There are few things sweeter than the smell of a puppy or kitten’s breath.

While I’m no fan of giving pets as surprise presents, many families woke up Christmas morning greeted by a new bundle of fur. And every year about this time I begin to hear a little voice in my heart that says, “I want a new puppy.” Can you blame me, surrounded each day by perfect petite pooches and cuddly kitties?

The first year of a puppy’s life – much like the first year of our own – is incredibly important for setting up a good foundation for the lifetime health of your pet. But even if your family recently adopted an adult dog, there are things you can do to ensure that he is happy and healthy in his new home.

For everyone who recently welcomed a new four-legged friend into their life, I’d like to share with you some tips to help keep your pet perfect for years to come.

Visit your veterinarian – a lot 

While this seems like a no-brainer, frequent visits to the vet early in life will ensure your pet is comfortable working with his doctor. Nothing is harder than trying to treat a patient that is afraid or stressed.

Diversify your pet's diet

In my book, “Chow Hounds,” I go into great detail on the importance of introducing a variety of healthy, fresh foods to a growing puppy. Every day I confront a “picky eater” that is the result of years of feeding the same food and treats over and over. This can become a real problem if we need to change the diet to treat a disease or lose weight.

Offer omega-3 fatty acids

Brain, nerve and eye tissues are developing in a young pet. I participated in several studies way back in 1999 that evaluated the learning abilities of puppies fed high doses of omega-3’s compared to the “normal” diet. The results were astounding. Help your puppy or kitten boost brain power by supplementing their diet with omega-3 fatty acids for life. And while you’re at it, consider taking some yourself.

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Vaccinate early – not often

We now know that pets don’t necessarily need a lot of vaccines. Gone is the time of “vaccinate every pet with everything.” Pets are most susceptible to deadly infectious diseases during their first year, especially age 3 to 9 months. Don’t skip these essential early vaccines. Once your pet is an adult, your veterinarian should vaccinate based on lifestyle and risks. Most adult vaccines such as distemper, parvo and rabies are recommended every 3 years while a few must be administered yearly.

Heartworm preventive – for dogs and cats

Sadly, each year I see cases of untreatable and fatal heartworm disease in cats. Dogs that contract heartworm disease must undergo extensive, prolonged, and expensive treatment with many potential side effects. Avoid heartworm disease with a monthly preventive. Look for those that combine heartworm with flea preventive to save money and make your life easier.

Party with your pet 

Pets need to be exposed to a wide variety of people, pets and environments when they’re young. If they don’t experience lots of new things when they’re young, they often become fearful or withdrawn when placed in an unusual situation. (Don’t we all?)

Enroll in puppy classes, visit friends, and take car rides together. If kittens are introduced to riding in cars, they grow up to be brave cat travelers. Each time I see a pet afraid to get in a car or carrier, I wish I could rewind to this important time.

I could go on and on – and should – but you need to get back to playing with your new pet. If you didn’t get a new pet recently, it’s never too late to teach an old dog (or cat) new tricks!

Jan 10, 2014
Pet Care

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