Puppies arrive into this world in a care dependent state. The fact that their eyes and ears are sealed reflects their incompletely developed nervous system. They are born capable of little spontaneous movement and must be stimulated by the mother's licking to begin breathing, irregularly at first.
Because of an inability to maintain body heat, puppies must stay close to their mother and littermates. A puppy will orient itself toward the source of licking directed at its head and dorsum. This natural rooting reflex encourages the puppy to turn and push toward any warm object near its head. Since any warm object(s) would most likely be its mother or littermates, the reflex is important in establishing the puppy's initial bond with the mother. The reflex begins to disappear at 4 days.
Most healthy puppies are first examined by veterinarians at 8-10 weeks of age when they receive their initial vaccines. Puppies younger than 5 weeks should be examined on a warm surface and by an individual with warm hands. Warm the surface with a warm water heater blanket or use a small cardboard box lined with blankets containing hot water bottles.
Before handling the puppy, first observe its reaction to the surrounding environment. Make note of the puppy's general physical condition, mentation, posture, locomotion, and breathing pattern. Next, record the puppy's weight and obtain vital signs. The normal rectal temperature for newborn puppies is 96°F to 97°F. After 1 to 2 weeks the rectal temperature gradually increases until it reaches 100°F by 4 weeks of age. The heart rate should be rapid and strong; breathing should be regular and unlabored.
Body weight is an important parameter in determining the health of very young puppies. Weight loss or failure to gain weight is one of the first signs of illness. Having the owner keep an accurate daily record of each puppy's weight for the first 2 weeks of life and every 2 weeks thereafter is helpful in detecting a health related problem. For example, to achieve a normal adult weight of 100 pounds, a puppy should gain 100 to 150 grams of weight daily.
Puppies should gain 5% to 10% of their birth weights per day if they are being fed properly. Underfeeding is always preferable to overfeeding, which may cause obesity and musculoskeletal diseases. It is important to remember that puppies require twice the fat and protein and more calcium and phosphorus than that which ordinary cows milk provides. Homemade or commercial milk replacement formulas are also imperfect substitutes for the canine mother's milk. The following methods can be used as a feeding formula for growing puppies:
· Canned or fresh goat's milk or liquid bitch's milk substitutes for first 4 to 6 weeks of life, and;
· One part dry puppy food to three parts milk replacer or water (two parts canned puppy food to one part milk replacer or water) that is processed in a blender for 3 weeks of age and older.
The transition from mother's milk to solid food should be a gradual process beginning at about 3 weeks of age; however, if necessary, supplemental feeding may be started as soon as the puppy fails to show weight gain.
Weaning is a stressful time for the lactating mother as well as for the puppies. Most puppies are weaned beginning at about 6 weeks of age, which coincides with the period of peak milk production in the bitch. The sudden termination of mother's milk is accepted more readily if the puppies have been prepared beforehand with the gradual introduction of food labeled as puppy growth food. Inquisitive puppies are ready at 3 to 4 weeks to be fed canned puppy food or given a gruel made of commercial dry food blended with water. By 5 weeks, puppies should be consuming a nutritionally complete and balanced food supplemented by occasional nursing.
A puppy instinctively will not soil its bed if given alternative areas on which to relieve itself. During the first 3 weeks of life, the mother licks the external genitalia every few hours with her tongue to stimulate urination and defecation and to clean the puppies. She ingests the excreted waste. Once puppies are old enough to begin eating solid food, they wander a short distance away from the bed to relieve themselves.
Puppies are not capable of controlling urination or defecation until 8 weeks of age. Before this time, they express their bowels or urinary bladder 15 to 30 minutes after awakening and eating, during intense activity, and before bedtime. House training for a new puppy usually takes from 2 to 4 weeks and is accomplished through confinement, a regular schedule of feeding and elimination breaks, a great deal of praise, and no punishment.
PREVENTIVE HEALTH SCHEDULE
Parasites: Puppies should be checked for gastrointestinal parasites and dewormed at 3 weeks of age and older. They also require fecal re-examinations and deworming when they return for their routine vaccinations. Gastrointestinal parasites can cause serious disorders in puppies, including life threatening anemia, diarrhea, weakness from hypoglycemia, and weight loss. The most common parasites of puppies are hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, tapeworms, Giardia, and coccidia. The method of infection varies with the type of worm, but includes transplacental transfer, infection via milk while nursing, skin penetration, and oral ingestion. Treatment includes immediate therapy with appropriate anthelmintic medications, follow up therapy 2 to 4 weeks later to kill migrating stages of the parasite, and environmental clean up to prevent reinfection.
Dogs should be checked for worms on a regular basis: at 3 weeks of age; 6 to 8 weeks of age; 10 to 12 weeks of age; 14 to 16 weeks of age; and on an annual basis (minimum) as adults. The test requires a small sample of fresh feces, flotation solution (sodium nitrate solution prepared to a specific gravity of 1.36 works best), and a good microscope. The fecal sample is suspended in flotation solution, topped with a coverslip, and allowed to stand undisturbed for 5 to 10 minutes. The coverslip is then placed on a glass slide and examined for parasite ova. Tapeworm infections are rarely diagnosed by fecal examinations because the eggs are contained within segments of the tapeworm (proglottids), which crawl out of the puppy's anus and fall to the ground. Commercially produced test kits can be obtained to identify parasite ova in feces as well.
Heartworm preventive medication should be started at 12 weeks of age in areas where heartworms are endemic. Heartworm infection can be prevented by administering oral medications to heartworm negative dogs on a regular basis. Duration of administration will vary depending on the mosquito season in the particular geographic area. In the southern United States, where the disease is endemic, prophylactic medication should be given year round.
A puppy is usually started on heartworm prophylaxis using milbemycin oxime, ivermectin, or diethylcarbamazine. The heartworm preventive product that contains milbemycin oxime should be administered orally at the recommended minimal dose level of 0.5 mg/kg of body weight at monthly dosing intervals. The ivermectin product should be administered orally at the recommended minimum dose level of 6.6 microg/kg at monthly dosing intervals. Heartworm products that contain diethylcarbamazine are available for oral administration as a chewable tablet, standard tablet, and syrup from a variety of manufacturers and should be given once a day at a dose rate of 6.6 mg/kg (3 mg/lb.). Heartworm preventive products of any type should be started in heartworm infested areas 1 month before the beginning of mosquito season and for about 2 months thereafter. Dogs should be given a heartworm examination annually.
Vaccinations: Puppies are very susceptible to certain infectious diseases, especially canine distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, bordetellosis, and rabies. Puppies receive antibodies from their mother via the colostrum, which usually protects them from these diseases for at least 8 weeks. Once the puppies lose their maternal antibody protection they are at high risk of contracting these diseases if exposed to an infected animal. Since the duration of protection provided by maternal antibodies can vary (the range is 3 to 20 weeks), it is recommended that puppies be vaccinated on a repeat basis until 4 months of age. Once the vaccination series (3 series) is completed, an annual booster is required to maintain protective antibody levels, then every three years thereafter.
The initial vaccination series consists of one injection of a multivalent vaccine given at 8-10 weeks of age and two boosters given 3 weeks apart. The rabies injection is given at least 4-6 weeks after the last series of vaccinations.
Dental Care: Puppies are diphyodont animals; they produce a generation of deciduous teeth that are shed and replaced by permanent teeth when the jaw reaches maturity. Deciduous incisors appear as early as 4 weeks of age. Full dentition is usually present in a puppy by 8 weeks of age. Shortly after the deciduous tooth is completely erupted, it starts to undergo an absorptive process beginning at the root. Under each deciduous tooth root a permanent tooth bud starts to develop. When the permanent tooth is completed and erupts through the gingiva, the deciduous tooth is shed. Permanent teeth of large breed dogs erupt a few days before those in smaller breeds.
CARE OF MOTHER DOG DURING WEANING:
Reduce mother's food a few days before the event and give her only a small amount of food on the first day of weaning. Limiting her food intake will decrease the amount of milk she produces. It is important to allow the mother free access to water. On the second and third days of weaning, the mother can be fed one half of the amount of the nutritionally complete food she was being fed until the last few weeks of gestation. By the fifth day after weaning the mother should be back to her normal diet. A mother who is producing large amounts of milk may benefit from the application of warm compresses to her mammary glands in order to decrease discomfort during the initial weaning stage.
During the changeover to solid food, puppies can be offered a mixture of a good quality puppy food mixed with water in a thick gruel. To encourage puppies to eat, the gruel is placed in a shallow food bowl or is given orally using a dose syringe. (Ask your veterinarian how to use a dose syringe if you have questions about how to do so.) You also can encourage puppies to lap the gruel from the shallow bowl by touching their lips to the food, or you can dip a finger in the gruel and then place it into the puppy's mouth. Once the puppy is eating the gruel well, gradually reduce the amount of water in the gruel until the water is omitted. You can separate your puppy from its mother as soon as it learns to eat and drink satisfactorily. Most puppies are completely weaned at 5 to 7 weeks of age, depending on the breed. Early weaning and separation from littermates before 6 weeks of age, however, can cause numerous behavioral problems later in life. Because of this, complete weaning should not be attempted until your puppies are at least 6 weeks old and close human contact has been established.
FEEDING WEANED PUPPIES:
The food fed to your puppy after weaning should be one specifically formulated for slow growth. Supplementing the food with meat, table scraps, or other items is not recommended, because it will likely create a finicky eater, nutritional deficiencies or excesses, or both. Because the puppy's eating habits are still in the developmental stage, it is important to feed a good quality growth puppy food at regular intervals until adulthood and provide fresh water in a clean bowl at all times.
Feeding the weaned puppy should always be directed to attaining the average growth rate for your particular breed. Overfeeding is not recommended. Use the stated feeding amount and schedule on commercial food containers as a convenient guide for determining the amount of food you should feed to your puppy daily in order to achieve average growth.
HOW TO TEACH GOOD EATING HABITS:
Instead of making food available to your puppy at all times (free choice feeding), time limited meal feeding is recommended. At each feeding, give the puppy 20 minutes to eat all that it wants and then remove the remaining food. From weaning to 3 months of age puppies are best fed at least 3 times a day at regular intervals.
HOUSE TRAINING YOUR PUPPY:
Initially, your puppy should be confined to a small box or crate that is large enough for it to lie down in with its legs extended. Food should be offered on a regular schedule. Every hour and before bedtime, carry your puppy to the same designated area to relieve itself. Successful urination or defecation should be rewarded with lavish praise. To prevent a puppy from defecating or urinating where it shouldn't, food or large amounts of water should not be left in the crate with the puppy overnight.
The length of time between trips outside the box or crate can be extended as the puppy learns to control its urinary bladder and bowels. The puppy will signal its intent by crying or sniffing earnestly at the floor when it needs to go out. The area of confinement should be gradually enlarged as the puppy learns control until it earns the right to spend the day unconfined. However, even when completely house-trained, puppies should be confined to small areas during the night to prevent accidents.