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Puppy Care Guide

golden retriever puppy lying on grass

Whether you are exploring the options of adding a furry companion to your family, or have recently purchased a new puppy, this guide will help you with some health and behaviour tips for all this puppy care! There is nothing better than bringing your new bundle of fluff home and witnessing all those crazy puppy antics. It is exciting shopping for bowls and bed and collars and toy, but what else may your pup need? Fear not, we will help with advice about health care and parasite preventatives, pet insurance and how to avoid separation anxiety.

Bringing them home

Firstly, you want to set up a living space where you puppy can safely stay and settle into their new environment. This may be a puppy pen or small room with anything dangerous that they may like to try and chew removed from sight. Puppies are curious creatures and like to explore and discover the world with multiple senses including smell and taste and therefore they do enjoy putting things in their mouths!

They should have a cosy sleeping area where they can sleep and rest with some safe puppy toys to entertain and comfort them. You may want to consider crate training your new pup as this can have many advantages! Crate training can assist with toilet training, help them settle in and feel secure in their new home. It can prevent some unwanted behaviour problems such as separation anxiety and it allows a safe place for them to stay when they are unsupervised. It can contain their bed and allow them space to move around but not be too large that they use it as their toilet!

Pet Insurance

This is an ideal time to consider the need for pet insurance. There are a few reasons that puppyhood is a great time to take out a pet insurance policy which you can tailor to your needs.

  1. Pet insurance will exclude any pre-existing conditions. For example, if your pet has been diagnosed with a problem before taking out pet insurance such as hip dysplasia, then you will not be able to claim for this when you purchase a policy. Therefore, taking out pet insurance when your pet is a young puppy before any accident or illness has occurred is likely to be most financially beneficial. Pre-existing condition can also be an illness that has not yet been diagnosed, so please see the PDS for more details about pre-existing conditions.
  2. Puppies can be accident and illness prone such as eating things they shouldn’t which may get stuck in their gut and requiring surgery which may cost thousands of dollars. They can also get injured due to their naivety; getting hit by cars or bitten by other dogs, bitten by snakes, and stung by bees, just to name a few! This again can prove costly especially if not budgeted for, so pet insurance will give you peace of mind that your pup can have the lifesaving treatment they require.
  3. Some dogs are going to acquire costly medical conditions that are not preventable, such as allergic skin disease or diabetes, both of which can involve multiple ongoing medications and treatments, and again having pet insurance before this occurs is likely to be highly financially valuable.

Nutrition – What should I feed my pup?

Puppy eating food outside

There are so many great options out there that it can be very overwhelming on what to choose to feed your puppy.

You need to feed something formulated for growth (a puppy food) and one that is complete and balanced. I like to recommend premium diets as they are designed to be nutrient-dense, highly digestible and also contain antioxidants which help to strengthen your pup’s immunity.

Higher-end premium pet food brands conduct laboratory analyses and feeding studies to determine the optimum levels of nutrients in their food, as well as regular batch testing to ensure consistency. My favourite recommendations are Royal Canin, Hills and Advance.

Natural diets are great because they often focus on diets free of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. Some provide options for quality limited ingredients, single/novel proteins and grain free. Premium natural dog food brands are complete and balanced as they still utilise the scientific knowledge gathered about pet nutrition to manufacture their diet.

For a home-made diet, it is recommended that a veterinary nutritionist is consulted. Many popular home-made diet recipes have been shown to be imbalanced. Commercially available diets are not perfect, however it is often the best and most practical option we have at the moment.

You can also discuss this with your vet when you take your pup for their vaccination if you are unsure or overwhelmed by all the wonderful options available!

Toilet Training

puppy urinating on grass outside during toilet training for puppy care

Toilet training can be quite a daunting and frustrating time for new puppy owners but having some plans in place can make for a more successful time.

I would recommend considering crate training your puppy, like I mentioned above, as this will provide a safe haven for them and prevents accidents when you are unable to supervise them.

Dogs prefer not to toilet near where they sleep and so they will likely not toilet in their crate if it is the correct size for their breed. They need enough space to be able to be able to stand up and turn around in but not too large that they can toilet in it! First thing in the morning you should take your puppy out and place them where you want them to toilet and you can give them a command such as the word “toilet” and them praise them with pats, lots of positive talk and even treats when they go in the correct place. Positive reinforcement, repetition and time is the key!

Tip: Take your puppy out to toilet every few hours and especially once they have woken up, recently eaten or drank some water.

Don’t scold or tell off your puppy if they go to the toilet in the wrong place as this can cause fear and anxiety for them. Ideally clean it up as quickly as possible and use an enzymatic cleaner to avoid the urine or faeces scent from attracting your puppy back to that spot next time they need to go.

Parasite Preventatives – all things worms, fleas and ticks

Intestinal worms

Due to their smaller size and immature immune system, puppies are particularly sensitive to parasite infestations. It is therefore recommended to worm your puppy every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age and then monthly for life. Monthly deworming is for roundworm, hookworm and whipworm. Deworming your puppy is imperative as heavy worm burdens can be life threatening and some intestinal worms are zoonotic meaning your pup can spread the parasite to you! For adult dogs we recommend 3 monthly tapeworm protection unless dogs are exposed to offal, raw meat, carcasses and hunting and if this is the case, they should then have a tapewormer every 6 weeks.

Heartworm

Heartworm is a parasite that is spread by infected mosquitos and prevention of this parasite is much less risky than treatment which can be costly and even deadly. It is more prevalent in the tropical and warmer climates and even indoor pets can be affected due to mosquitos finding their way inside. Prevention is in the form of an annual heartworm injection by your vet or a monthly spot on or tablet.

Fleas

This dreaded parasite can cause a lot of problems for your puppy and again prevention is easier and more efficient than trying to treat and control a flea burden in your house! Fleas suck blood and in puppies who have a heavy flea burden this blood loss can even lead to anaemia. It can also be challenging to control fleas when they are in your environment as a female flea lays up to 50 eggs a day meaning that 1 flea can become one million fleas in as little as 6 weeks! We therefore recommend flea prevention is used year-round and can be combined with tick prevention and worming or separate products. It is available in tablet form or a spot on preparation.

Ticks

There are 3 main tick species that can affect puppies in Australia, namely the brown dog tick (which can transmit the tick-borne disease Ehrlichiosis), the bush tick and deadly paralysis tick. Paralysis ticks are mainly found along the East Coast of Australia, from North Queensland to East Victoria. Again prevention is better than the cure and there are many products available that can kill or repel ticks and some are safe to use on puppies from 8 weeks of age.

Dental Health

Now is a great time to introduce a dental care plan for your puppy!

If you can get your pup used to assessing and touching their mouth at this early stage, this will help with them accepting toothbrushing and enjoying the time with you!

I recommend to start off with having them lick some flavoured toothpaste off your finger and once they are comfortable with this you can get them to lick some off a fingerbrush. After a week of doing this touch the fingerbrush to their top front teeth for them to lick off and slowly start brushing their teeth. Take things very slow and do be aware that their gums can be sensitive during teething (which happens in puppies from about 4-6 months of age). Chewing on safe puppy dental toys and chews is also useful.

Dental disease is one of the most common health issue I see in clinical practice, formulating a plan of how to best prevent and treat this is both beneficial for any future pain and discomfort for your pup and has financial benefits for you in the longer-term!

Socialisation

This is SUPER important for puppies especially in the first few weeks of owning them.

Puppies need vaccinations starting at 6-8 weeks so socialisation may need to happen at puppy classes. Puppy pre-school offers a safe and supervised environment where your puppy can meet different breeds of puppies, other people and learn some basic obedience too! Puppies have a “critical socialisation period” at about 3-17 weeks of age and experiences during this time can help to shape and influence their behaviour into adulthood. It is also important to expose them to different people as well as sounds and noises in a safe and calm environment and provide plenty of positivity and praise.

We recommend training using positive reinforcement and reward-based training as this helps set your puppy up to succeed, it is enjoyable for them (what puppy doesn’t enjoy a tasty liver treat?) and enhances the bond between yourself and your puppy.

Leaving your puppy alone and preventing separation anxiety

There will be times when you need to leave your puppy alone – this is perfectly okay and good for them.

Initially you should start with short periods of time, gradually increasing over time. You can leave your pup with some puppy safe toys that they can play with, ideally have a play with some exercise before you leave so they are worn out and want to rest while you are away.

This system of slowly increasing time alone will set them up to realise that time away from you is okay, and that you will return, and it can help prevent separation anxiety later in life.

Vaccination and Microchipping

Puppies are prone to several infectious diseases, so vaccinations are imperative to keep them safe. Speak to your vet about your puppy’s vaccination schedule but usually puppies require a course of 3 vaccinations, a month apart starting at 6-8 weeks of age. In Australia puppies are usually vaccinated against Parvovirus, Distemper, Hepatitis and Canine Cough.

Your puppy will likely already have a microchip when you bring them home, but do check that this is the case. You also need to have the microchip registered on the relevant microchip register. Don’t forget to update your contact details if you move! This will ensure if they get accidentally lost that they are identifiable and you will be contacted.

Summary

Enjoy this time of them being a puppy as they grow up and change so quickly!

Document it with lots of photos to look back on to remember all of the memories of them being so small.

My top advice would be to ensure you adequately socialise them with other people and dogs when they are young, teach them basic obedience, how to walk well on a lead and consider taking out pet insurance for peace of mind 🙂

Dr Angie with Axel

Written by Dr. Angie, the brilliant veterinary mind behind Pet Circle Insurance. With over 15 years of experience in the veterinary field and hands-on experience in handling insurance claims, Angie is a trusted and reliable source of truth when it comes to all things pet-related. Her passion for small animal medicine, nutrition, and the human-animal bond shines through in her work with the Pet Circle Veterinary Squad, where she provides top-notch advice and support to pet owners.