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So you’ve picked your puppy, and have agreed a collection date… now what?! The time in between is the perfect time to decide what kind of puppy parent you want to be. To help with that there are a few things that all dog owners need to know!
The most basic needs of a dog are exactly the same as a human; food, water, shelter and companionship. However when we look into these further, it soon becomes more complicated!
There are so many brands and types of food available now, that it often seems hard to tell the difference, but there are a few good tricks to keep you right.
When you bring puppy home, keep him on the food the breeder or rescue sent him with for at least 4 weeks before considering changing it. Moving home and leaving everyone you used to know behind is hard enough, no-one wants a runny bum as well!
Look at the ingredients, and don’t be afraid to sound like a snob! Your puppy can’t tell you if his food is making him hyper, or not giving him enough of a particular nutrient, so you need to make sure he gets the best possible food you can afford. Just remember that a high price tag does NOT necessarily mean a high quality food, and visa versa.
Look at the label! Look for labels that clearly name exactly what they use in their foods, and have percentages for at least the first 4 ingredients on the list. Umbrella terms such as cereals and meat derivatives cover a huge variety of sources and make it impossible to judge what exactly your dog is eating.
While dogs can and should consume an omnivourous diet, their digestive tract is most suited to a high meat-content diet. Cereals can be very difficult to digest, and are linked to many allergies.
Dogs are very adaptable, and do well on a vast array of different foods, so sadly there is no magic food which is the perfect food for your dog. As long as your dog is fit and healthy and you are both happy with the food, there is no real reason to change. However if your dog is ill, even if only occasionally, then a diet change could be the best, and easiest, option.
Early signs of problems include;
- Digestive upsets: loose motions (often getting looser over the course of the day), excessive or very smelly wind, regular vomiting (particularly after meals).
- Skin/coat problems: itching, bald patches, scurfiness, excessive dandruff, constant moulting, greasy and/or smelly coat.
- Runny eyes
- Bad breath and/or a regular build-up of plaque
- Regular anal gland problems
If your dog shows any of these signs, even if only occasionally, discuss it with your vet and consider a diet change.
When, and if, you change there are certain things you can do to make the transition easier. Dry kibble especially can cause serious digestive upset if changed too suddenly, especially if it is a change to a different brand entirely. As a guide, it is best to change the food over gradually as follows;
- 2 days at 75% old food, and 25% new, then
- 2 days at 50% old and 50% new, then
- 2 days at 25% old and 75% new, then
- 100% new.
Dogs with especially sensitive digestion may need longer to transition. If you have any doubts, please talk to your veterinarian!
How much do you feed your puppy when he comes home? As with everything, sadly there is no magic answer for this, but there are certain things that you can do to make sure your dog is getting enough, and not too much!
Learn what an ideal body shape looks like, although remember that puppies body shapes are very different from their adolescent and adult body shapes.
Understand what major food groups, and their quantities, your puppy needs, and learn how those change with age. A great site for this is www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk.
- Puppies 8 to 12 weeks old need four meals a day.
- Feed puppies three to six months old three meals a day.
- Feed puppies six months to one year two meals a day.
- When your dog reaches his first birthday, one meal a day is usually enough.
- For some dogs, including larger canines or those prone to bloat, it’s better to feed two smaller meals.
Make sure the food bowl is placed away from the area the water bowl is kept, most dogs prefer not to eat and drink in the same place. Thoroughly clean the bowl after every meal, using a small amount of non-toxic soap and rinse well.
An adult dog needs between 55 and 110 millilitres of water per kilogram a day. This changes with age, activity level, weather, medications and body size, but is a good figure to bear in mind. Dogs on a dry only diet will need a little more water than those on a wet food diet.
Remember to always bring water with you on any walk (even if it’s a cold wet day!), and allow your dog small drinks often rather than one big drink at the end.
Make sure the water bowl is placed away from the area the puppy will eat, most dogs prefer not to eat and drink in the same place. Also ensure the water is always clean of bits of fluff, and the occasional toy, and thoroughly clean the bowl, using a small amount of non-toxic soap and rinse well.
As with humans, dogs need a safe and secure shelter in which to live. To puppy proof your house, make sure all wires and cables are off the ground, and/or and covered with bite resistant tubing, or boxed in well. Remove ornaments from the range of your puppy, and always remember they can get higher than you think!
Make sure they have a number of different warm and comfy pet-safe sleeping and chill-out areas. Make sure they can’t escape from existing dog or cat flaps, by either locking them, or using a puppy pen or stair gate to block their access.
Appropriate companionship is the single most important thing a puppy needs to develop into a well-mannered, confident adult.
Never use fear, pain, or intimidation to interact with your puppy, yes even if he nips you! Puppies are extremely sensitive to fear, especially from 8-11 weeks, and again at 5 months. More on this in the development pack!
Your role as a companion is to be your puppies care giver, nurse, playmate, provider and protector. Build a healthy bond of trust with your puppy, and start training as soon as he’s settled! Puppies are capable of learning cues from 5 weeks old, and learn exceptionally fast between the ages of 7 to 16 weeks so make the most of it!
Health and grooming
All puppies deserve to be well looked after and kept healthy. This includes making sure they are on an appropriate diet, have appropriate exercise and are in good physical condition.
When exercising puppies, it is very easy to overdo it. Over-exercising a puppy can lead to muscle, ligament and tendon damage, as well as serious damage to delicate growth points on bones. A good rule of thumb is to exercise puppies for 5 minutes per month of age (up to twice a day) so a 9 week old puppy will only need 10 minutes of exercise a day, up to twice a day. It doesn’t seem like much, but remember that puppies need to use the vast majority of their energy growing and learning so exercise isn’t top of their priorities!
Some breeds require a lot of grooming, while others need less. Regardless of your puppies breed, you should always make sure he is happy to be brushed, have his teeth checked, that his paws lifted and looked at and that he is comfortable having a bath. All these things can be taught using reinforcement based training, and remember that puppies can start reward based training from just 5 weeks old!
Bathing should only be done if absolutely necessary, and if possible all shampoos and soaps should be avoided. A dog’s dermis (skin layers) is a third the thickness of a humans, and their skin is very sensitive to drying soaps and harsh chemicals. A simple wash down with warm water should be enough to get most dirt out of a dog’s coat, but if shampoos must be used, then be sure to consult your vet about which ones are recommended by them.
Dogs with short snouts (Brachycephalic breeds) often have folds of skin on their faces which can be surprisingly deep. These skins can become very dirty and can become easily infected. If you have one of these breeds, make sure they get used to a good face wash from an early age. There are special medicated wipes available for this purpose, but always make sure to dry the folds thoroughly each time.
Very hairy breeds, especially small breeds such as Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu types often have hair build ups in their outer ear canal. This can lead to bacterial and fungal infections, as well as mite infestations. If your dog has very hairy ears, please talk to your vet or groomer about how best to maintain their ear health.
Dogs also need their teeth cleaned. Avoid products such as dentisticks, and other highly processed treats sold as dental care. These are often heavy in sugars, fats and other additives to make them more appealing to a dog. Rawhide chews are a good way of having your dog clean his own teeth however many commercially sold rawhides contain additives, and can be a choking hazard. There are also doggy toothbrushes, rope toys with built in doggy toothpaste, balls with small rubbery spikes which clean teeth as they play and other methods of dental care. Again, consult your vet before using any product.
Ensure your dog is up to date with all vaccinations, has 6 monthly check-ups with the vet or vet nurse and consider spaying or neutering as soon as possible. There is no evidence that a dog being neutered has any adverse growth trends, nor that a bitch having a season or a litter of puppies has any health benefits at all. Spaying and neutering increases the life span of a dog by up to 5 years, eliminates or reduces the chance of various cancers, helps provide hormonal stability, and obviously stops unwanted litters of puppies. Remember that over 7,000 dogs a year are put to sleep in pounds across Britain, most often not because they have any behaviour issues, but simply because they are unwanted. Please remember this before adding to the issue of dog overcrowding.
The most important thing to remember about having a puppy, is that it won’t last forever. They do grow up, and quickly. Make the most of the fun, and learn to let go of the chewed slipper, or accident on the carpet moments!
If you have any issues with diet, water intake, health or grooming, please consult your veterinarian as soon as possible!