We got a puppy for Christmas! Understanding some of the science to keeping “Fido” happy and healthy



Christmas is coming and you decide to surprise your children with the puppy that you have been promising them! You believe that bringing a puppy into the family will bring everyone a great deal of joy. (Let’s face it; there are few human beings who can resist a cute little puppy or baby.) Secretly, you think that having the kids take care of Fido will teach them responsibility if you give them the task to feed and take their puppy for walks. The thing that you have to realize is that kids are kids, they are learning to become responsible human beings and caring for a new puppy is like having another child so, in most cases, do not count on a child to assume the responsibility of totally caring for a puppy! Be prepared to be the chief caretaker and parent of that adorable puppy that is under your Christmas tree.

With that said, you need to parent the puppy similar to the way you parent your children and your major concern is keeping your new addition to the family happy and healthy. After all Fido is now a member of your family! Therefore you need to understand the medical protocols to keep Fido as fit as a fiddle!!!

Medical care for the newest canine member of your family is centered on prevention and developing immunity. A dog’s immune system is broken down into two parts: innate and adaptive immunity. The innate immune system includes organs such as skin and cells with which your pooch is born with to protect against disease causing pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. The adaptive immune system is comprised of antibodies, which are developed after Fido is exposed to pathogens. The adaptive immune system constantly evolves and strengthens as a puppy is exposed to and conquers disease. However, the innate immune system, which is more of a mechanical/chemical barrier, does not strengthen with continuous exposure to disease. Understanding these aspects of the innate and adaptive immune systems will help you understand how important Fido’s medical care is to having a long, healthy and happy life.

Similar to human babies, puppies receive antibodies from their mother through nursing. These antibodies last approximately 16 weeks, and then a puppy must rely on their own immune system for protection. Unfortunately, the immature immune system of puppies is not always capable of surviving severe diseases such as parvovirus, canine distemper virus, adenovirus and others once exposed. As a result, protective antibodies are never developed. Fortunately, the veterinarians at Atlantic Veterinary Hospital can strengthen your young pup’s adaptive immune system with vaccinations to provide invaluable protection against deadly disease.

Vaccinations for Fido are broken down into the categories of Core and Non-Core.

 Core Vaccines:

  1. DHPP (Distemper, Canine Adenovirus 2, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza virus)
  2. Rabies

Non-Core: Vaccines:

  1. Bordetella
  2. Leptosporosis
  3. Lyme

Core vaccinations include “DHPP” and Rabies. A DHPP vaccination commonly referred to as “The Distemper Vaccination” actually protects against four different viruses. These viruses are Canine distemper virus, Canine Adenovirus 2, Parainfluenza virus, and Parvovirus. Protection against these aforementioned viruses, as well as protection against the Rabies virus, is integral to a long healthy life.

In addition, many puppies will benefit from Non-Core vaccinations such as bordetella, leptospirosis, and lyme disease. These vaccinations are given based on geographical location/risk of disease contracture; potential travel, and future plans to attend boarding facilities and dog parks. Your Veterinarian will work with you to help you understand if your puppy would benefit from a particular non-core vaccination. The right combination of Core and Non-core vaccinations will give a puppy the advantage of a strong adaptive immune system early in life.

Innate immunity is a mechanical/chemical barrier and is not adaptive. It is a puppy’s first line of defense against pathogens. Examples of innate immunity are a puppy’s skin, saliva, and specific white blood cells, which either block pathogens from entering the body, or kill them once they do. Unfortunately, organisms such as parasites have evolved ways to evade a puppy’s innate immune system. (Additionally, some parasites even can evade adaptive immunity). With this in mind, preventative treatment and screening for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and external parasites is an important practice when caring for a new puppy. Gastrointestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms can lead to malnutrition, anemia, vomiting and diarrhea. Testing for these parasites is performed by fecal exams, and treatment consists of multiple doses of anti-parasitic drugs multiple weeks apart. Once a puppy is deemed parasite free the goal is to use a monthly parasite preventative medication to avoid new infestations contracted from the environment. Monthly heartworm prevention contains medication effective at preventing most gastrointestinal parasites, as well as heartworms. Similarly, external parasites such as flea and ticks, which the innate immune system has little defense against, can be treated/prevented with the use monthly parasite prevention.

Ultimately, welcoming your new puppy into your home will bring you and your family years of joy and many fond memories. Taking care of your dog’s health by making sure that your dog is up-to-date on preventative vaccinations and regular well visits at Atlantic Veterinary Hospital will result in providing your pet with a long and healthy life. And maybe, just maybe, if your dog lives long enough your children will learn the responsibilities that you originally hoped that your Christmas puppy will teach them.




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