It’s a big world out there, and I can’t wait to explore! I get tuckered out easily, but I just need a nap, then I’m ready to go again. I’m getting the hang of things in my new home — I especially love evening cuddles! I had my first trip to someone called the veterinarian — he looked in my ears and mouth and gave me some shots, but they didn’t hurt. He says that I’m in tip-top shape and ready for my next adventure!

"At this age, your puppy is growing fast, alternating between bursts of energy and long stretches of sleep. Starting your puppy on a daily schedule will help to streamline his transition into your home and potty training. Your new puppy is becoming more and more inquisitive and is receptive to new people and other puppies, making this the optimal time for socialization. His first veterinary visit will be getting him off on the right paw toward a long, healthy life."

Dr. Jules Benson

Petplan Chief Veterinary Medical Officer

puppy's first vet visit

New collar? Check. Leash? Check. Food, toys, treat, all of the accoutrements — check! Now it’s time for puppy’s first vet visit. Ideally, your vet should see your puppy within the first 48 hours of his arrival to your house, so that any immediate health concerns or congenital abnormalities can be identified and addressed.

Now, how are you going to prepare? Wait – you mean you don’t just walk your dog into the office and let the doc do his thing? Well, you could, but there are things you can do to prime your pup to leave the whole hospital staff cooing:

  • Brush up on vet visit etiquette — it’s important for pet parents, but it is helpful for four-legged patients, too!
  • Tote along any previous records you have relating to your pet’s health, including — vaccine records, microchip information and a list of current medications, vitamins and supplements. In addition, bring any records of illness.
  • Certified professional dog trainer Nicole Larocco-Skeehan has some paw-fect ways to prep your pup through some simple training tips prior to your puppy’s first vet visit.

During the physical exam, your veterinarian will check your pup’s eyes and ears, look in his mouth and check his teeth, listen to his heart, palpate his belly, and check to see if his testicles have dropped yet. (Obviously, this will be skipped if your new puppy is a girl!)

While your veterinarian is giving your pup a good rub down, feel free to ask a few questions! Not sure what to ask? Here are a few suggestions to catch their attention:

  • How is my puppy’s weight?

    After checking your puppy’s weight, your vet will make recommendations about how much to feed and how often.

  • Does my puppy have any signs of breed-specific problems?

    Your vet will be on the lookout, but he or she can also give you a run-down on issues that might occur, like “floating kneecaps” in purebred Miniature Poodles.

  • How can I keep my puppy’s ears clean at home?

    Your vet can teach you how to clean his ears, which will in turn teach your puppy to tolerate it! Routine hygiene can prevent ear infections and waxy buildup.

  • How should I cut his nails, and how often?

    It is best to teach your puppy to have his nails trimmed from the very beginning. Begin by handling his paws often, so he gets used to them being touched. Your vet can teach you about toenail anatomy and how to safely and effectively perform “mani-pedis” at home – saving you time and money!

Your puppy will likely be dewormed at his first visit to protect him from intestinal parasites that pose a major health risk to all puppies — some of which can be transmitted to pet parents and human playmates!

Petplan’s Vets for Pets blog has the full list of usual suspects your vet might mention, including:

  • roundworms one of the most common worms, these cause diarrhea and vomiting, or in severe cases, intestinal obstruction.
  • hookworms commonly seen in puppies, who can get them from their mothers, these blood-sucking worms can cause anemia.
  • whipworms making their home in puppy’s intestines, they can cause chronic bloody diarrhea.

vaccination nation

Puppies are most susceptible to deadly infectious diseases during the ages of 3 to 9 months, so depending on your puppy’s age when you brought him home, he may have gotten his first few puppy shots already. There are two categories of puppy vaccines:

core vaccinesnon-core vaccines

  • These are usually recommended for all puppies, regardless of their lifestyle, as an important step in protecting their health. Just like human babies, puppies need a series of vaccines to be considered fully vaccinated.
  • These vaccines help to prevent your puppy from infectious or very deadly diseases, including distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza and leptospirosis (depending on where you live). Petplan staff veterinarian Dr. Kim Smyth has more about these conditions in this core vaccines blog.
  • These are vaccines that are available to protect against certain diseases, but not all puppies necessarily need them. Your veterinarian will be able to make recommendations.
  • These vaccines protect your puppy from conditions like bordetella (which many boarding facilities require), Lyme disease, coronavirus, giardia and porphyromonas. Dr. Smyth explains more about why these vaccines might be necessary this blog.

Your puppy might have received his first vaccines before you brought him home (which is why any vet records you have are important to bring!), but your vet will be able to advise you on what is best.

health homework

Your vet will also likely advise you to establish some healthy pet habits to keep up at home. The sooner you start, the sooner these will become part of your everyday routine!

Brush Up on Dental Care:Your puppy will actually lose his baby teeth between 3 and 6 months of age, but don’t be afraid to start brushing them on the first day you bring him home! It may take a little bit of training and a lot of rewards, but over time, brushing teeth will become second nature to you and your puppy. Tooth brushing on a daily basis helps to prevent the formation of dental tartar and inflammation of the gum tissue, called gingivitis. These aren’t huge issues in a puppy, but can become problematic later in life, so it is important to establish good dental care habits early on.

Pampered Pooch: Puppies’ nails grow fast. If they don’t wear down naturally, they can break, causing pain and even bleeding. Ouch! Get your puppy off to a good start by training him to sit for “mani-pedis” every four to six weeks. Start by having a helper hold him still for you, while you have the trimmers and treats. While he’s focused on chewing on a treat, snip one little toenail and praise him for staying calm. Go slowly at first, and play it safe by only trimming the very tip of the nail. If your puppy has white nails, you might be able to see the pink blood vessels within, called “the quick.”

nail "tips" for success

  • Purchase sharp, new nail trimmers
  • Purchase styptic sticks to have on hand, in case you trim too much and there is a little bleeding.
  • If your puppy does bleed, don’t panic! Grab a styptic stick and apply to the area.
  • Some puppies don’t like the pressure of the clipper on the nail and may pull their paw back. Stay calm and try, try again!
  • If your puppy is really putting up a fuss, you might want to skip the at-home manicures and leave it to the pro — your vet!

Pets under the age of 1 are
2.5x more likely
to need an unexpected trip to the vet.

let's get social!

Everyone loves playing with a cute, fluffy puppy — but did you know that playtime is also important for your puppy’s development? Experts think that the optimal “socialization window” for puppies to learn to get along with others is between 10 and 16 weeks of age. There are a million different ways that your pup can meet and greet people and new furry friends, but it’s im-paw-tant to also consider your new pup’s health and safety.

For many years, veterinarians have encouraged people to delay socialization until the puppy has finished his puppyhood vaccines — which is after the “socialization window.” This is due to a brief period before a puppy reaches 16 weeks where there is little protection left from the mother’s antibodies and little effective vaccine protection. During this “switchover,” puppies are more vulnerable to viruses, especially parvovirus, which is shed through the feces of infected dogs and can linger in the environment for months.

So what is a concerned parent to do? Don’t despair! Nowadays, veterinarians encourage young puppies to socialize during this time, but to do it carefully.

do I hear the dinner bell?

Your puppy’s passion for play (which is often seemingly endless at this age!) needs to be fueled by nutritious, delicious food. Many puppies will come from the breeder or shelter with a specific puppy food that they are used to, but you may want to change brands — just ask your vet for the best way to transition slowly.

When your pup first arrives home, his appetite might be a little less than it should be, and this is common. He’s undergoing a big change and may just be a little tired! But rest assured, many puppies will bury their muzzles in the bowl after the first day in their new home.

It is important to feed a puppy-specific food until his first birthday, because they (both dry and canned) are specifically formulated for growth. But with seemingly endless options on the market, how do you know which to choose?

A few nibbles to help whet your pup’s palate:

  • Little Nibbles: Small pieces of dry kibble are easier for tiny mouths to eat, especially for toy breeds like Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers.

  • Giant Appetites: If you have a new large or giant-breed furry friend, pick a food formulated for his special needs. Special formulations can help keep bone growth problems like panosteitis at bay.

  • Fresh Start: Fresh puppy food varieties are often available at grocery and pet stores. These can be found in refrigerated display cases and contain fresh real fruits, grains, vegetables and meats.

Puppies need three meals a day until they are 4 months of age — after that, most vets will advise you to scale back to two meals a day.

Small and toy breeds, like Malteses and Chihuahuas, are prone to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) between meals when they are very young, so your vet might advise you to offer small, frequent meals every two to four hours until your pup is 4 months of age, and then switch to three meals a day.

what else should your puppy eat?

  • puppy multivitamin Just like people, pets can benefit from a daily dose of essential vitamins and nutrients. Look for a multivitamin rich in B vitamins, Vitamin D and E and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc.
  • treat all about it Treats are invaluable during your puppy’s first few months in training. But they can be too much of a good thing, which can set him up for weight issues. When giving your pup a treat, try to tie in a training exercise — even a very small one. Keep portion sizes small and incorporate fresh, raw fruits and vegetables for a nutritious punch. Consider keeping a handful of Cheerios in your pocket during training and while out on walks for a quick, crunchy reward.

"A good treat portion size for a puppy should be about the size of the end of your thumb, given two to three times a day. Offering low-calorie, high-fiber snacks like raw carrots, blueberries, raspberries, apple, pear and banana that will have your puppy begging for more!"

– Dr. Jules Benson

get into the swing of things

When is the best time to start establishing a daily routine for your puppy? If you guessed “Now!” you’re well on your way to earning a pet parenting gold star. Puppies, like two-legged babies, need structure and scheduling to learn the ropes of their new home. Remember, when your puppy is this young, everything is new, and potentially scary — a routine will ease the transition and help the whole family feel more secure (and give you a paw-up on potty and obedience training!).

  • kibble’s on! Establish regular feeding times, whether you start with small meals four times a day or offer larger portions twice a day. Talk to your vet about proper portions so puppy’s nutritional needs are met. (And don’t forget to brush after meals!)
  • potty time: Potty training a puppy is no picnic, but starting a schedule early will help a lot! Try to always bring your puppy outside to relieve his bladder and bowels at regular intervals throughout the day — first thing in the morning, after each meal and right before bed are always good! Also make sure you always go to the same spot. Your puppy will get the hang of potty training more quickly the more consistent you are.
  • play’s the thing: Exercise and playtime should also happen regularly, both to keep puppy’s body fit and to work out his mind. They can even be combined with training, like practicing leash walking and basic obedience, like “come.”
  • night night: Deciding where your puppy will sleep every night is a decision the whole family should agree on and reinforce. That means if your puppy is meant to sleep in his crate, he doesn’t get to spend the night in a child’s bed, no matter how many times he whines or your child begs. He (the pup or the child) might cry a bit at first, but he’ll quickly learn where the pup’s proper bed is.