Getting a new puppy or kitten can be a very exciting and memorable time. Along with the joys of adding a new member to the family comes a responsibility to ensure a healthy life for your pet, for which your veterinarian is a key resource. The first appointment with your veterinarian can be very overwhelming, but there are some key topics to consider prior to your first checkup. Here are the five most important things you can do for your new pet’s health.
Just like babies, puppies and kittens are born with a naïve immune system and are unable to fight many common infectious diseases on their own. Vaccines help prime the immune system to ensure protection from these potentially deadly diseases. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) guidelines, all puppies and kittens should be vaccinated for their core vaccines every three to four weeks between the ages of six and 16 weeks. The core vaccine for puppies is called DHPP, a combination vaccine that protects against four common infectious diseases (distemper, hepatitis, parvo and parainfluenza virus). The core vaccine for kittens is called FVRCP, which protects against three common infectious diseases (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calcivirus and panleukopenia). In addition to these core vaccines, all pets should receive their rabies vaccination at approximately 16 weeks of age.
Outside of these core vaccines, there are a variety of non-core options that may be recommended based on your new pet’s location and lifestyle. These include leptospirosis and bordetella vaccines for dogs and feline leukemia vaccine for cats. There is a lot of information available out there regarding vaccines (and a lot of misinformation, too) — make your veterinarian your top source for vaccination advice
It is very common for young puppies and kittens to contract internal parasites. They may become infected with parasites at birth (passed from their mother through the placenta or milk) or become infected through contact with infected feces or other infected animals. Some common internal parasites include roundworms, hookworms, coccidia and giardia. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends fecal examinations and/or prophylactic deworming at least four times during the first year of life. Left untreated, internal parasites can cause a variety of gastrointestinal issues and can potentially be passed to humans. Speak with your veterinarian to determine the best deworming protocol for your new pet.
Choosing a monthly flea, tick and heartworm preventative is an essential part to caring for your new puppy or kitten. Fleas and ticks are skin parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. These parasites can cause skin irritation at the site of the bite; however, they can also transmit various diseases. Fleas can transmit tapeworm, whereas ticks can transmit a variety of potentially life-threatening diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Heartworm is a blood parasite that is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitos. Once infected, heartworms can grow up to 14 inches long and will reside in the heart. Left untreated, heartworm infection can lead to heart failure and even death. According to the CAPC, recent prevalence data suggests that dogs and cats are susceptible to heartworm in all 50 states (which means they are likely so in all of Canada, too). Based on your geographical location and lifestyle, your veterinarian can help determine the best combination preventative to help protect your pet from these potentially deadly critters.
Puppies and kittens require a very specific diet to help them grow and stay healthy. According to AAHA, a goodquality puppy or kitten diet should be high in fat, calories and good-quality protein to support growth. The diet should also have correct calcium to phosphorous ratios to aid bone growth and skeletal development. Your veterinarian — and not the product claims on food labels in the pet aisle of your grocery store — is one of your best resources to help you choose the best diet and an appropriate feeding guide for your new pet.
5. SPAYING AND NEUTERING Spaying and neutering is the best method to prevent unwanted pregnancies and keep your pet healthy throughout his or her life. Spaying your female puppy or kitten can prevent various medical conditions, including mammary (breast) cancer and pyometra, a potentially life-threatening infection of the uterus. Neutering your male puppy or kitten can prevent unwanted sexual behaviours, as well as medical conditions such as prostate and testicular cancer. The AAHA supports neutering cats and dogs as young as eight weeks of age.
Consult with your veterinarian to make the best recommendations for preventive care based on a detailed assessment of your pet and regular checkups. Working together for your pet’s health will ensure your new puppy or kitten will be a happy part of your family for years to come.
Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON.

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