Welcoming a new puppy is exciting, but can also be overwhelming. At first, your adorable little—or not so little—puppy will look to you for comfort, security, and direction. But, before long, they’ll be energetic and boundary-challenging, and then a trying teenage tyrant. The first year of your puppy’s life is full of milestones, adventures, and learning—for you both. To get the most out of their first 365 days and ensure a long and healthy life together, focus on the following essentials.

Early life veterinary care for puppies

Regular new puppy veterinary care at Town and Country Animal Hospital is critical for lifelong health and wellness. These early visits help us identify congenital abnormalities that may affect your puppy’s life, build a strong immune system against infectious diseases, identify and treat parasites, and help your puppy build positive associations with our hospital and veterinary team.

Your puppy’s first year of veterinary care should include:

  • Regular exams — At each visit, we’ll assess your puppy’s development and look for inherited conditions, such as heart murmurs and orthopedic problems.
  • Vaccines — Puppies require a series of vaccinations to ensure protection against transmissible and potentially deadly diseases, including parvovirus, distemper and rabies.
  • Deworming — Intestinal parasites are common in puppies. Your puppy’s stool will be checked for parasite eggs at each puppy visit, to identify an infection, which will be treated with medication.
  • Microchipping — Microchips provide lifelong identification and can ensure your pet returns safely should they become lost. Your pup can be microchipped at an outpatient appointment, or at the same time they are spayed or neutered. 
  • Parasite prevention — Puppies are vulnerable to external parasites, including fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes that carry heartworm disease. Our veterinarian will help you start your puppy on heartworm, flea, and tick preventives right away. 
  • Spay or neuter surgery Spaying and neutering (i.e., the surgical sterilization of female and male dogs, respectively) is a simple and safe way to ensure your puppy’s lifelong health. These surgeries prevent unwanted litters, reproductive emergencies, heat cycles, and some behavior issues and cancers. While 4 to 6 months of age is the standard for spaying and neutering, waiting to neuter a large-breed male dog is often advised, to ensure appropriate bone growth and reduce future orthopedic problems.

Proper nutrition for puppies

Puppy food is not one-size-fits-all. Canine nutrition has evolved to meet the unique needs of all the different sized breeds. Large- and giant-breed puppies need carefully balanced protein, calcium, and phosphorus to ensure controlled growth, and prevent joint and orthopedic conditions. Small- and toy-breed puppies need easy-to-eat diets that include concentrated fat and protein for their rapid metabolism. 

No matter your puppy’s expected adult size, the correct amount of a complete, balanced puppy food will supply their growing body with the energy they need, and prevent undesirable weight gain. Our veterinarians can help determine the right food and portion size for your pup throughout their growth process. 

Positive socialization experiences for puppies

Socialization is essential for raising a confident and well-adjusted puppy. In addition to meeting new people, carefully introduce your puppy to new:

  • Sounds
  • Sights
  • Experiences
  • Surfaces
  • Movements
  • Travel

Proper socialization helps puppies learn that change and novelty are fun—not frightening. When you introduce something new to your puppy, always monitor their response and body language, and take a break if they are stressed or unsure. Never force your puppy to meet someone, interact with an object, or endure an activity—then your puppy will be more fearful in the future.

Consistent and positive training for puppies

Puppy training begins on day one, and continues throughout your dog’s life. Whether we like it or not, puppies and dogs are constantly learning from their environment. Structured training ensures that your puppy is always learning what you want them to learn. Puppy classes ensure your enthusiastic youngster becomes a well-behaved adult.

Sign up for group classes or private lessons with an experienced positive-reinforcement trainer who focuses on life skills, including:

  • Crate training
  • Socialization and confidence
  • House training
  • Basic manners (e.g., “Sit,” “Down,” “Stay,” “Come,” and loose leash walking)
  • Common puppy problems (e.g., chewing, jumping, nipping, barking)

Basic husbandry skills for puppies

Establishing a care routine early in life helps make your dog easier to care for every day. Introduce basic activities by pairing the actions with tasty treats, fun toys, and games. Work in short sessions, to prevent stress or frustration. By the time your puppy reaches their first birthday, they should be comfortable with general care tasks, including:

  • Toothbrushing
  • Nail trimming and paw handling
  • Ear cleaning
  • Bathing
  • Brushing and combing
  • Gentle restraint
  • Visiting the groomer

Age-appropriate exercise for puppies

Puppies are reckless balls of energy, but they can get hurt, so you must set safe activity limits. While your puppy is growing, avoid high impact exercises such as jumping, hard running, sharp turns, and repetitive movements like long games of fetch. If your puppy is not satisfied with gentle toy play and short walks, engage their mind with puzzle toys, snuffle mats, and other enrichment activities.

Beyond your puppy’s first year

While your puppy’s first 12 months are crucial, dog ownership, training, and care is a lifelong process. And, while the work is never finished, the journey can be a wonderful and beautiful adventure that you wouldn’t trade for the world. 

Continue your dog’s lifelong veterinary care with annual exams at Town and Country Animal Hospital. It’s our pleasure to watch your puppy grow up, and to help shape them into a happy and healthy companion. Contact us to schedule your puppy’s next visit.