Cute Puppy
If you’ve ever had a puppy — or a rescue of any age — you’ve experienced the overwhelming feeling that comes with taking on a new family member. So many questions, so little time in the exam room to deal with them all. I should know — it’s my job to answer them in 30 minutes or less.

Addressing every common client question with respect to a new pup is impossible, of course. The laws of physics simply do not allow for such crazy efficiency. Hence, why we like to see puppies more than just once during their preadolescence. Thankfully, standard preventive medicine protocols make this easy. Which means I have more time to tackle these:

1. What breed is she? Ummm … your guess is as good as mine? That’s the honest answer. But most of you expect more from a veterinarian than a hem and a haw. That’s why I try my best to use this question as a new patient icebreaker. Even if I can’t guess your pup’s breed without a genetic test, trying is a whole lot of fun.

2. What size will she be? Veterinarians can usually give you a very close ballpark but not always. That’s because some breeds grow at different rates, and some just have big feet or big heads. Mixes can be especially hard to predict. And in other cases, physical development has been stunted due to nutrition and/or disease, which can result in rapid growth spurts later than typically expected.

3. When should we spay her/neuter him? The short answer: In a nation where millions of animals are euthanized each year due to pet overpopulation, pets should be spayed or neutered (aka sterilized) before they reach sexual maturity. After all, if the goal is to keep them from reproducing, any time sterilization can be safely accomplished before they contribute to the overpopulation epidemic is the right time.

The long answer: Though shelters tend to spay or neuter dogs earlier, 6 months of age is the most commonly recommended time for sterilization in general practice. However, recent research has shown that in certain breeds, there may be advantages to waiting a little longer. Talk to your veterinarian about what’s best for your puppy.

4. Does my pup really need all these vaccines? Despite what you may have read, the issue of vaccination is not terribly controversial among veterinarians. Vaccines are generally considered safe, effective and necessary for all healthy puppies. As always, it’s best for you to work with your veterinarian to identify your dog’s disease exposure risks, and together you can decide what’s best for your puppy.

5. Does she really need to get that flea and tick stuff and parasite pills? If your pup lives in a heartworm endemic area of the U.S., yes, she really, really does need to receive a preventive dose of medication regularly — not that it needs to be in a pill form (nowadays it comes in topical and injectable forms, too). The flea and tick stuff is sometimes considered optional, but this depends on what part of the country you live in. After all, diseases spread by some ectoparasites can be deadlier than even heartworm disease.

6. How often should we brush her teeth? You should brush her teeth every day.

7. When will she be house-trained? Depends. Usually she will be house-trained before 6 months, if you’re diligent. If you’re having trouble making headway by the time she’s 4 months old, however, it’s time to seek professional advice — ideally from your veterinarian or a credentialed dog behavior professional.

8. Will the barking and howling at night ever stop? That kind of yippy, nighttime barking and howling pups do when they’re babies almost always subsides within days of arrival. Of course, some are still potty training, and they really do need to go in the middle of the night. But if they’re just getting you up to play, then it’s time to stop indulging their every whim. Nevertheless, it’s true that some pups are more insistent than others.

9. She’s a purebred Schnauzer (or Doberman, Boxer, Min Pin, etc.), so will you crop her ears and dock her tail? That all depends on your veterinarian, your dog’s age and, to some extent, the state you live in. Laws vary. Your veterinarian, however, may decline to perform a surgery that’s solely for cosmetic reasons.

10. She passes a lot of gas! Will that ever get better? I love this question! The funny thing is that pet owners usually loath to raise the issue without exam room confirmation of the problem. (Gee, thanks!) Once revealed, however, I’m happy to say that, yes — flatulence is often fixable via dietary means. Trial and error and probiotics are typical means of simple resolution, but you should also know that sometimes gas is a sign of more complex gastrointestinal issues to come.

11. Will I need to learn to clip her nails and squeeze those stinky anal glands? Claw clipping? It’s best that you learn how to clip her claws. Ask us how; we’ll show you. But anal glands? That’s a task usually reserved for the pros. Ask us; we’ll explain why.

12. What’s the deal with the microchip? You want us to install a microchip. You really do. It’s generally easy, safe and inexpensive. And it may make the difference between getting your puppy back home and never seeing her again. You make the call.

13. Does pet insurance really work? Sure does! That is, if you get the pet insurance that’s right for you. Talk to your veterinarian about which pet health insurance companies she recommends.

I’ve probably only scratched the surface of all the questions you have. Maybe now, however, you’ll be able to steer future discussions with your veterinarian in a way that’ll get the rest of your questions answered.

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