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16 Important Things To Know About Getting A Puppy

These fuzzy balls of joy (and poop) don't come with an owner's manual, so here's the lowdown on your new best friend.

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1. You will need to puppy-proof your house.

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This means tucking electrical cords out of sight, keeping shoes and other items off the floor, placing the trash can in an out-of-reach area, and keeping all small items like hair ties, rubber bands, bobby pins, loose change, yarn and dental floss, jewelry, and even socks away from the edges of tables or counters.

It's also a good idea to keep the bathroom door closed and off-limits to your puppy. Puppy gates are an easy way to section off areas of your home.

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2. You'll need a license for your puppy.

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Most states have some version of leash laws and license laws. Check with your local authorities for what you need in order to legally keep your puppy. Most dog licenses are reasonably priced, need to be renewed annually, and come with a tag that should be on your dog's collar at all times. In many counties, the cost of the license goes back to the local animal shelter, so your money helps provide homes and services for other pets in need.

3. Your puppy needs ID.

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One of the first purchases for your new puppy should be a well-fitted collar with a tag that includes their name and your contact information. And a permanent microchip is also a great investment. The chip is coded with a unique number that is linked to your puppy's name and your contact information, and gives lost dogs a far greater chance of being returned home.

The chip gets inserted with a needle under your puppy's skin between their shoulder blades and can be read by a special scanner so that veterinarians and animal shelters across the U.S. can scan stray animals that are brought in.

4. Your puppy needs to go to the vet and get vaccines. Like, by law.

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You're going to be spending a lot of time with your veterinarian, at least for the first six months of your puppy's life. So take time picking your vet; find someone you (and your puppy) click with.

The legal minimum for puppy vaccine requirements in most states is a rabies vaccine, usually given at 12 weeks old. This also comes with a rabies tag (for your puppy's collar) and a certificate for your records. After the first year, your dog will need a booster every three years.

But there are lots of other (easily preventable) contagious diseases, like parvovirus, distemper, influenza, and kennel cough, that are deadly for your pup, and they should be vaccinated for those too. Most puppies can get their first set of shots around six to eight weeks of age and will need boosters every three weeks until 16 weeks. Talk to your veterinarian about which vaccines are right for your pet.

5. Your puppy also needs protection from fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.

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All of those pests can cause some serious health issues for your puppy. A severe flea infestation can cause blood loss and weakness. Fleas also transmit tapeworms, which cause gastrointestinal issues and weight loss. Ticks are even nastier, since certain species can transmit diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease in dogs, a potentially lethal parasite that sets up residence in your pet's heart and pulmonary arteries.

The good news is that there are very good oral medications and topical products that protect against fleas, ticks, and heartworm disease. Talk with your veterinarian about which preventative product is best for your pet and then set a monthly reminder on your calendar or phone to administer it.

6. There’s a chance your puppy might have parasites.

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Internal parasites such as tapeworms and roundworms are common in the intestinal tract of young puppies. These worms, often transmitted from the environment and from the puppy's mother, can cause diarrhea and weight loss, as well as irritation and inflammation to the lining of your puppy's digestive tract. Hookworms are particularly vicious, as they hook onto the wall of the intestine and suck blood from the tissue, resulting in sometimes severe blood loss in young animals.

As gross as this all is, take heart: Diagnosing intestinal parasitism is as easy as delivering a fresh poop sample to your vet. There are numerous safe and effective deworming medications (called "anthelmintics") that your veterinarian can provide to treat common gastrointestinal parasites in dogs.

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7. You should get your puppy spayed or neutered.

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Bob Barker is right: Most veterinarians recommend spaying your female puppy or neutering your male puppy between four and six months old.

"We change animals when we spay and castrate them, both in good and bad ways," says Dr. Margaret Root, professor of reproductive veterinary medicine and assistant dean of education at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. And some recent studies have shown that spayed and neutered animals can be at higher risk of developing other forms of cancers when compared to their sexually active compatriots.

But the proven benefits of the procedure, in general, outweigh owning an "intact" animal. Intact pets are more likely to roam and get into fights, not to mention the issue of unwanted litters of puppies — which matters, given that the ASPCA estimates 1.2 million unwanted dogs are euthanized each year in U.S. animal shelters.

Additionally, a neutered dog won't get testicular cancer because, well, he doesn't have any, and spaying your female puppy prevents her from developing potentially life-threatening uterine infections.

8. Your puppy needs a social life.

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Not to psych you out, but you can really influence your puppy's emotional development at a young age. The period roughly between three to 12 weeks of age is called a puppy's socialization period. This is the time to show your puppy the world — take them into stores, to parks, for car rides, and let them meet other dogs and people. Also, this is a great excuse to host one of the cutest things in the world: a puppy party.

Puppy socialization classes are helpful for making sure your puppy is getting the right kind of (controlled) pup-on-pup interaction. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, generally, puppies can start socialization classes at as early as seven to eight weeks old. To make sure they don't catch anything from their new friends, your pet should have had at least one set of vaccination boosters seven days before the first class.

9. Keeping your puppy entertained will keep them out of trouble.

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It's probably an amendment to Murphy's Law that a bored puppy will cause destruction. Of course, they won't mean to destroy, but since their means of exploring the universe are to taste everything, this may involve chewing on your couch or your mother-in-law's vintage leather handbag. Therefore, keep your puppy busy. This includes lots of outside exercise as well as providing the right toys. Sturdy chew toys like a Kong or thick rope are great for busy puppy mouths.

10. But it’s important not to give your puppy too MUCH exercise.

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For some larger breeds, it can take up to a year of age before their joints and bones are fully developed. So take into account your pup's breed and size, and don't force them on long hikes, jogs, or agility training until they're at least a year old. Relaxed, natural movement and play outside, however, is fine at any age.

11. Patience and consistency are the keys to house-training.

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One of the biggest challenges of owning a puppy is training them not to use your kitchen rug as their latrine. Routine trips outside are key to help them form the connection that outdoors is the right place to relieve themselves. Key times to take the puppy outside for a bathroom break are right after meals, in the morning, and right before bed. And about 45 times in between.

In all seriousness, every two hours for the first few weeks is a good guideline. Obviously, the time between breaks will increase as your puppy gets older, their bladder gets bigger, and they start to learn how to let you know when they need to go.

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12. It’s important for your puppy to get the right food — and to eat often enough.

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Puppies grow fast. And just like children, they need properly balanced nutrients in order to foster healthy growth and development. Most brand-name commercial puppy foods are solid choices. A general rule of thumb is to feed your puppy three meals a day until three months old. Between three and six months, you can decrease meals to twice daily.

And while you're sure to be giving treats to your little one frequently (because you're training, right?), make sure the treats are very small amounts of food and are safe for your puppy. Feeding human food and table scraps is a habit that's better never started. If you start giving your puppy treats from the table when they're little, it's very hard to discourage a full-grown dog from begging at every meal.

13. You need to know your puppy poisons.

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Common foods we enjoy on a daily basis are actually toxic to dogs. Chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, coffee grounds, garlic, and sugar-free food containing xylitol are some of the most common toxic foods for dogs from the table. Human medications like antidepressants and cold medicines can also be trouble, so keep them well out of reach, and never give your pup any medications or supplements unless specifically directed to by your veterinarian.

14. Puppies’ teeth need brushing, too.

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Dental care is super important in domestic dogs. And while your puppy shouldn't be building up plaque just yet, now is a great time to get them used to a toothbrush. Regular brushing (every week or so) should be a part of your puppy pet-care routine that will carry on into their adult life. Human toothpaste is off-limits due to the high levels of fluoride, but there are plenty of pet-friendly toothpastes (and toothbrushes) out there.

15. Your puppy should go to school.

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Puppy training classes are designed for puppies around eight to twelve weeks old, and allow them to socialize and begin learning basic commands like "sit" and "down," and to walk on a leash. Puppy classes are great for owners, too, since you'll be the one interacting with your pet. These classes help both pet and owner learn basic commands and consistency with training.

Ask your vet for recommendations for a good local puppy class; some clinics even hold their own. If you find a class on your own, ask for references before signing up.

16. Special breeds have special needs.

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If you have a purebred puppy, get familiar with the breed's history and traits, because some breeds are known for specific health problems. For example, giant-breed dogs such as Great Danes and Irish wolfhounds are prone to bone cancer and joint problems, whereas Cavalier King Charles spaniels are known for heart issues.

Large-breed dogs with narrow, deep chests, such as Weimaraners, setters, and Doberman pinschers, are more prone to a serious condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), which is the bloating and twisting of the stomach. And If you own a breed that is predisposed to GDV, your veterinarian may recommend a prophylactic surgical procedure to tack the stomach in place to prevent this condition; this is called a gastropexy, and the surgery can be done at the same time as a spay or a neuter.

The more you know about your breed, the better you'll be able to watch for warning signs of a specific problem and maybe even be able to prevent it.

Anna O'Brien graduated from Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine and is a veterinarian currently in Maryland.

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