The first six months of owning a new dog can be busy, but is also one of the most rewarding times. There are a number of issues, both medically and socially, which occur within this first six month period.
A dog should always be fed a diet suitable for his or her life stage. After being weaned from the mother, dogs are generally fed a puppy food. Diets can either be commercial (available as dry or canned food from vets, pet stores or supermarkets), or home made. High quality commercial diets are generally nutritionally complete and balanced, containing all necessary vitamins and minerals. They are also formulated specifically for the life stage of the dog. Dry food is nutritionally very similar to canned food, and is usually more economical, cleaner and encourages better dental development. The quality of the food is also important, and there are significant differences between the lower priced budget food and the premium range food. Calcium should never be supplemented to a balanced dog food.
For a selection of our favourite puppy foods please click here.
Home-made diets are also an excellent choice for feeding a growing puppy, as long as the diet is made to a specific recipe and is nutritionally complete. Home-made diets are often more difficult to formulate and cook, and are usually more expensive than a commercial diet. However many dog owners believe that a home-cooked diet can provide a high level of anti-oxidants and allow the dog to live a more natural lifestyle. It is very important to ensure that all necessary minerals and vitamins are present in the correct amounts and ratios when formulating a home made diet. Note that plain meat or meat and rice (even with vitamin supplements) is not a complete or balanced diet. Diets should be formulated by a veterinary nutritionist and there are a couple of great websites that will formulate a suitable diet based on your pet's requirements; www.balanceIT.com and www.petdiets.com. These service providers charge a small fee for formulating a home made diet recipe for you - however it will be a very good investment in the future health of your dog.
Your new puppy should also be given occasional treats, such as dog chews, raw bones or raw whole chicken wings. Cooked bones can splinter and should not be fed.
A great selection of puppy treats can be found here.
Vaccination is a very important step in preventative health. Dogs are generally vaccinated with a combination vaccine at 6-8 weeks, 10-12 weeks and 16 weeks of age. This vaccine covers some of the most serious preventable diseases affecting dogs – Distemper, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza, Leptospirosis and Infectious Hepatitis. All puppies should be vaccinated as there is a high incidence of the above diseases in unvaccinated dogs in Hong Kong. This vaccination is continued annually in adult dogs.
Kennel Cough (Bordatella) is a bacterial respiratory tract infection of dogs, with common signs including a harsh, hacking cough, and sometimes a nasal discharge. Kennel Cough is rarely life-threatening, but infection is very common in young animals. Vaccination is optional, but is highly recommended for dogs that regularly stay in boarding kennels or visit groomers. Note that some boarding kennels require Kennel Cough vaccinations. Kennel Cough vaccinations are given twice during puppyhood, with boosters given annually.
By law, all dogs in Hong Kong must be vaccinated for rabies before 6 months of age, with booster vaccinations every 3 years. Fortunately, Hong Kong has been free of rabies virus for over 10 years, but rabies vaccinations are required to prevent an outbreak occurring. Rabies vaccinations are also very important for pets travelling overseas. A microchip and dog license is also issued for your dog at the time of rabies vaccination.
Puppies should be given a tablet for intestinal worms at each initial vaccination, and then every 3-6 months as an adult dog. Control of intestinal worms is important for the health of your dog, and can in some cases also be important in preventing transmission of worms to family members.
Intestinal worming products for dogs can be found here.
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal infection involving a parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis. Heartworm larvae are spread by infected mosquitoes, and injected into the dog when the mosquito bites. Following infection, the heartworm larvae travel through the blood system, eventually developing into an adult worm in the heart and lungs, causing extensive inflammation and damage. Heartworm causes significant impairment of the cardiovascular system, and can cause life threatening heart failure. Common signs of heartworm disease include coughing, tiredness and difficulty breathing.
Heartworm is regularly diagnosed in unprotected dogs in Hong Kong, and all dogs should take heartworm prevention medicine. Preventative medicine is available as tablets, drops applied to the skin or as a yearly injection. Puppies should start taking heartworm preventative medicine before they are 6 months old.
Fleas and Ticks
Fleas are a significant cause of allergy, dermatitis and scratching in dogs, and can also transmit some species of intestinal worms. Flea prevention is not essential in all dogs, but is highly recommended in areas with a high flea population. Frontline and Advantix are effective and very safe treatments for fleas. It is usually applied to the skin behind the neck once per month. Two new products that are proving to be even more effective in the fight against fleas and ticks are the chewable Bravecto tablet (taken once every three months) and the Seresto Collar that is replaced every 7-8 months.
Ticks are an 8-legged arthropod that look somewhat like a large, slow moving flea. Apart from causing irritation and possible anaemia, ticks often carry Babesia, a microscopic parasite which can cause Tick Fever. Tick Fever is a life-threatening condition somewhat similar to malaria in people. Common signs include lethargy, pale gums and very dark coloured urine. Tick Fever is diagnosed on a regular basis in dogs living in Hong Kong. Ticks are most common in bushy areas, but are present throughout Hong Kong. Spot-on Frontline and Advantix and a Preventic Collar are the traditional preventative for ticks, killing about 95% of ticks that come into contact with your dog. Two new products, Seresto and Bravecto, are proving to be just as good, if not better than the traditional methods and can be more cost effective.
Please note that flea and tick shampoos and pyrethrin-based products are generally ineffective, with resistance being present in up to 75% of fleas. Also note that Program is a very effective ‘contraceptive’ for fleas, preventing eggs hatching and breaking the flea life cycle. However, Program does not kill adult fleas and does not prevent flea transmission from other dogs.
Flea and tick prevention products are available on Vetopia.com.hk here.
Dogs should generally have a basket, bed or den (cage) to which they can retire at night. They should not, however, be locked in a cage or tied up. The bed should be cleaned regularly and the blankets washed weekly or whenever dirty. The bed should be kept in a warm, comfortable and private place, but should also be close to or part of the main living area in the house.
With a little persistence, dogs generally respond very well to training. The best method of training is positive reward, where your dog is rewarded for the correct behaviour with food or praise. Negative reward training (telling a dog off or smacking a dog) has long been considered outdated and cruel, and generally results in a poorly trained dog who is scared of their owner. Training rewards must always be given at the time of the action – if you reward a dog five minutes later he may have forgotten exactly what it was he did right.
Toilet training is generally the most important thing for a young pup to learn. First decide on where you would like your dog to go to the toilet. Common choices include on paper or 'puppy pad' in the bathroom, on the balcony or roof, or on walks. Dogs will rarely go to the toilet in their cage – this is similar to asking a person to go to the toilet in their bedroom. Carefully watch your dog, and when he or she starts to sniff or look like they are getting ready to go to the toilet, gently and calmly put him or her in the toilet area. If there is an accident or your dog has gone to the toilet in the wrong place, do not scold or hit. The best action is to pretend nothing has happened, put your dog in another room and clean up the area. Spraying the area with an odour-neutralising spray such as Urine-Off will help remove any traces of the smell which the dog may pick up on in future. You should not let the dog see you cleaning up, which may be interpreted as attention, and hence a ‘positive reward’, encouraging toileting in the area in future.
Dogs, and particularly puppies can get extremely dirty and will need to be bathed and brushed on a regular basis. Puppies should use a mild shampoo and shouldn't be bathed with shampoo more than once a week. However if your puppy gets dirty in between baths, washing with regular water (no shampoo) should be fine until the next bath day. Alternatively a doggy wipe can be a very convenient way of cleaning without a full bath.
Dogs also require regular brushing, the frequency of which will depend on whether you have a long or short-haired dog and how much they shed. Long haired dogs will need to be brushed at least every few days, possibly more if they are prone to tangles. There are detangling sprays that can help if your dog is particularly knotty. We offer a range of brushes depending your dog's requirements. Most dogs will require two types of brushes - a regular brush as well as a deshedding tool.
Note that is not normal for dogs to smell unpleasantly 'doggy'. If your dog smells unpleasant even after bathing it may be a sign that he has a skin condition and you should see your veterinarian.
If walked often on rough services (like concrete) dogs' claws will naturally file down to a comfortable level. However if your dog doesn't have this option, you may need to clip his claws. If your dogs' nails are too long, you will hear them clack when the dog walks on hard surfaces. Deciding if your dog’s nails are too long is quite simple. The claws should not protrude over the pad and should not touch the ground when standing. If they do, it's time to cut the claws. It is a very good idea to get your puppy used to having his claws trimmed at a young age, as it can be difficult to get an older dog used to the procedure. Most dogs naturally don't like having their paws touched or played with, so start slowly by gently touching the nail trimmers to your dog's paws without attempting to clip the claws. Over a few days your dog should be used to you touching his paws and you can try trimming a claw. If your dog is nervous, just trim one claw, give him a treat and leave the rest for another day. It's better to leave on a positive note rather than having a negative experience with your dog. You can then continue the rest, a few at a time, until they're all done. You may also ask your vet or groomer to demonstrate to you how they trim your dog's claws so you can get some tricks and tips.
Dogs' claws have a blood vessel running down the nail. Which means that if you cut too far the nail will start bleeding and it will hurt your dog. If your dog's nails are pale in colour it is often easy to see the blood vessel but if they are black it can be very difficult. Using a small flashlight to shine through the claws can highlight the blood vessel and make it easy to see prior to cutting.
It is important to use proper dog nail trimmers (not human ones) and it is advisable to have some styptic powder handy in case you accidentally cut the nail too short. If you trim the nail too short and it starts bleeding, put some styptic powder on the cut blood vessel and it will help to stop the bleed.
Although clipping your dog's claws can be a bit daunting at first, it is vitally important for the well being of your dog. Is not uncommon for us to see dogs in the hospital whose claws have become so long and curled that the dog has difficulty walking as a result.
Desexing or neutering involves a surgical operation, preventing your pet from mating and producing offspring. Desexing can be performed any time after your dog is six months old. The desexing operation involves a day visit to the hospital. Normally, dogs are quite bright by the evening after the surgery and will not usually need to stay in hospital overnight.
Desexing is performed for both social and medical reasons, and if you are not planning on breeding your dog, desexing is highly recommended. For more information please see our page Desexing for Dogs.
So there is a lot to think about and much to do in your first six months of ownership. It will be an exciting and interesting time, watching your new friend grow from a small puppy to a young adult. There will be much to learn and much to experience – it will be a rewarding time for both you and your puppy. For any more information or to obtain any of the handouts mentioned above, please ask us.