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25th April 1999

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Bringing up puppy

By Dr. Nalinika Obeysekere

Having a pet is a wonderful and rewarding experience for the whole family, and it brings a lot of good times and a few bad ones. In addition to all the fun and frolic, however, a great deal of responsibility is involved. Your dog is completely dependent on you as a provider of all its needs. His/her health, well being and happiness are completely in your hands. In return he/she will be a loving, faithful, tolerant and protective friend and companion.

Before Birth

imageThe health of a puppy will depend to some extent on the quality of its parents. The dam or mother must have had all her vaccinations, be free of internal (worms) and external (ticks etc.) parasites, well fed and healthy. A healthy dam will provide the pups in her uterus a good environment to develop and grow. Some diseases can be transmitted directly from the dam for example, genetic problems, worms, parvo viral infection, tick fever and skin diseases among others.

Birth to eight weeks

The next important period for the pup is from birth to eight weeks. At this time (s)he needs a lot of care. lt is crucial that (the pup gets mother's milk within the first twelve hours. This milk gives the pup some protection from illness during its early development. With a small litter (six or less pups) and a healthy milk producing dam, mother's milk is all that is required for the first three weeks. image

At three weeks, the pups should be wormed and introduced to other foods and supplements. By six weeks the pups are mainly depending on the food provided by you, and drinking from the mother just for the fun of it. They now have teeth and the dam is not very tolerant of their suckling. Up to this time the pups must be with the mother as well as littermates in order to develop normally. They should get their Parvo vaccine and second worming at six weeks.

Six to eight weeks

The period from six to eight weeks is a transit period. If the pups are getting adequate attention and care it is best that they remain with the mother and littermates up to eight weeks of age. However, if the litter is big and it is difficult to care for all of them properly, it is better to send them to their new homes. That way they will get the individual attention and care they need.

Puppies grow rapidly from six weeks onward and it is essential that they get proper nutrition. Consult your veterinarian regarding a proper diet and vitamins. As a general guideline provide small, frequent meals. Don't introduce too many new foods too quickly. Feed easily digestible food. Vitaminand mineral supplements are necessary if giving a home cooked diet. Use preparations specifically made for animals. The requirements and balance of vitamins and minerals can be quite different for humans and animals. Human preparations are often inadequate.

There are currently several commercial dog foods available. Good quality commercial dog foods provide excellent nutrition, are extremely convenient to use and may be relatively economical if you consider present day food and vitamin costs. It is important to consult your veterinarian in choosing a good quality dog food. Some of the lower quality brands may require supplementation of proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Eight weeks to six months

From this age worming should be done monthly. The DHL, which is a triple vaccine, is due at eight weeks. Tick control should be in place. This is also the best time to "house train" and "toilet train" your pup. Your puppy needs not only a lot of love and gentle attention but also discipline.

Discipline and training at this stage should not and need not be harsh. It is however essential. You want a fun-loving but well-behaved companion. You should have control over your pup so you can handle her (him) on walks, while travelling, at the beach or park and at the vet's.

imageA veterinarian's nightmare is the dog who has its owner so well trained and terrified that it always gets its own way. A dog may not understand that in order to keep him well and healthy, a little pain, discomfort and irritation may be required; so he will flatly refuse to cooperate. The helpless "owner" then looks at the equally helpless vet and the sick animal is in serious trouble. The owner must remember that vets are not omnipotent gods. If your dog won't allow you (the person he knows, trusts and who feeds and cares for him) to handle him, he will definitely not tolerate your vet. (a relative stranger and potential source of pain) any where near him. That is if (s)he is smart and believe me, most are very smart.

At three to three and a half months all booster vaccines and the anti-rabies vaccine must be given. Then vaccinate annually. Up to three and a half or four months you should sponge off but not really bathe your pup. They are very susceptible to stress related illness, like colds etc. Brush the coat frequently to keep it clean. Your pup will be teething. He will lose his "baby" teeth and get a permanent set. Therefore, give him a lot of his own chew toys, (hard rubber toys) and /or large marrowbones. If you don't he will find his own and it might be your best pair of shoes. Heavy breeds of dogs (German Shepherd or larger) should not be allowed to play on slippery floors as this will result in abnormal bone structure.

Dr. Nalinika Obeysekere answers your pet queries

Q: How often do you have to clip a dog's nails?

A: If the dog has an active outdoor life, nails gradually wear off due to constant friction with hard surfaces. This is similar to nail filing in a person. Therefore these dogs rarely need nail clipping.

Dogs kept indoors will have long nails as a result of inadequate exposure to hard surfaces.

If your dog lives indoors it is advisable to clip the nails once a week. If the nails get too long, they can actually deform the foot by applying pressure against the ground, causing the toe to be in an unnatural position.

Long nails are more prone to breaking and tearing and can be very painful for the dog. Therefore by trimming the nails regularly you can keep them short and healthy.

Q: Do cats need vaccination against any disease?

A: Yes, like all mammals cats are also susceptible to rabies. They should be vaccinated annually against rabies, especially because of their roaming lifestyle.

Cats should also be vaccinated against certain respiratory diseases. These respiratory conditions commonly known as "cat flu" account for a large percentage of feline deaths. Vaccines are available for the prevention of such conditions.

Please send in your queries to:
The Vet. Column,
C/o The Sunday Times,
P.O. Box 1136,

The Mirror Magazine also welcomes contributions from readers on interesting stories about their pets.

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