Your Puppy's Health During His First Year

Take these steps to ensure good puppy health.

Congratulations! You're the proud owner of a puppy. It's important to take steps now to ensure great puppy health. Louise Murray, D.V.M., director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), offers these pointers for your puppy's first year.

Puppy Health: Preventive care. Talk to friends to find a veterinarian you can trust. Within a week of bringing your puppy home, take him for a checkup. The doctor will perform a physical and start keeping a detailed medical history.

Puppy Health: Vaccines. The overvaccination of pets is currently a hot topic, Murray says. The question is, however, not whether to vaccinate but which vaccines to use and how often. What she calls the "core vaccines" – those for parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus type 2, and rabies – are essential. "These shots protect your dog from diseases that are very real, very common and very dangerous," she says. Additional vaccines may be necessary based on where you live, where you take your dog and whether you travel.

Puppy Health: Diet. Choose a reputable brand of dog food and discuss your choice with your veterinarian. In his first year, your puppy will be on food that is specifically geared toward younger dogs and will likely eat three times a day rather than once or twice.

Puppy Health: Spay/neuter. An excellent measure against pet overpopulation, this procedure ideally should be performed at age four to five months, which is before a female dog goes into her first heat and before a male enters puberty. A female dog who is spayed before going into heat is 2,000 times less likely to get breast cancer, Murray says. Males who are neutered before entering puberty have fewer behavioral issues such as aggression toward other dogs and urine marking.

Puppy Health: Flea, tick and heartworm medicines. Most dogs should be on medicine year-round to prevent heartworm, a life-threatening parasitic infestation, Murray says. Fleas, often seen as just an annoyance, can actually cause severe skin problems and even anemia. Ticks carry multiple diseases (including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever). Your veterinarian can prescribe effective preventives for these two problems.

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