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Guidelines For Your Puppy’s First Year

Puppies grow at an amazing rate. A small breed dog can reach its full adult size by nine months of age! Giant breed dogs take longer to reach their mature size, but still accomplish this in two years or less. The first few months of your puppy’s life are extremely important for his/her lifelong health and behavioral well-being. At birth, a puppy nurses from its mother and receives some immune protection through that first milk. By 8 to 12 weeks of age, any protection received from the dam diminishes in the puppy’s system, leaving it vulnerable to serious infections. As a result, puppy vaccination protocols have been carefully created to maximize the puppy’s immune protection at key intervals. Puppies are also at risk of developing intestinal parasite infections transferred from their mother and because of naïve immune systems. Studies show that about 80% of puppies are infected with at least one intestinal parasite no matter what source the puppy is obtained from! All puppies should be dewormed at least twice for roundworms and should have a fecal parasite exam (this is when a poop sample is tested for the presence of microscopic parasites or eggs). Starting your puppy off with the appropriate preventative care is the best thing you can do to give your dog an excellent start to a healthy life. Below are general recommendations during the first year of a puppy’s life.

At 6 Weeks Old:

  • Pediatric Physical Examination
  • DA2PP (Distemper/Adenovirus/Parainfluenza/Parvovirus) Vaccine #1
  • Fecal Parasite Exam 1st Deworming = Heartworm prevention in Puppy kit
  • Frontline

At 9 Weeks Old:

  • Pediatric Physical Examination
  • DA2PP Vaccine #2
  • +/- Bordetella (Kennel Cough) Vaccine (Annual)
  • Heartworm Preventative (every 30 days)
  • 2nd deworming if indicated by fecal analysis
  • If needed, treatment for any other parasite uncovered in the fecal exam

At 12 Weeks Old:

  • Pediatric Physical Examination
  • DA2PP Vaccine #3
  • Leptospirosis Vaccine #1
  • Heartworm Preventative (every 30 days)

At 15-16 weeks Old:

  • Pediatric Physical Examination
  • DA2PP Vaccine #4
  • Leptospirosis Vaccine #2
  • Rabies Vaccination (required under Colorado State Law), annual
  • Heartworm Preventative (every 30 days)

At 5-6 Months Old:

  • Spay (females) or Neuter (males)
  • Extract any retained baby teeth at time of spay/neuter
  • +/- Microchip (if not already done)
  • Continue Heartworm Preventative (every 30 days)

As Needed:

  • Nail trim – advise monthly – at home, by hospital staff or groomer
  • Anal gland expression – by hospital staff only

*If anal glands do not express normally during defecation (pooping) then they will become overly full and painful. If left unexpressed they could become infected and even rupture. Signs indicating full anal glands include: scooting on rear end, biting at back end, limping, and having difficulty defecating.

A physical exam and all vaccines will need to be updated in one year. If all puppy vaccinations were given at the appropriate intervals, your dog will be able to receive three year vaccinations for both the DA2PP and Rabies vaccines. Leptospirosis and Bordetella will need to be received annually. At that time a Heartworm Test will also be done so that Heartworm Preventative can be continued. You should plan to bring a fecal (poop) sample to that visit so that a fecal parasite exam can be performed.

Signs at home that may indicate a change in your dog’s health include vomiting, diarrhea, drinking more water and urinating more, decreased socializing, decreased appetite, and decreased activity.

Laboratory tests are vital in our assessment of your dog’s health and treating underlying disease conditions. Early detection and intervention often allow for successful medical management of serious diseases. When the disease is severe or has progressed it is more difficult and more expensive to manage.

In a matter of 30 minutes, we can perform a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Chemistry panel (evaluates blood sugar for diabetes, kidney function, liver status, electrolytes, and many other health indicators).

Often a urinalysis is indicated to look for infection and evaluate kidney function. Other, more specialized, tests can provide specific understanding of disease processes and help determine treatment and prognosis.

When indicated, we will recommend lab work and other diagnostics such as X-rays and ultrasound with most illnesses. Northgate Animal Hospital strives to recommend diagnostics and treatment based on the best interest of the patient. We will base our recommendations on our evaluation and consideration of each patient, and family, on an individual basis. Animals age more rapidly than humans and lab values should be reviewed yearly even if they are apparently healthy.


At NGAH our doctors and staff are highly trained and attuned to non-verbal/non-vocal communication from your companions. A large part of our efforts are to perceive/interpret/diagnose and treat pain in our furry friends. Guardians often misinterpret silence and average behavior as comfort. Although animals will often cry out with sudden pain, animals often do not vocalize chronic pain. Consequently, many guardians do not perceive more subtle cues as indicators of pain. We often are told by guardians that their limping dog is not in pain, however a limp indicates pain in an animal just as a human who limps is in pain. Many dogs will show pain by an abnormal sit posture, chewing food on one side, dropping food, and decreased activity.

Dental Health

Healthy dog teeth are vital to maintain a healthy dog. Dogs, like humans, build up plaque (soft and gooey) which turns into tartar (cement like) in 24 hours if not brushed away. Bacteria in the mouth and tartar on the teeth, combine together to cause gingivitis (gum inflammation). Tartar and gingivitis result in periodontal disease (infection of tooth root structures) which often requires extraction or root canal of the diseased teeth. Chewing is an excellent way to clean teeth, but hard objects such as bones, antlers and Nyla bones are too hard and will break teeth. Broken teeth are painful and susceptible to root infection as well. NGAH is highly motivated to help you maintain your furry friend’s dental health and can recommend many at home dental care options including teeth brushing and CET dental health products. The rule for chew toys: If you hit your knee cap with it and it hurts, then it is too hard for your dog’s teeth and will break them!


The level of grooming will vary greatly by the breed of your furry friend. We are happy to discuss grooming needs for each of your companions based on breed and family lifestyle. Nails should be trimmed as needed every 2-4 weeks. We are happy to teach you how to trim nails at home.


Puppies are tons of fun and full of energy! This energy can be overwhelming and even turn into unwanted behaviors very quickly. Puppies need to chew, play, be potty trained, leash trained, learn basic obedience, and play some more! Crate training is very important for you puppy to keep him/her safe and greatly increase success in potty training. We highly recommend basic obedience puppy classes as they are full of helpful guidance and structure to help you and your puppy learn together.

Many puppies are happy and well adjusted. However we can help with emerging and/or chronic behavior issues as the need arises. Dogs finish physical growth at 1-2 years of age depending on the breed, large dogs mature more slowly. Behavioral growth and changes continue to around 4 years of age. We see puppies grow out of some behaviors such as chewing and hyperactivity. However, as dogs mature some behaviors become more prominent such as separation anxiety and aggression. Please let us know if you have questions and would like help with behavior issues as we have many management options including handling and training techniques, and medical considerations as well.

Companion Health Insurance

We strongly recommend companion health insurance for every furry companion. Health insurance will ease the stress of financial consideration when making decisions for your dog’s routine and sick health care. Northgate Animal Hospital has no direct relationship with any insurance company. Claims are filed by clients directly with their chosen insurance company. Following are some companion health insurance companies to consider:

Reliable Websites

Nutrition for the Healthy Puppy

Companion nutrition is a very confusing topic with all of the choices we have for food and diet recommendations from many different and conflicting sources. The companion food industry has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the last several years. While it is wonderful that our furry friends are such an important part of our families, this extreme and rapid growth is leading to many niche diets that are based on fads and media exposure of many human issues that may or may not be relevant or even appropriate for canine nutrition. We often see gastrointestinal distress directly caused by the well-intentioned but misguided attempts of companion guardians trying to provide what they have been told by the sales representatives of many commercial diets.

It is very important that your puppy receives puppy food throughout his/her growth into an adult dog. Small breeds are prone to hypoglycemia, so small frequent meals are very important until they are at least six months of age.

Large breed puppies should be on large breed puppy food so that they do not grow too fast and develop joint problems.

Guidelines for choosing a diet for your healthy puppy:

Plentiful, clean, daily fresh water is vital to your furry friend’s health.
While some animals can free feed (food left out at all times), we recommend meal feeding a measured amount at least every 12 hours (twice daily) so that you can more easily manage your companion’s weight, and know if there is a decrease in appetite.

1) Dogs are omnivores, not strict carnivores. This means dogs need meat protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

2) Carbohydrates may be provided by grain sources and non-grain sources. Dogs are not inherently grain sensitive. Some dogs may be grain sensitive, but many are not.

3) Dogs are fat sensitive. This means that high-fat foods, even “just a bite” or even if “she has eaten this all of her life,” can cause a spectrum from mild to severe, gastrointestinal upset and even pancreatitis. GI upset/pancreatitis can cause vomiting, diarrhea, refusal to eat and pain. Severe cases require hospitalization on IV fluids and supportive care.

4) Bones/antlers are very dangerous for dogs. They can cause mild to severe GI upset, pancreatitis, obstruction of the intestines, and perforation of the intestines. All of these conditions can be very painful, expensive, and even life threatening. Although bones are great for cleaning teeth, unfortunately, they are also really great for breaking teeth. Broken teeth are painful, require surgical extraction, and can cause additional disease affecting other teeth and other vital organs of the body.

5) Raw meat is an incomplete diet source, may cause GI upset, and can even be the source of life-threatening infections of Salmonella and E. coli. Please read the included AVMA policy on raw food diets.

6) Meat by-products (heart, liver, spleen, empty/clean intestines, blood, kidneys) are highly nutritional and do not include hide, hair, hooves, and teeth.
NGAH recommends companion animal nutrition providers who have been developing and researching appropriate canine nutritional diets for decades. These companies spend millions of research dollars to determine the best sources and ingredients for balanced canine nutrition.

NGAH recommends:

Weight Management

Obesity is a common problem in our adult dogs and even some puppies. Starting healthy dietary management and habits with your puppy will help ensure a successful transition into a healthy adult. At NGAH we are very proactive in assessing a healthy body condition score and weight for every patient. Obesity leads to joint problems, pain, increased workload on the heart, breathing complications, inability to go for walks, and even diabetes mellitus. Obesity significantly reduces lifespan by several years. We are very happy to help you develop and maintain a healthy diet, feeding program, and exercise program for your furry friend.

Dietary Supplements

Puppies/dogs on a high quality balanced diet do not need vitamin supplements. However, Essential Fatty Acids (fish oils) are very beneficial for healthy skin in our very dry Colorado climate.

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