How to Choose a Vet for Your Puppy

Your puppy’s relationship with his veterinarian is one of the most important in his life. Maintaining your dog’s health is essential to your long, happy life together -- and your vet will play a critical role in your pup’s well-being. Therefore, choosing the right veterinarian is essential. Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, Exceptional Canine’s resident veterinarian expert, says there are a number of factors you should consider when selecting a vet. Here’s a checklist:                                  

  • Office hours and location Understand hours of operation -- and how the clinic handles after-hours emergencies. An office close to your home could be critical if your dog is experiencing an emergency.
  • Office staff Are front-desk staff friendly and welcoming? Do they seem to like animals? “Believe it or not, some people working in clinics are not always kind to animals,” says Dewhirst. Do staff members appear organized? Will they expedite your questions and concerns to the veterinarian?
  • Communication Of course, you can’t pester your veterinarian with every little detail of your pup’s life, but is the veterinarian accessible to answer occasional questions? Is there a knowledgeable staff member who might help? Will the office respond to email?
  • Clinic facilities The clinic should be clean and calm. Is there a place to walk your dog on-site? If you own a large-breed puppy, are exam rooms and tables spacious?
  • Credentials How long has the veterinarian been in practice? Where did he or she attend veterinary school? Does he or she have specialized training? How does the veterinarian keep up with current veterinary best practices?
  • References Check with family, friends and even local Humane Societies to see if they have any recommendations on veterinarians in the area.
  • Anesthesia You should know how the veterinarian handles anesthesia, says Dewhirst. “Animals should be intubated and maintained on gas anesthesia with an EKG-type monitor,” she explains.
  • Specialist referrals Now is the time to ask how your veterinarian handles situations that require specialists. Does he or she work closely with specialists or refer cases to specialty veterinarians?
  • Surgical expertise “If your pet requires a serious surgical procedure, it is perfectly acceptable to ask how many times the veterinarian has performed this,” notes Dewhirst.
  • Breed expertise Some breeds face particular health challenges or needs. It’s good to know if your veterinarian is experienced with your puppy’s breed.

Meeting the Veterinarian
“Many veterinarians are happy to meet future clients for a quick hello,” says Dewhirst. Ask the receptionist when it’s convenient to stop by, and then be prepared to wait if the veterinarian is busy with a patient. If you need more time, schedule an actual appointment. “Not only is this courteous to other clients who are waiting for scheduled appointments, but it also shows the veterinarian that you value his or her time and opinion,” advises Dewhirst.

Introducing Your Puppy
Once you’ve selected a veterinarian, give your puppy time to adjust as well. Introduce your dog to his new veterinarian by scheduling an orientation-only visit. Let the veterinarian’s staff pet him and offer him treats. If you project a calm, upbeat attitude, your dog will likely remain calm too. Some experts recommend scheduling these just-dropping-in visits on a regular basis.

Although it takes extra time and effort, consider choosing the right veterinarian to be an investment in your puppy’s future and long-term well-being.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/lumenphoto

Are You Prepared for Dog Emergencies?

We take CPR lessons before our first child is born, and water safety classes before we learn to sail. We know preparation makes all the difference in an emergency. That’s true when it comes to your dog too.

Knowing what to do in common dog emergencies can determine whether or not a dog survives. Increasingly, dog owners are educating themselves through dog-oriented first-aid classes, such as those sponsored by the American Red Cross, which also sells a dog first-aid manual. Visit RedCross.org to order the manual or to find a class in your area.

Pet Tech -- a Carlsbad, Calif., company -- also offers pet first-aid classes around the country. “We teach you how to be proactive in your pet’s health,” explains owner Thom Somes. Visit PetTech.net for more information about Pet Tech classes and the Pet Tech smartphone app, which offers first-aid information.

A Guide to Common Scenarios
More often than not, our dogs get into trouble in predictable ways. Here’s a look at some common difficulties -- and tips to produce the best possible outcome.

Scenario No. 1: Your dog storms through the baby gate and into your bathroom. Before you can even move a slippered foot, he jumps on the countertop and scarfs down the ibuprofen you were about to swallow to ease your back pain. Should you be worried?
What You Should Do: A single dose of ibuprofen (often packaged as Advil or Motrin), tranquilizers, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or even a birth control pill won’t hurt your curious friend. Multiple doses, however, could be problematic. Call a veterinarian immediately if he chews more than one pill. The ASPCA also operates a 24/7 animal poison-related emergency hotline at 888-426-4435. (You might be charged a $65 consultation fee.)

Scenario No. 2: Lucky, your Border Collie, couldn’t help himself: He had to chase the neighbor’s Volvo. But he got hit this time. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to be hurt. Is veterinary assistance required?
What You Should Do: Your dog needs to be checked by a veterinarian, as many injuries aren’t immediately obvious. Of course, breathing difficulties are especially critical. So if your dog appears to be having any trouble inhaling, go to your vet or an emergency clinic ASAP.

Scenario No. 3: You’re camping and you take your dog on a romp. He loses his ball and goes to search for it in the thick brush, returning to you with a deep gash on his leg. Is it important to head back to the lodge?
What You Should Do: If the cut continues to bleed after a half hour or if his gums are pale (pale gums indicate excessive blood loss), you’ll need to seek medical attention.

Scenario No. 4: Your dog was so interested in the new dog next door that he tried to jump your privacy fence to get to her. Now, he’s limping. Do you allow him to learn a love lesson, or take him in to be checked?
What You Should Do: If his limp goes away immediately or soon after the incident, he’s probably fine. But if he refuses to put pressure on it or if the leg looks like it is bent out of shape, contact your dog’s health care provider.

Scenario No. 5: Your aunt Georgia says your Miniature Pinscher looks skinny and gives her several pieces of Godiva chocolate. Are they a threat to his health? 
What You Should Do: That depends on what kind of chocolate your aunt gave your dog and how much your dog ate. The darker it is, the more dangerous for canines. Only 1 ounce of baking chocolate is toxic to a 10-pound dog, though he can get away with consuming 10 ounces of milk chocolate. (He still might suffer from severe tummy troubles.) You shouldn’t guess. Always call your vet and report what you’ve seen.

Scenario No. 6: You’re playing catch with your dog and he keeps missing the ball, despite your detailed tutelage. Then he finally catches it -- but it goes down his throat. Does he need to see the vet?
What You Should Do: Most dogs yak up anything that gets stuck in their mouths, but on occasion their airways can become obstructed. If he doesn’t seem to be able to breathe, or if his breathing is labored, take him immediately to an emergency clinic. Never try to yank out the object, as it might get pushed further down the airway.

Emergencies are never planned. But since they do happen, it is important that you know how to handle them. Furthermore, you can prepare for the worst dog emergencies by programming your vet’s number into your cell phone and printing out directions to his office -- as well as a map to the after-hours clinic -- and keeping them in the glove compartment of your car. After all, you never know when a squirrel will fight back.

Why Your Dog Needs DHA

You already think your puppy is a brainiac. After all, without even telling her, she knows when you’ve had a bad day at the office. She intuitively understands when you could use a good cuddle. And she can even get your barista to keep the coffee shop open for a few more minutes with just one look.

But did you know you can help make her even smarter by making sure her diet includes DHA? Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plays a critical role in the brains of all mammals, including people and dogs. And because your puppy’s brain is still developing, DHA is particularly essential, says Dr. Duffy Jones of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta.

“It’s essential in proper neurologic development,” explains Jones. “DHA is a major component of the cell membrane and affects fluidity of the cell membrane. It helps the neurons interconnect better and causes the ability of the brain to function better.”

Your Dog’s Brain Development
Until your puppy was weaned, he received this fatty acid from his mother. In fact, pregnant dogs provide DHA to their puppies, so Exceptional Canine’s resident veterinarian expert, Dr. Tracy Dewhirst of Knoxville, Tenn., recommends giving puppy food with DHA to pregnant dogs during the last two weeks of pregnancy and until the puppies are eating on their own.

But your puppy’s brain continues to develop after she’s weaned. Puppies acquire 70 percent of their adult brain mass by the time they’re 6 weeks old, and 90 percent by 12 weeks of age. That means there’s a lot you can do to help your puppy’s nutrition between the time your puppy leaves her mom and the time she is fully developed.

How much does it matter? “Studies have shown that dogs supplemented at a crucial time in brain development showed increased trainability than those that did not get supplemented,” explains Jones.

Where You’ll Find DHA
It’s difficult to provide the right mix of essential fatty acids, so look for this omega-3 fatty acid -- most likely derived from fish, fish meal and fish oil -- on the label of commercial puppy food. And you shouldn’t give your puppy additional supplements if he’s eating this diet.

Other Benefits of DHA for Dogs
If you feed your puppy DHA, she’ll likely socialize and train better; you may even find she’s easier to housetrain! With the right grooming and dental care, this fatty acid contributes to a shiny coat and healthy teeth and gums. And DHA also helps build a healthy nervous system and strong vision, playing a critical role in retinal development, says Jones.

Do Dogs Need Vitamin Supplements?

People are crazy about vitamins. Open up medicine cabinets around the world, and no matter the culture, you’ll often find an entire alphabet soup of products designed to round out our diets. So do dogs need vitamins as well?

You might think what is good for us will work for our dogs. But quality dog food is carefully balanced to fulfill all of your dog’s nutritional needs. Scientists have proven that additives often interfere with the balanced nutrition in dog food. In fact, they can stop the absorption of some important nutrients, leaving your dog with an upset stomach or even skeletal problems.

“As we all know from studying our own health, it’s not just the amount of vitamins that we take that matter; it’s the quality of the nutrients and the proper balance of vitamins and minerals that make the difference,” explains Dr. Katy Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va. “When a food has been deemed balanced, then that means that vitamins and supplements are already added to the food. Giving additional vitamins can greatly throw off the proper ratio.”

The Thinking Behind Vitamin Supplements
We humans take vitamins because our modern-day meals often don’t include all we need to stay healthy. We also eat a variety of foods instead of a single item. We’re therefore sometimes tempted to add a dollop of yogurt to a bowl of dog food because we think it will make for a shiny coat. Or we ladle on a bit of gravy to increase palatability or add variety.

Nelson cautions that you’ll be doing your dog a disservice if you supplement his meal with human foods. “People food and other things purported to give shiny coats often contain large amounts of fat and possibly sodium and other unhealthy ingredients,” she says. “Highly fatty foods not only can cause weight gain, but they can also lead to health problems as simple as vomiting and diarrhea, all the way to severe issues like pancreatitis.”

Don’t worry about variety, says Nelson. Simply feed your dog what is healthiest for him. “Dogs are scavengers,” she explains. “Their taste buds are not necessarily sophisticated. Think about it: If your dog will eat rotten meat from the trash, the nuggets out of the litter box, and chase it all down with a little muddy water from a puddle, do you really think their palates are all that discerning?”

Good Minerals Gone Bad
Certain foods given to dogs in excess can produce adverse results. For example, meat contains 20 to 40 times more phosphorus than calcium, but your dog’s body needs a specific ratio of phosphorus and calcium to keep him healthy. Therefore, your dog’s system will attempt to right that ratio by stealing calcium from his bones.

Dogs, like the rest of us, need a balanced diet to thrive. Lucky for you, you don’t need to do anything more than open your pooch’s bag of food and pour. If you want to play chef, cook for your mother-in-law. She’ll probably appreciate it more than your pup.

How to Introduce Your Kids and Puppy

Your kids have been clamoring for a puppy for a while. Now the moment has come, and you can’t wait to introduce your kids to your new puppy.

But don’t let your eagerness and your kids’ excitement keep you from laying the proper groundwork for what should be a long and joyous relationship. There are a number of steps you can take to make this a positive interaction.

Teach Kids to Respect Your Puppy
Like puppies, kids need boundaries. It’s up to you to establish how they’ll handle the family’s new addition. Consider these steps:

  • Lay ground rules. Remind kids to be gentle. Demonstrate by petting their forearms and heads as you would your puppy. Ask them to practice by stroking your forearm and head. Set a policy about how and when they can pick up your puppy, and think like a kid to determine any other regulations: Plenty of kids have been tempted to dress poor puppies in doll clothes, for example.
  • Ask for soft voices. Remind kids to talk in gentle, soothing voices, as they would to a baby. Your kids should never yell at your puppy, even if he makes a mistake. Explain that dogs can be startled by loud noises.
  • Establish space. Teach kids to respect your puppy’s space, especially at mealtimes. Even the best-natured puppies might bite if they feel threatened.
  • Teach patience. Remind kids to let the puppy come to them. Even the smallest child can spook a young dog if it reaches or grasps for the dog.
  • Make rough play off-limits. Tail-pulling and teasing are neither funny nor cute, and these behaviors can lead to your puppy establishing bad habits, such as jumping up. And holding a toy just out of your dog’s reach isn’t kind.

When Puppy Comes Home
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, aim for a smooth homecoming. Try these steps:

  • Keep your home quiet and normal. Now is not the time to host a sleepover with a half-dozen shrieking preteens. Until your puppy settles in, avoid loud playdates or disruptions.
  • Introduce your puppy gradually. Let your puppy experience your home one room at a time.
  • Limit puppy-kid playtime. Keep interactions short and sweet -- between 15 and 30 minutes, two to three times a day. Explain that puppies need plenty of rest.
  • Supervise puppy-kid interaction. Always supervise interaction between your puppy and your kids, correcting behaviors as needed.

As you take the time to make this a positive experience for both your kids and your puppy, remember: The lessons you teach now will go a long way toward helping them bond for years to come.