLY supervising puppy, he should go back into his crate.
  • If more than 30 minutes of free-access playtime has gone by, either go outside until puppy urinates again, OR it is time to go back in the crate.
  • Every time puppy comes out of the crate, take him QUICKLY and DIRECTLY outside to pee/poop.

sx09“Socialization” doesn’t just mean social interaction with other dogs. Help your puppy become accustomed to the things that will become daily life experiences: meeting other dogs, meeting new people, interacting with children, having their teeth brushed, having their nails clipped, leaning not to be afraid of the vacuum cleaner, etc. And start early!! Puppies are most impressionable between 8 and 14 weeks of age. Ideally, doggie play-dates should be set up with other dogs who are known to be in good health and up-to-date on vaccinations. Formal puppy social classes often require that all participants have proof of up-to-date vaccinations and/or a recent wellness appointment.

Safety Considerations

As an emergency hospital, we know all about the trouble that’s out there for a puppy to get into! Here are a few items to keep in mind when puppy-proofing your home:

  • Human medications: While some human medications are safe for dogs at an appropriate dose, others can be quite toxic. Never let your pet have access to painkillers (even over-the-counter drugs like Advil, Motrin, Tylenol, Aleve, etc.), sleep aids, steroid pills or creams, or any human prescription medication.
  • Toxic foods: Keep chocolate, alcoholic beverages, sugar-free gum, grapes and raisins, onions, garlic, and anything especially greasy or fatty away from your dog.
  • Interactions with other pets: Your other furry family members might not be as excited as you are about a new puppy! Make sure your pets’ interactions are closely supervised until you are sure they are getting along well together.

Good luck with your new puppy and we’ll see you at your next visit!!

New Puppy Primer: View/Print as PDF

Conventional vs Natural Flea Control

dog2Many pet owners have taken an interest in natural parasite preventatives to protect their pets from fleas and ticks. Motives for using natural products may include less potential for side effects or lesser expense than conventional or prescription products. There are many factors to keep in mind when considering which flea or tick product of any type to use for your pet. We’ll start by introducing the three classes of products (or if you’d like to cut to the chase, see our last section where recommendations are provided).

FDA-registered products are officially considered “drugs,” approved by the same organization that manages drugs for humans – the Food and Drug Administration. As drugs, the safety and efficacy of these products have been closely studied. Doses are specifically calculated to maximize safety and minimize the chance of adverse effects. The majority of these products are available only with a prescription from a veterinarian. Some of these FDA-registered products include: Advantage Multi, Capstar, Comfortis, Revolution, Sentinel, and others.

EPA-registered products are officially considered “pesticides,” with guidelines for use determined by the same organization that examines pesticides and insect repellants used by humans – the Environmental Protection Agency. As pesticides, these products are available without a prescription and are demonstrated to be generally safe and effective when used as described on the label. They are not necessarily safe when used for a different purpose, for example, on a cat instead of a dog. Some of these EPA-registered brands include: Advantage, K9 Advantix, Bio-Spot, Frontline, Hartz, Parastar, Sergeant’s, Sentry, Vectra, and many others.

Unregistered products – the category that includes natural products – contain ingredients that are considered by the EPA to be of “minimal risk” and are therefore unregulated. There are two important points to keep in mind: (1) The EPA’s concern is primarily for HUMAN safety in use of these products; other species may respond differently. (2) These products have been evaluated only for safety, not efficacy. This does not necessarily mean they are ineffective, however, they may or may not meet your expectations and needs. So let’s examine this category further: What are the active ingredients of these products, and do they work? Do they carry any risks? Read on…hollydog7

Here is a list of natural essential oils and related compounds present in many alternative flea & tick products. Some of these compounds are also present in EPA-registered products.

Pyrethrins – Pyrethrins are a group of botanical insecticides derived from chrysanthemum flowers. They work by altering nerve function in insects, eventually resulting in death.

Pyrethroids are synthetic, with a chemical structure adapted from the pyrethrins, modified to increase their stability in sunlight. Despite the safety of these compounds in dogs, they are highly toxic to cats.

Pennyroyal – Derived from Mentha pulegium and Hedeoma pulegiodes, pennyroyal oil has a long history of use as a flea repellent. However, this herb is noted to have toxic potential for dogs and cats even at recommended dosages, causing potentially fatal damage to the liver even when applied topically (on the skin).

Citronella – Citronella oil is an extract of several plants in the genus Citronella, recognized to have insect-repellent properties. In fact, it has been registered by the EPA for this purpose. According to the EPA, “Oil of citronella is a biochemical pesticide which has a non-toxic mode of action. It is registered as an insect repellent (feeding inhibitor).” It has the potential to be a skin and eye irritant, and may be mildly toxic if ingested or inhaled, but only at very high concentrations far beyond normal usage. In order to be maximally effective, it would need to be applied on a daily basis.

Cedar – Cedarwood oil is a natural component of wood and leaves in trees of the family Cupressaceae, and can be used as a non-toxic insect repellent and feeding depressant. Cedar oils have been shown to be a respiratory irritant to birds and small mammals when present in high concentrations, but are not thought to pose a significant risk to humans, dogs, or cats with typical use. In order to be maximally effective, it would need to be applied on a daily basis.

Lemon – The active component is d-limonene, which has been proposed to kill fleas. Lemon-containing products should not be applied to irritated skin or around eyes. In order to be maximally effective, it would need to be applied on a daily basis.

Garlic – The use of garlic both internally and externally has been suggested as an insect repellent. Some sources suggest that garlic in a dog’s diet leaves them distasteful to insects. Please note that garlic can have toxic effects in dogs at high doses (no more than  one clove per 50 pounds body weight is recommended). Cats are more susceptible to the toxic effects of garlic, and therefore use of garlic as a flea preventative in cats is not recommended.

Here are two additional non-chemical means of addressing flea and tick control:

Diatomaceous earth – This is a flour-like powder containing shards of silica, which has the ability to cut through an insect’s exoskeleton, effectively drying them out and resulting in death to the insect. It works by physical, non-chemical means. It may be used as a component of flea control when applied to carpeting, bedding (prior to vacuuming or laundering), or outdoors. Food-grade diatomaceous earth may also be applied directly to pets, but it may dry the skin and has the potential to be an eye and respiratory irritant.

Sodium polyborate powder – As found in Borax, this powder can be used in the indoor environment to interrupt the flea life cycle in conjunction with vacuuming & laundering. This compound is generally very safe for use in a household around pets (not directly applied to pets), but may cause illness if large amounts are ingested.

So what’s the bottom line? Here are our recommendations:wyeth

(1) In general, the products most widely recommended by veterinarians are those known to be the safest and most effective: the FDA registered products and a select few EPA registered products. Many of these products offer the added benefit of being effective against internal parasites as well. Of course, every pet is an individual and there is no single solution that suits every animal or owner.

(2) If you are seeking to prevent fleas and/or ticks from seeking out your pet as a host, you may try whatever product you feel is the safest and most effective for your pet. Be an educated consumer, do research with trusted resources, read the label, use the product as intended, and of course, talk to your veterinarian about any questions you have along the way.

(3) Remain vigilant – Is the product working? It is possible for any product to fail; check your pet for fleas and ticks with a fine-toothed flea comb frequently. Is the product safe and free of side effects for your pet? Any animal can have an adverse reaction to any drug, chemical, or natural compound. Monitor your pet carefully, particularly after any new product is applied for the first time, and if anything seems amiss, call your veterinarian.

(4) If your pet and home are infested with fleas, it is in the best interest of you and your pet to use a conventional FDA or EPA registered product whose efficacy is well understood. In this type of situation, it is not safe or efficient to spend time trying products that may or may not be effective. Fleas and ticks are not just an annoyance, your pet risks becoming ill from a heavy parasite burden if the product chosen does not work. Flea-borne diseases such as Bartonella and tapeworms can affect humans as well.  Once the situation is resolved, you may consider using a natural-type product to prevent future problems. Your veterinarian can work with you in finding a product that you are happy and comfortable with using, and works best for you and your pets.

Conventional vs. Natural Flea Products – View/Print as PDF