Puppy Playbook




Establishing a veterinarian is critical to your puppy’s health. A veterinarian will serve as your greatest resource as a new puppy owner. It is important to schedule an appointment with a veterinarian as soon as possible. This visit is a time to establish a personal relationship, check your pup for health concerns, and also start the pup’s vaccine series.

Your puppy will require yearly examinations by a veterinarian to make sure that they are healthy and to stay current on vaccinations.


Vaccination is one of the most important things we can do to protect our pup from disease. Vaccines stimulate your puppy’s immune system to fight off disease. Just like in people, we give our pups vaccines against common diseases that they will face. Discuss which vaccines your puppy needs with your veterinarian as it is based on location and activities of your pup. 

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Gross…. Unfortunately, our lovable pup may have more friends than we know about…While parasites are common in puppies, it does not mean every puppy has some hitch hikers. 

During your puppy’s vet exam, express your concern about internal and external parasites. The vet will be able recommended preventative, or treatment if necessary, that is specific to your location or activity. 

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Common Diseases

There are several diseases that can make a puppy sick.  The most common diseases that puppies face are Parvovirus, Distemper, and Kennel Cough.

  • Parvovirus: A highly contagious virus that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting
  • Distemper: A virus that can cause respiratory disease, GI symptoms (diarrhea/vomiting), and neurologic symptoms (seizures)
  • Kennel Cough "infectious canine cough complex: A dry hacking cough caused by bacteria and viruses. Similar to our colds.

Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about your puppy having anyone of these diseases or being exposed to them.

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Spay and Neuter

Spaying and neutering is a surgical procedure where the reproductive organ are removed. If you do not plan on breeding your dog in the future, spaying and neutering should strongly be considered for the following benefits:

- Prevention of unplanned pregnancy

- Prevention of marking and roaming behaviors

- Reduces risk for certain cancers (mammary, testicular, and prostatic)

- Prevention of pyometra (infected uterus- Life threating disease seen in intact females)

Discuss these benefits and the best age to do the surgery with your veterinarian.  

If you adopted a pet from a shelter environment, it is likely already spayed or neutered. Be sure to confirm at the time of adoption.

Breed Specific Considerations

While most puppies share very similar general needs, there are some special considerations:

Large Breed 

- Rapid growth, be sure to feed large breed formula puppy food to help avoid orthopedic diseases

Toy Breeds

- If you have a small breed, it is important to feed frequently because they can have problems maintaining their blood sugar 

  • Concerned that your pup is at risk? Schedule an appointment with a vet to discuss if your pet is at risk 

Brachycephalic Breeds

- Breeds that have a short face (Pugs, English and French Bulldogs)

- These breeds have conformation changes (Ex: Long soft palate and stenotic nares)

- These changes can make it difficult to breath and for the pup to cool themselves in warm environments

- Some may require surgical correction of conformation issues, discuss these concerns with your vet

Breed Related Issues

- Each breed has their own set of genetic issues that they are predisposed to

  • Visit the AKC website and research your puppy's breed, ask questions to the breeder, and discuss issues and concerns with a veterinarian

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Additional Information on Vaccinations

Your puppy should start his/her vaccine series at 6-8 weeks old. These vaccines should be given approximately every 3 weeks until the pup is 18-20 weeks old (According to the American Animal Hospital Association- Vaccination Guidelines). 

During this time, it is critical to limit your puppy’s exposure to unknown dogs or unvaccinated dogs because their immune system is not able to protect against disease.

"What is  a vaccine?"

A vaccine is developed to stimulate the immune system to create a response to a disease. Several diseases have vaccines developed to protect the pup against diseases. It is a safe way to introduce your puppy to a disease without causing the disease.

"What vaccines does my puppy need?"

The common core vaccine given to puppies includes vaccination against distemper, parvo virus, parainfluenza, and hepatitis. The other vaccine that is required by law is the rabies vaccine. There are other vaccines that maybe recommended by your vet based on the activity and location

“Why so many shots?” 

Multiple vaccinations are given to the pup due to the presence of maternal antibodies. Maternal antibodies are mom’s immune system that are protecting the puppy from disease in the wild. However, there are a ton of unknowns with maternal antibodies: we do not know what level of protection they provide, because we are unsure how much the pup got from their mom and we re not sure when they wear off (anywhere between 8-16 weeks). 

When we give a vaccine to pup with maternal antibodies, the mom’s antibodies bind and inactivate the vaccine. Once they are gone, the pup is able to create their own antibodies to the vaccine and establish immunity thanks to the vaccine, but we don’t know when they are gone! So we booster the vaccine approximately every 3 weeks until 18-20 weeks old.

"What can I expect after the vet vaccinates my pup?"

Some pups act like nothing ever happened, while some can have some minor side effects of the vaccine. The pup can sometimes be a little sore where the vaccine was given. They might even have a local area of swelling that should go down within 24 hours. They can also be a little tired for the next day as well.

“What about allergic reactions?” 

Allergic reaction to vaccinations do occur, however, are extremely rare. Anytime that the body is exposed to foreign substance, like a vaccine, the body can overreact to it. Look for the following symptoms for severe vaccine reactions:

  • Facial swelling
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Multiple episodes of vomiting and diarrhea

If you see any of these symptoms after vaccinations, seek emergency services for your pup.



Additional Information on Parasites

Internal Parasites

There is a good chance that your puppy has been exposed or has internal parasites. Most transmission of internal parasites are fecal-oral, but can be transmitted from mother to pups. 

“The breeder dewormed the pup”

- That’s great! But there are several types of parasites, and there is not a magic bullet dewormer. Best to check a fecal sample to make sure there are not any internal parasites hanging around. While deworming is an important step in health care of your pup, there is not one dewormer that will kill every type of parasite.

If you notice your puppy have loose stool/diarrhea, vomiting, not gaining weight, rough hair coat, scooting rear end, or general lethargy, talk to your vet about internal parasites. 

"I don't see any worms in the stool"

Just because you don’t see worms in the feces, does not mean they are not there. Many internal parasites are microscopic. Some puppies will even by asymptomatic (no symptoms)! The vet may recommend performing a fecal test to look for eggs or adult parasites in the stool. 

The usual suspects:

- Tapeworm

- Roundworms

- Hookworm

- Giardia

- Coccida

External Parasites

Ticks- 8 legged blood sucking arachnida… that’s right 8 legs. There are several types of ticks and each one feeds on different hosts. Ticks can spread several viral, rickettsial, protozoal, and bacterial diseases (Example: Rocky mountain spotted fever, lyme, ehrlichiosis). 

Ticks near you? Check out the CDC website for the latest tick maps! 


Fleas- These little insects are incredibly difficult to get rid of, but easy to prevent. Fleas are little blood sucking insects that can multiple rapidly and drive your pup insane with itching. They can also spread our lovely friend the tapeworm. If you find your pup very itchy and you find some “dirt” on the skin, take the pup to a vet to have him checked for fleas. 

Mites- Another 8 legged arachnida… These microscopic creatures can cause your pup to be very itchy. In large populations, they can even cause severe hair loss. The two most common mites seen are demodex and scabies (sarcoptic).  

  • Demodex is a common mite and present on all animals, every animal has this species-specific mite. They usually do not cause a problem unless there a very large population. If your pet is experiencing hair loss and has been itchy, schedule an appointment with your vet.
  • Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and zoonotic (can spread to people) mite.  Discuss treatment with your veterinarian and your physician once a diagnosis has been made.


Heartworms are an internal parasite that are spread by mosquitoes. This parasite will infect the heart and can cause severe damage leading to congestive heart failure! 

While the disease is devastating ,it is treatable and preventable.  Treatment of heartworm disease is very costly and dangerous. That it is why routine prevention is recommended. Talk with your veterinarian about heartworm prevention at your appointment

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Common diseases

Additional Information on common diseases


This is one of the more devastating diseases for our puppies. This virus is a highly contagious virus that causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy. 

While the vaccine is very effective at preventing parvo, your puppy is not protected until after completion of the vaccine series. This is why avoiding high traffic areas, situations with dogs with unknown vaccine history, and environments where parvo virus has been, is so important. 

If your puppy should start to show symptoms, or if other litter mates test positive for parvo, please seek immediate medical attention for your puppy. Discuss concerns for parvo with a veterinarian.


Canine distemper is not a common disease process due to the success of the vaccine. 

Canine distemper is viral disease that can show a variety of symptoms. Most common presentation is a respiratory disease. Other presentations include GI signs (diarrhea/vomiting) or neurologic symptoms (seizures). 

Kennel Cough “infectious canine cough complex”

This disease creates a dry hacking cough. Usually noticed after being boarded or recent exposure to other dogs (such as a dog park or shelter environments). This common disease process is actually caused by several different organisms. Both bacteria and viruses have been identified to create the “Infectious canine cough complex”. 

Best way to think of kennel cough, it is a like a doggy cold. The disease is self-limiting, meaning the body should clear the infection in 1-2 weeks. There is a vaccine (intranasal, oral, or injectable form) that helps prevent the most common strains, and will shorten the disease process.