Congratulations!!! Getting a new pet is extremely exciting, and is sure to be a wonderfully rewarding experience, especially if you get started off on the right foot, or should it be paw? Although simply deciding which pet is best suited for your family is the first important (yet oftentimes not thoroughly considered) step, we’re going to assume that you’ve taken great care in determining not only what kind (puppy, kitten, guinea pig, etc.), but also what breed (lab, collie, poodle, mixed, etc.), what age and from whom you’ve gotten the pet. Since you’re reading this particular handout, you must have chosen a puppy or kitten. Again, congratulations! Now, we’ll try to review some of the most important information for you as a new pet parent. And actually, there’s quite a lot of information ~ so much so that we try to review a few different topics at each puppy or kitten visit if you have those with us to not overwhelm you with all of the stuff. Considering too that you can find tons of information out there from breeders, self-proclaimed experts, and endless other sources, we are glad that you’ve decided to read what we have to offer as we’ve gathered our recommendations from a ton of professional experience and other professional experts! So, let’s begin.
Ideally, you’ve been able to prepare prior to bringing your new pet home so that you’ve got a place to keep him/her while you’re not there (ideally a crate for puppies), and you’ve purchased the necessities (food, a few appropriate toys, perhaps a bed, litter & box for kittens, collar & leash for pups). Be prepared to offer constant supervision for your new love or a safe place when you cannot have your eyes immediately on him/her as there’s so much mischief these youngsters can & will get into!!! That being said, it is extremely important to also offer exposure to a wide variety of circumstances & situations (socialization) in a controlled (safe & calm, pleasant) atmosphere from an early age. Once your pet has had a day or two to settle into its new home have the pet examined by a veterinarian to ensure it is healthy and on track with vaccinations, dewormings, etc. Breeders will oftentimes offer guarantees against certain hereditary problems that you would need to have a veterinarian validate does or does not exist.
Probably the most common question we get is “What should we feed our pet?” It’s a great question, and we’re very glad you ask, but like many things, there’s not one answer appropriate for all pets (regardless of what anyone else wants you to believe!). There are a lot of brands to choose from these days, and the choices are always changing. Most people have experience with a particular brand (perhaps another pet is already on something), which is most likely fine. Always ensure, however, that the food has been approved by AAFCO and that it is appropriate for your pet’s age & breed. We’re not big fans of one kind fits all as different life stages & different breeds have different requirements. Large breed puppies should be on large breed puppy food, small breed puppies shouldn’t. Kittens should have kitten food, not adult food. Young pets should be fed several times a day, but when the pet gets to be 3 months of age, twice daily is usually fine. Start with the recommendations on the package for quantity but constantly evaluate to make sure you can ALWAYS feel your pet’s ribs without necessarily seeing them. Obesity is very common & predisposes pets to medical conditions you want to avoid, not to mention lessens the pet’s lifespan by a couple of years! If you specifically need a brand to start with most veterinarians suggest Purina ProPlan, Eukanuba or Hill’s Science Diet. Most definitely DO NOT feed raw diets as the risk of giving Salmonella or E. coli to your pet (or the humans in your family) is too high to outweigh any suspect health advantages. And don’t forget the water ~ all pets should have access to plenty of fresh water daily! Consider an automatic fountain for cats as this may encourage your cat to drink lots of water which is important.
Puppies and kittens both need vaccinations from the time they’re 5-8 weeks of age, though the type of vaccinations differ. We follow the American Association of Feline Practitioner’s recommendations, along with the American Veterinary Medical Association when it comes to vaccinations. All puppies should be vaccinated against distemper and parvovirus while all kittens should be vaccinated against “distemper” (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calici, parainfluenza). These vaccinations are boostered every 3 weeks until the pet is 16 weeks of age, at which time they also receive a rabies vaccination. Any other vaccination is not considered a “core” vaccination appropriate for all pets ~ rather whether the pet needs it depends on the pet’s lifestyle. (It is a good idea though for all kittens to receive 2 doses of feline leukemia vaccine, but whether or not it is continued as an adult is lifestyle dependent.)
PLEASE NOTE: All kittens should be tested for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), preferentially before even getting vaccines. As an owner you need to know if your pet is positive for either of these diseases as not only are they contagious to other cats, but they will predispose your pet to other diseases and likely make your cat very ill at some point.
All puppies and kittens should be given a general dewormer every 2-3 weeks and have a fecal sample checked at least 2-3 times as well to eliminate roundworms and hookworms, both zoonotic diseases (can be passed to humans) common in pets. Please see the Center for Disease Control brochure Prevention of Zoonotic Disease Transmission for more information on the importance of routinely deworming and having fecal samples checked for both young and adult pets.
Fleas & Heartworms
Most people are aware of what fleas look like & realize the importance of keeping their pet flea free. Fortunately, with some of the newer monthly products that are extremely safe, it is relatively easy to achieve this. However, it does require monthly application, and year round treatment is most effective since our winters seem to be getting more mild. Caution in using any over-the-counter products on cats/kittens as many of these can be life-threatening ~ READ THE LABELS! We recommend Frontline Plus or Vectra 3D for flea control in dogs/puppies and Revolution for cats/kittens. Heartworms are carried by mosquitos & here in the Midwest we have a very high incidence of heartworms. Because any puppy (or kitten) younger than 5-6 months of age will be too young to have adult heartworms, it is safe to put these puppies on a preventative without first testing the blood. Prevention is easily achieved by giving your pet any 1 of the several available monthly preventatives that are not only cost efficient but also protect against some intestinal parasites. It is very important to give heartworm prevention year round. This is a necessity for dogs, and also highly recommended for cats (even those that are indoors as mosquitos do get inside). For puppies we recommend Heartguard+, Iverhart+ or if available Interceptor or Sentinel. For kittens, we recommend Revolution.
If you have a kitten, don’t overlook this section entirely yet!!! It’s very important to be aware of the following recommendations to ensure successful litterbox use with your kitty. Pick a quiet place for the litterbox. If you have multiple cats, you should have a separate box for each cat, plus 1 extra. Try to find 1 brand of litter that you like and stick with it as some cats hate change of any kind. Clean the litterbox at least once daily! For puppies, successful potty training is most easily achieved by remembering the 3 “C’s” – use a crate, have common sense, & be consistent. Make sure the crate isn’t too large – just big enough for the puppy to lie down comfortably & stand up but not move around too much. Don’t expect your puppy to be able to go long periods of time in the crate! Consistently take the pup out every hour or two to the same place & use the same phrase to encourage him/her to go (don’t let him/her run around & play until business is done) – then reward him/her for going with a small treat, playtime, etc. If he/she doesn’t go, back to the crate for ½ the normal amount of time then try again!!! Yes, it’s time-consuming but after just a few days of being committed to the routine, most puppies are well on their way to potty training success.
Wow! This is a lot of information I know, and many topics could be greatly elaborated on! We like to go over these issues and more during our puppy and kitten visits, but there are a lot of other resources as well including the HealthyPet website. Please see other sections of our site too, especially for dental care as this shouldn’t be overlooked in our young pets either. And don’t forget, socialization as briefly mentioned above, and obedience classes. Behavior problems are one of the main reasons pets get relinquished to human societies, and it’s much easier to start off on the right track and prevent such problems than to have to try and correct them later! We offer 6 week basic classes for puppies and adults, and there are other local places as well.