Pet Improvement: Puppies

Getting a puppy for Christmas is kind of a common phenomenon. There is a picture floating around the internet of this cute little fluffy puppy aged 4 months, then they have a picture of a Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur with the caption 4 to 24 months, then the sweet adult dog 24 months and older.  

It is so true. Those high energy little bundles can get into more trouble than a person can keep up with. For some reason, from the convenience of having a nice, well-behaved older pet, we forget about the wild children with absolutely no off switch.

For starters, I have always found that each new puppy seemed to have its own object of desire, be it shoes, remote controls, certain toys or even eyeglasses. The little beast is focused on that one type of item with the intent to seek and destroy.

My last puppy was absolutely obsessed with finding every single pair of glasses that I owned. Make no mistake about it, even if you think you have placed the object well out of their reach, they find a way. Necks can become very long, and bodies elongate when stretched sideways. It did not matter where I put the glasses, the puppy found them. 

My husband became so tired of the search every morning for the missing eyeglasses that he issued an edict; glasses will only be worn when leashed to my head, which he presented me with said leash. When not on my head, they must be placed in a protective container inside a drawer that cannot be opened. Basically, he leashed and crated my glasses instead of the puppy. 

Raising a wonderful puppy requires dedication and hard work. It does require training, discipline and puppy proofing your house. Other key areas of focus: socialization, immune health, nutrition and exercise. 

Puppies must be constantly socialized and exposed to many different situations, people and other animals, including other dogs. Some breeders are going to great lengths to ensure that even at three to four weeks, puppies have constant stimulation in the playpen. These are decorated with slides, mobiles, puzzles, different surfaces and toys. The critical socialization window is six to 16 weeks of age.

Pet parents must also balance this with the budding, immature immune system that cannot handle certain exposures to pathogens. Some puppy owners have taken to using slings and backpacks to get their puppy out safely into the world. Of course, one should avoid public places with high use, such as roadside rest stops. 

Although puppies are vaccinated for core diseases such as distemper and parvovirus, there are other infective agents, so care must be taken. It also takes several series of vaccinations to build protective immunity, and if given too early, this can fail. Some experts recommend starting the first vaccine at eight weeks to allow for the full disbursement of the maternal antibodies. Young animals have the benefits of their mother’s own immunity. 

Next, one must be cautious about “high-octane” fast growth diets. There are several companies that offer giant breed, slow growth diets that are low in calcium and protein for just these reasons. We now know that what is safest for puppies is to not spurt fast to protect the joints. The last thing that you want for your puppy is either too much starch or sugar and too much protein. Also, the balance of calcium and phosphorus is crucial for proper growth.

Supplementation in puppies that are under 1 year of age is not recommended. Anything can tip the apple cart of growth. Also, excess treats can create nutritional imbalance. You really want to stay with a balanced, high quality diet. Something as simple as liver treats, which are high in phosphorus, may create an imbalance. 

Joint, muscle, tendon and ligament health are just as vital. There has been an increase in discussion about this in the last several years, experts citing the need for careful exercise management because of growth plates. This is the soft cartilage-like tissue at the end of the long bones in the legs that later turns hard and calcifies. In puppies, these can close or harden at different rates up to two years of age. In other words, they do not all harden at once, so your puppy may be prone to injury. 

Not only is it vital to not fast grow the pup, but also to watch any type of slippery surface that can cause falls. All it takes is one good slip on even a muddy surface, vinyl flooring, slick tile and you can have damaged ligaments, loose joints and the potential for nagging joint issues. Excess exercise, jumping up and down and repetitive exercise can all affect the growth plates leading to acute problems such as fractures or lameness down the road. 

Here is a link to an excellent, easy to read column by Stephanie Hedgepath just published on this issue:

Growing a puppy can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling functions of pet ownership. The new paradigm on this is quite exciting, sophisticated and worth the time to research and speak with your veterinarian about. 

Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]


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