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Recommendations for Owners of New Puppies

We would like to congratulate you on the acquisition on your new puppy. Owning a dog can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it also carries with it quite a bit of responsibility. We hope this document will give you the information needed to make some good decisions regarding your puppy.

First, let us say that we are grateful that you have chosen us to help you with your puppy’s health care. If you have questions concerning any subject related to your puppy’s health, please feel free to call our hospital. Our entire professional team is willing and happy to help you.

Puppy Playing

Stimulating play is important during the first week. Stalking and pouncing are important play behaviors in puppies and are necessary for proper muscular development. If given a sufficient outlet for these behaviors with toys, your puppy will be less likely to use family members for these activities. The best toys are lightweight, movable, and not too hard. These include rubber balls and kong toys. Any toy that is small enough to be swallowed should be avoided. You should also avoid any hard toys or other hard objects to chew on such as antlers. Often these types will result in broken teeth.


Disciplining a young puppy may be necessary if its behavior threatens people or property, but harsh punishment should be avoided. Hand clapping and using shaker cans or horns can be intimidating enough to inhibit undesirable behavior. However, remote punishment is preferred. Remote punishment consists of using something that appears unconnected to the punisher to stop the problem behavior. Examples include using spray bottles, throwing objects in the direction of the puppy to startle (but not hit), and making loud noises. Remote punishment is preferred because the puppy associates punishment with the undesirable act and not with you.

Puppy Wellness Plans

We offer comprehensive preventive care for your new puppy at both our West Des Moines and Norwalk, IA locations.

View our package information here.

Intestinal Worms

Intestinal parasites are common in puppies. Puppies can become infected with parasites almost as soon as they are born. For example, the most important source of roundworm infection in puppies is while still in the mother’s uterus or the mother’s milk (even if mom was fully dewormed). The microscopic examination of a stool sample will usually help us to determine the presence of intestinal parasites. We recommend this exam for all puppies.

If we cannot get a stool sample, please bring one at your earliest convenience. Even if we do not get a stool sample, we recommend the use of a deworming product that is safe and effective against almost all of the common worms of the dog. Several effective oral medications are available. Some medications may need to be repeated 2 weeks apart to ensure the adult and juvenile worms are effectively treated. Dogs remain susceptible to reinfection with hookworms and roundworms. Periodic deworming throughout the dog’s life is recommended. New research shows that almost 20% of all types of potting soil have roundworm eggs, making it almost as likely that your dog can get worms indoors as outdoors.

Tapeworms are the second most common intestinal parasite of dogs. Tapeworm eggs can be ingested by fleas, which in turn can infect kittens when they groom themselves and swallow fleas. The flea is digested within the dog’s intestine causing the developing tapeworm to be released and then anchors itself to the intestinal lining. Therefore, each new exposure to fleas may result in a new infection; this can occur in as little as two weeks.

Puppies infected with tapeworms will pass small segments of the worms in their stool. The segments are white in color and look like grains of rice. They are about 1/8 inch (3 mm) long and may be seen crawling on the surface of the stool. They may also stick to the hair under the tail. If that occurs, they will dry out, shrink to about half their size, and become golden in color.

Tapeworm segments do not pass every day or in every stool sample; therefore, inspection of several consecutive bowel movements may be needed to find them. We may examine a fecal sample in our office and not find them, and then you may find them the next day. If you find them at any time, please notify us so we may provide the appropriate medication for treatment.

Please note that tapeworms are the only parasite that might be found visually. All other types of intestinal parasites require microscopic examination for diagnosis and treatment.


Heartworms are important parasites, especially in certain climates. They can live in your dog’s heart and cause major damage to the heart and lungs. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes so your dog does not have to be in contact with another dog to be exposed. Fortunately, we have medications that will protect your dog from heartworms. These medications are very safe and very effective if given regularly. Heartgard Plus and Proheart are the two medications we recommend for effective prevention of heartworm disease. We recommend Heartgard to be given as a treat every 30 days year around to prevent heartworm disease, intestinal hookworms and roundworms. Proheart is an injection that is given in our clinic every 6 months year around to prevent heartworm disease and intestinal hookworms. Hookworms are the parasites that kids can get. When you purchase a year’s worth of one of these products through our hospital, you have a year guarantee that your pet will not get Heartworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, nor tapeworms. If any of these are found, you are reimbursed for the test and for treatment of the parasite.

Your pet will also need a fecal and heartworm testing yearly to make sure they continue to be negative for intestinal parasites and heartworm disease. A heartworm test requires a small blood sample that can be drawn during your pet’s semi-annual visit. Be aware that having a long hair coat or staying primarily indoors does not protect a dog against heartworm infection.

Heartworm preventatives are dosed according to your dog’s weight. As the weight increases, the dosage should also increase. Please note the dosing instructions on the package. These products are very safe. You could overdose your dog by two or three times the recommended dose without causing harm. Therefore, it is always better to overdose rather than under dose.

Food for Puppies

Diet is extremely important in the growing months of a dog’s life, and there are two important criteria that should be met in selecting food for your puppy. We recommend a NAME-BRAND FOOD made by a national dog food company (not a generic or local brand), and a form of food MADE FOR PUPPIES. This should be fed until your puppy is spayed or neutered, at around 4-6 months of age, depending on its size. We recommend that you only buy food that has the AAFCO certification. Usually, you can find this information very easily on the label. AAFCO is an organization that oversees the entire pet food industry. It does not endorse any particular food, but it will certify that the food has met the minimum requirements for nutrition. Most of the commercial pet foods will have the AAFCO label.

The better brands of foods are Royal Canin and iVet Veterinary Diets for dogs.

It is best to feed dry pet foods only. It can be easily measured morning and night to monitor feeding. It is more economical that wet food. Dry food is also the best for maintaining long-term health of the teeth.

Semi-moist and canned foods are not recommended. Both are considerably more expensive than dry food. They often are more appealing to the dog’s taste; however, they are not more nutritious. If you feed a very tasty food, you are running the risk of creating a dog with a finicky appetite. This can be detrimental if we need to use a prescription diet later in the dog’s life to treat a medical problem. In addition, the semi-moist foods are high in sugar. Again, dry foods are best for the teeth. Pets with better dental health live an average of two year longer quality life than pets that don’t.

Table foods are not recommended. Because they are generally very tasty, dogs will often begin to hold out for these and not eat their well-balanced dog food. If you choose to give your puppy table food, be sure that at least 90% of its diet is good quality commercial puppy food. Additional some table foods can results in significant stomach, pancreatic and intestinal issues.

We enjoy a variety of things to eat in our diet. However, most dogs actually prefer not to change from one food to another unless they are trained to do so by the way you feed them. Do not feel guilty if your dog is happy to just eat one food day after day, week after week.

In addition to table foods, it is also important that you not give certain other things to dogs. Bones of birds (chicken, turkey, etc.) are hollow and splinter easily producing very sharp pointed pieces of bones. These can easily pierce the esophagus, stomach, and intestines resulting in peritonitis and death.

Feeding Schedules

There are several “right” ways to feed puppies. The most popular method is commonly called “meal feeding.” This means that the puppy is fed at specific times of the day. A measured amount of food should be offered four times per day for 5-12 week old puppies. What is not eaten within 15 to 20 minutes is taken up. If the food is eaten within 3-4 minutes, the quantity is probably not sufficient. Puppies fed in this manner generally begin to cut themselves out of one or two of those meals by 3-4 months of age. If a meal is ignored for several days, it should be discontinued.

Many new puppy owners do not have the time in their schedule to offer 4 meals per day. If this is true for you, two meals- one each morning and evening in your routine will be fine and still provide all that your puppy needs.

“Free choice feeding” means that food is available at all times. This works well with dry foods for some dogs. However, most dogs tend to overeat and become obese. As 80% of dogs that visit veterinary clinics around the country are not at their ideal weight, this method is not recommended. It is always easier to prevent weight gain, than to lose already gained weight.


Housebreaking should begin as soon as your puppy enters his new home. How long the training must continue depends on both the puppy and you. Some pups learn sooner than others. Your dog wants to please you. But a puppy’s memory is short, so your patience is important. A home with a badly trained puppy is not a happy home for you or the puppy.

The key to housebreaking is consistency! Training requires time and effort. No puppy will be perfect, and most puppies do not develop good bladder control until they are approximately 4 months old. We recommend crate training as the method of choice for most puppies.

Most dogs learn to appreciate their crates as a den or safety zone where they can go to when they are tired or nervous. Choose a crate that is just large enough for your puppy to comfortably lie down. Begin crate training by placing the puppy in the crate with a favorite toy for a few minutes throughout the day. Then place the puppy in the crate for naps and at nighttime. Reward the puppy for entering the crate, and always take the puppy outside to eliminate when they come out of the crate.

Take the puppy to the same spot every time they go outside to eliminate. The scent of their own urine and feces will act as a stimulus, causing them to relieve themselves. Use a catch phrase such as “go potty” frequently while the puppy is eliminating and praise them lavishly afterwards. This will eventually train your puppy to go on command.

This can be very useful, for example, on trips or when you don’t have time for a lengthy walk. Allow the puppy a little time after they eliminate to explore outside on the leash. Some puppies love to be outside, and if you take them inside immediately after they eliminate, they quickly learn to “hold it” to extend their outdoor time. This will work against you in trying to teach them to eliminate on command. Puppies will need to eliminate frequently.

Take them outside after every meal, whenever they wake up from naps, and after every play session. Until they are going outside consistently, you should keep the puppy confined to a room with you at all times when they are out of the crate. With close observation, you will begin to recognize the body language such as circling and sniffing the ground that indicate that the puppy must eliminate. All puppies will have some accidents.

Never scold or physically punish your puppy. This may result in the puppy associating the punishment with the act itself, not with the choice of location. This could lead to the puppy refusing to “do his business” in front of humans. If you are having trouble, please feel free to call us for advice.

Socialization of Puppies

The Socialization Period for dogs is between 4 and 12 weeks of age. During that time, the puppy is very impressionable to social influences. If it has good experiences with men, women, children, cats, other dogs, etc., it is likely to accept them throughout life. If the experiences are absent or unpleasant, it may become apprehensive or averse to any of them. Therefore, during the period of socialization, we encourage you to expose your dog to as many types of social events and influences as possible.

Three Curious Things about Puppies

Puppies may be observed to make unusual sounds or movements during their sleep. This is called “activated sleep.” It probably occurs because your puppy is dreaming and trying to participate in the dream.

Puppies also have “puppy breath.” There is a characteristic smell about a puppy’s breath. It is not particularly offensive or desirable. It is much like the smell of a new car. It is present a few weeks then disappears.

Puppies also frequently have episodes of hiccups. They may occur for 10-20 minutes at a time then spontaneously disappear. They are probably related to swallowing of air when eating and do not produce any significant distress to your dog. They will stop, as your puppy gets a little older.

Flea Control

Fleas do not stay on your puppy all of their time; occasionally, they will jump off and seek another host. Therefore, it is important to kill fleas on your new puppy before they can become established in your house. Many of the flea control products that are safe on adult dogs are not safe for puppies less than 4 months of age. Be sure that any flea product you use is labeled safe for puppies. Simparica and Bravecto are the chewable flea and tick products we recommend most. They are very effective, easy to use, and not messy. Please note that veterinary flea and tick products are not the same as the store products. The store products are hardly effective, wash off, and can be toxic.

We will discuss this with you more during your visits for vaccinations.


One of the characteristics of puppies is chewing. Puppies are trying their new teeth so chewing is a normal behavior. The puppy’s baby teeth are present by about 4 weeks of age. They begin to fall out at 4 months of age and are replaced by the adult (permanent) teeth by about 6 months of age. Therefore, chewing is a puppy characteristic that you can expect until about 6-7 months of age. It is important that you do what you can to direct your puppy’s chewing toward acceptable objects. You should provide items such as Blue Kongs, Veggie Dents, and other flexible chew toys so other objects are spared. Bones are not appropriate chew toys. (FDA bones pdf LINK)

Trimming Toenails

Puppies have very sharp toenails. While small, they can be trimmed with your regular fingernail clippers or with nail trimmers made for dogs and cats. If you take too much off the nail, you will get into the quick; bleeding and pain will occur. If this happens, neither you nor your dog will want to do this again. Therefore, a few points are helpful:

  1. If your dog has clear or white nails, you can see the pink of the quick through the nail. Avoid the pink area, and you should be out of the quick.
  2. If your dog has black nails, you will not be able to see the quick so only cut 1/32″ (1 mm) of the nail at a time until the dog begins to get sensitive. The sensitivity will usually occur before you are into the blood vessel. With black nails, it is likely that you will get too close on at least one nail.
  3. If your dog has some clear and some black nails, use the average clear nail as a guide for cutting the black ones.
  4. When cutting nails, use sharp trimmers. Dull trimmers tend to crush the nail and cause pain even if you are not in the quick.
  5. You should always have styptic powder available. This is sold in pet stores under several trade names, but it will be labeled for use in trimming nails.

Ear Infections

Ear infections cause the production of often dark discharge in the ear canals. It is important that we examine your puppy to be sure we use the right medication for the problem. Please do not ask us to just dispense medication without having the opportunity to make an accurate diagnosis. While ear mites can occur in puppies, it is rare. Ear mites are a tiny parasite that are often found in cats and rarely dogs. Different infections of many types of bacteria, or lots of yeast may be present, or a combination can cause ear infections. This is why it’s so important to examine the ear and look at the contents microscopically before and after treatment, to make sure we select the right medication and know that the ear drum is fine. Ear infections in dogs can be cleared, but often reoccur and change types months later.

Spaying Females

Spaying offers several advantages. The female’s heat periods result in about 2-3 weeks of vaginal bleeding. This can be quite annoying if your dog is kept indoors. Male dogs are attracted from miles away and, in fact, seem to come out of the woodwork. They seem to go over, around, and through many doors or fences. Your dog will have a heat period about every 6 months.

Spaying is the removal of the uterus and the ovaries. Therefore, heat periods no longer occur. In many cases, despite of your best effort, the female will become pregnant; therefore spaying prevents unplanned litters of puppies.

It has been proven that as the female dog gets older, there is a significant incidence of breast cancer and uterine infections if she has not been spayed. Spaying before she has any heat periods will virtually eliminate the chance of either. If you do not plan to breed your dog, we strongly recommend that she be spayed before her first heat period. This can be done anytime after she is 4 months old.

Neutering Males

Neutering offers several advantages. Male dogs are attracted to a female dog in heat and will climb over or go through fences to find her. Male dogs are more aggressive and more likely to fight, especially with other male dogs. As dogs age, the prostate gland frequently enlarges and causes difficulty urinating and defecating. Neutering will solve, or greatly help, all of these problems that come with owning a male dog. The surgery can be performed any time after the dog is 4 months old.


If you plan to breed your dog, she should have at least one or two heat periods first. This will allow her to physically mature allowing her to be a better mother without such a physical drain on her. We do not recommend breeding after 5 years of age unless she has been bred prior to that. Having her first litter after 5 years of age increases the risk of problems during the pregnancy and/or delivery. Once your dog has had her last litter, she should be spayed to prevent the reproductive and breast cancer problems older dogs have. We also recommend following the OFA’s guidelines for checking for problems with hips, eyes, heart, and thyroid prior to breeding. Certification for some of these breed specific problems will help ensure healthy puppies and increase the value of the puppies.

Pet Identification

The latest in pet retrieval is microchipping. This tiny device is implanted with a needle so the process is much like getting an injection. Our scanner can detect these chips; humane societies and animal shelters across the country also have scanners. A national registry permits the return of microchipped pets throughout the United States and Canada. We recommend it.


Whole books are written on the care and training of puppies. We hope this handout helps, but we know you may have many more questions. Feel free to call us for help. You can also find a lot of good information in books about puppy care. Be very careful with what you may find on the internet. For every good website, you may find one with incorrect information. Please don’t hesitate to email or call us at the location of your choice below with any question or concerns.