Canine Life Stage – Puppy

Your dog, a [Years] [Months] old [Breed] is currently in the puppy life stage. Woohoo!


The lowdown on life stages

A dog’s life can be divided into four stages: puppy, young adult, mature adult, and senior. Dogs evolve as they mature, so they require different approaches to healthcare as they progress from puppy to senior pet. When you understand your dog’s life stage, you and your veterinary team become partners in providing an individualized healthcare approach to every veterinary visit. The end result: a lifetime of optimal care your dog needs and deserves!

Puppy care 101: The veterinary visit

Puppies grow fast and their needs change just as fast. Your dog will have frequent veterinary visits, so you both will get to know your veterinary team well. During your dog’s thorough physical exams, your veterinarian will take their temperature and check their body condition, skin, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, heart, lungs, gastrointestinal system, urinary system, brain, nerves, bones, muscles, joints, and lymph nodes. Click below to learn about some puppy-specific topics you’ll want to discuss with your veterinary team.

Your puppy’s lifestyle and safety

Your dog wants to run, play, explore, and chew! Talk to your veterinarian about how much exercise your dog needs and ways to keep them safely occupied. “Puppy-proofing” is a must—boredom and puppies is a bad combo! Discuss how to keep your dog safe by identifying potential hazards inside, outside, and when traveling. Want to know the best way to confine your dog in your home, car, on a walk, or in the yard? Ask your veterinary team! They are the experts and will be happy to help.

All dogs, regardless of their life stage, have to travel safely and with minimal stress. Call your veterinarian prior to your dog’s visit to learn how to acclimate them to travel and determine the most effective way to transport them for their visit.

Infections between humans and animals

Infections transmitted between humans and animals are called zoonoses. They are transmitted in different ways, such as bites, raw food, and poop, so talk to your veterinary team about disease prevention. It’s important to let the veterinary team know if there are children, elderly, or immune-compromised family members who may have exposure to your dog to keep everyone healthy.

Puppy behavior

“Puppyhood” is a BIG chapter in your dog’s life book. What you do now will have a profound and lasting effect on your dog’s relationship with you, other people, and other animals. There are key priorities at different stages of your dog’s development, including socializing with a wide variety of people, learning when and on what it’s appropriate to use their mouths (bite inhibition), navigating the world at large, and many more. Tell your veterinarian about your dog’s actions. How does your dog act and play? Do you use a crate as part of your training? Share any concerning behavior you have seen. Many issues can be addressed and corrected with expert advice from your veterinarian. Ask about selecting appropriate trainers, too!

Your puppy’s nutrition

Pet food choices can be overwhelming! Veterinarians have the most medical training when it comes to puppy nutrition, so let them help you. Together, you can choose a quality food with targeted nutrition based on your dog’s breed and size. Also, talk to the veterinary team about supplements, feeding schedules, water availability, and establishing a healthy weight range for your pup.

Worms and other parasites that can affect puppies

It is common for puppies to have intestinal parasites (e.g., worms, Giardia, etc.). Early on, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a “dewormer”—a medicine to get rid of the parasites. your dog will then start year-round medicine to prevent intestinal parasites. These parasites can be found in your puppy’s poop and can be transmitted to humans, so talk to your veterinarian about how to keep everyone in your home safe. Your vet will also recommend the most effective ways to prevent heartworm, fleas, and ticks in your area.

Vaccinations for puppies

Vaccination is a crucial component to preventive medicine in dogs. Vaccinations are given to kick-start your dog’s immune system against infection before they are exposed to a disease. Several vaccines are administered routinely to dogs as the primary defense against serious infectious illnesses. These “core” vaccines include distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus and +/-parainfluenza (usually packaged as a single vaccine), and rabies. Additional vaccines are needed depending on geographic regions, circumstances, and lifestyle. These are “noncore” vaccines against bordetella, Lyme disease, influenza, and leptospirosis. Your veterinarian will advise which vaccines are necessary to keep your dog healthy.

Your puppy’s teeth

Beginning in puppyhood, dogs need good dental care throughout their lives. your dog’s mouth sees a lot of action these days. Deciduous teeth (“baby teeth”) come in and fall out, and permanent teeth may be on their way. Your veterinarian will perform a complete oral exam to evaluate the development of your dog’s teeth, gums, and mouth structure. During all this action, your dog also wants to chew on everything! This is the time to talk about acceptable and safe chew toys. Hint: Your hand should not be one of them! Once your dog’s permanent teeth have grown in, discuss home oral hygiene training with the veterinary team to maximize lifelong health.

Your puppy’s reproductive health

It is recommended that all dogs not intended for deliberate breeding be spayed or neutered. A spay is the surgical removal of both ovaries and the uterus in female dogs. A neuter is the surgical removal of both testicles in male dogs. There are many benefits to spaying or neutering your dog. Sterilized dogs live longer than those that are not. The timing of when to spay or neuter your dog is based on factors such as sex and how much your dog is expected to weigh as an adult. Talk to your veterinarian to determine the appropriate timeframe to sterilize your dog. If you choose to breed your dog, responsible breeding practices should be reviewed.

Breed-specific information for your puppy

There are breed-specific health concerns that can affect your dog’s quality of life. At your visit, your veterinarian will examine your dog from mouth to tail for any breed-related abnormalities. Consider DNA testing for breed identification in mixed-breed dogs to determine risk factors for breed-specific diseases.

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The 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines are supported by generous educational grants from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Elanco Animal Health, Hill’s ® Pet Nutrition, Inc., IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., Merck Animal Health and Zoetis Petcare.