In our Ask A Vet series, Pawp interviews Dr. Laura Robinson on Instagram Live about first-time pet parents and their new dogs. The questions we asked came from the Facebook group Ask A Vet. If you’d like a vet to answer any of your pet-related questions, join the group and post, or tune into the Instagram Live on Mondays at 1 pm ET. This interview with Laura Robinson, DVM has been transcribed and edited for length and clarity.
Anything under 1 is considered a puppy or a kitten and then usually when they're about 1 is when you could consider them an adult. If they're a more large breed dog, it's closer to 1 year and a half, like a great dane or something like that. If it's a smaller breed dog, it's probably a little bit younger than that. But for cats, pretty much, I say 1 year.
I would say no younger than six weeks, for sure. If you're able to get more around eight weeks, that's a more ideal period to give them a couple extra weeks to adjust before you take them away. But yeah, no earlier than six weeks, for sure.
Do your research before. Get all the supplies that you need before you get them, and that includes litter box, collars, name tags, bedding, poop bags, all that type of thing. I would probably try to go to your vet within the first one to three days just to get a quick once over on them, make sure they look nice and healthy, and just get set up with them in regards to the next couple of months. You're going to be visiting them a lot, so good to get all the information that you need sooner rather than later. I would also do your research as much as you can and make sure you're getting your puppy or kitten from a reputable place.
I see a lot of the times, people come in that have gotten them from Craigslist or something and haven't done a lot of research. I tell people if you can go see the environment where they've been bred and kept — because a lot of times it's a puppy mill situation and I have people say, "I met them in a parking lot," and now they're here two days later because the dog's super sick and has parvovirus or something like that. If you're able to visit the place before, just try to make responsible decisions about where you're getting your puppy or kitten, because it can be really traumatizing to have to be diagnosed with something crazy within the first couple days because it was an irresponsible person.
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For dogs, we'll start with the core vaccines: your rabies vaccine, your bordetella vaccine, which is for kennel cough, and then your distemper, it's their combination vaccine. It's this DA2PP vaccine that's distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and parvovirus.
Those are the three main ones that you get. Some people will do the bordetella one twice. Some people will do the combination one, the DA2PP. You get that a couple times depending on how early you start.
For cats, the vaccine is FERCP, which is their combination vaccine, and then FELV if they are going to be outside, I definitely recommend that one. And then their rabies vaccine as well. And then there's a lot of differences depending on where you live and what's recommended in that place. There's a lot of additional vaccines you can get them like their rattlesnake vaccine, their lepto, their lime vaccine, coronavirus, which is not the same as ours but another one, influenza. There's a lot. So you got to go to your vet in your area, but those are the basics of it.
Usually I get started between six to eight weeks on kittens and dogs, and then you're basically in the vet every two, three weeks to get boosters, and you usually finish around the time they're 16 weeks old. That first couple months, you're going to be going in every few weeks.
In most clinics, you pay the initial exam fee — which will vary by location — but after that, usually it'll just be a quick appointment for the vaccine and they won't make you pay for another exam. That's how they do it at my place and I think a lot of places do it like that. But each of those vaccines are going to be between $10 to $25 per vaccine, and then you're looking at your parasite prevention, which will cost up to $100 for every few months. They definitely will start them on flea and tick preventative and kind of a once a month heartworm preventative, which some times will include a monthly dewormer in there. And I will send out a stool sample as well for new puppies and kittens. Make sure they don't have parasites. If that comes back positive, actually kind of a lot of the time they can get parasites from their mom's milk, from their environment, from other puppies and kittens, lots of different ways. I recommend getting them on that as early as six weeks, and then as far as cost and stuff goes, would say if you're getting your puppy or kitten when they're a couple months old.
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In that first year, adding up all the vaccines, adding up the cost of spaying and neutering, probably a few unexpected visits since that's pretty typical, I would set away close to like $700. $500 to $700. It kind of depends. If you get it from a shelter, obviously you're probably not going to be paying for spaying and neutering. They'll probably already be spayed or neutered, so that's a big cost off of it. But the cost for that can be between $100 to $500 depending on where you live and the cost of it.
Some shelters do offer it for free, so it's kind of nice, but usually there's an adoption fee associated to kind of cover that. I would put about that away, so you're not super surprised. And insurance is always a great thing to look into as well. Usually like $30, $40 a month to have you set up for any potential emergencies that might come up.
Obviously it's not mandatory. It's a personal choice. I'm definitely a proponent of spaying or neutering just for the simple fact of population reduction and how many kittens and puppies end up in shelters every single year. I would suggest doing it. If you can wait a little bit, I usually recommend getting it done between six or seven months, but usually at shelters they'll do it just to ensure that it gets done, so they'll do it early. But there's pros and cons to both. I've gone to a lot of continuing education stuff on this to talk about the pros and cons of both. There's certain arguments both ways in terms of different cancer preventions and stuff.
If you spay and neuter them, if you do it before their first heat cycle, you're almost 100% eliminating their risk of mammary cancer or breast cancer, and that's a really common type, so that's a huge pro for spaying. But again, and also there's a lot of potential emergencies, like dogs and cats can get something called pyometra, which is where their uterus will get a big infection and then you're forced to spay them at that time, because you have to get it out. Some times that can turn into a potential emergency if you don't. It can also calm them down and prevent certain behavioral issues, especially in a lot of male dogs, and kind of calm down the aggression and stuff.
They're slightly more prone to tearing their ACL and stuff if you do neuter and spay them, so that's a con, unfortunately. Some breeds are a little bit high risk for getting a certain type of cancer called hemangiosarcoma, which can be, it's basically a cancer of the blood, but it can be with their heart or their spleen or anything like that. So if you do not spay them, you get a little bit more benefit in terms of that, but it's a much more rare cancer than some of the other ones that you'll benefit when you do spay them. I think overall, I do think that spaying and neutering are the best options with everything considered, yeah.
I usually recommend around six or seven months to get that going. If it's a lot more large breed dog and it's male, you might get some benefit waiting a little bit longer just to make the ligaments get tight.
No, it's never too late. We do it all the time in older dogs. There's always a benefit of doing it. I mean, it's much more common to do it in dogs and cats under a year, but we do it a lot of times in adult dogs, too, and it's no worries.
It's important you put your puppy on a puppy-specific diet. Puppy food usually has higher fat and protein percentages, a little bit higher calcium and a little bit higher in calories overall and it just has different amino acid profiles to ensure they're getting all of the best nutrients for optimal skeletal and muscle growth, and so they can grow the best that they can. That's kind of the main difference between it and adult dog food. I definitely recommend getting them on a puppy or kitten food until they're about at the adult mark of some time between 10 months to one and a half years depending, because it will help them grow the best and develop the best. So highly recommend that.
It's basically the same for cats, too. Higher fat, higher protein helps them, get them on kitten food. I like for cats to be on wet food because a lot of cats don't drink the amount of water that they should, so by giving them wet food, you're giving them extra moisture. I would recommend getting them on wet and dry. Dogs, don't really matter. You can just have them on dry. If they're struggling, if you get them when they're really tiny, you might have to do wet just because they can't chew. But overall I think dry is probably the easiest, but wet's fine as well.
It comes from teething. Most of the time, dogs will lose most of their baby teeth by the time they're six months old. They kind of lose them between four and six months, so that's up until the six month mark and some times even after that, just when they're little and wanting to play, chewing is definitely a big thing. Obviously electronics is worrisome because they could get electrocuted and they could also just swallow anything. I mean, I think that's probably one of the more common reasons that I'll see a new puppy at the vet that's an unexpected visit, because they think they might've chewed on something or they know that they have and they've swallowed something. If they are having any vomiting or diarrhea, that's something that I have in the back of my mind and I'm worried about because it's just so common for puppies to like to chew on stuff.
Definitely one of the biggest struggles and each puppy is a little bit different in terms of what they like to chew on and their preferences, and it's hard to know exactly why they like a certain, like shoe versus other. As far as shoes go, I think for the most part they like it because there's just so many scents on them. You think how much you're walking on them every day and all the smells that are on it, plus your scent is everywhere on that as well.
A lot of times they're made out of leather, so that can taste good, too. They like meat and stuff as well. All of those things considered, they do seem to like the shoes. I always tell people to try to get all that away off of the ground and just don't give them the opportunity to get to your shoes. Eventually, they usually grow out of it, it's just that first year, you just have to be really patient with them.
It's a tough one and obviously certain dogs are a little bit smarter than other ones, so some can take up to six months, some times longer to be potty trained where other dogs learn it so quickly. It can vary a lot. Usually by the time, on the average dog, but the time they're four months, they've kind of figured it out.
If you're able to, I really like crate training. It's a little bit of an adjustment in the beginning for them just to be alone in there and stuff, but it does over time become their safe space. And if you're able to make it a rewarding experience for them and give them something special when they go in there, create a special toy or a special treat that they really like that they only get when they go in their crate, and make it more of like a rewarding experience.
And if you leave the crate open and they go in there on their own during the day, giving them a treat then. So you're just positive reinforcement constantly for them to like the crate. You don't want the crate too small or too big. They should be able to stand up and turn around. If you have a large breed dog, you could buy a big crate and they sell dividers to make it smaller. If the crate's too big, then they can use the back portion to go potty and the front portion to sleep, so it might not work. I have to make sure it's the appropriate size for sure. But they should learn pretty quickly that this is where I sleep, I only have this amount of area, so I don't want to pee and poop here, so I'll try and hold it as long as I can.
My rule of thumb is however many months they are, then you can add one to that and that's about how long they can hold it. So if they're four months, they can hold it for about five hours, four plus one. So that's the general rule of thumb. That goes for overnight as well. So you should expect in the first couple weeks to definitely be up at night taking them out probably in the middle of the night till they get about six months where they can hold it a little bit longer.
I would also say if you're able to put a leash on them while you're inside and keep them near you so they're not out of your sight and can go potty somewhere else. Obviously, puppy pads are another option for people sometimes, especially right now. If you live in an apartment or you're not able to go outside, or sometimes for elderly people, taking them out like that often isn't realistic, so then you have to go with the puppy pad option. But it's a little bit, I personally wouldn't want to do it because it can get a little bit of a pain having to clean those constantly and have that smell in your house. Taking them out into a backyard and a place to go potty outside is probably the ideal choice. But if you don't have that option for whatever reason, then puppy pads are a good alternative to your carpet, obviously. But you just might get stuck with it forever, because then they might develop a preference for only the potty pads and then they don't want to go outside, so that can be tough.
The first couple months are just a huge adjustment for them. You have to think, they've gone from being with their mom and all their little mates and their brothers and sisters to now being alone, left in a little crate and they're super confused and sad and lonely, so they're going to cry. And it can be really hard in the beginning to hear that and not go and grab them and want to bring them in bed. But as much as you can resist that, it's going to be best for them in the long run to learn how to self soothe themselves and relax and be alone so that later on it doesn't cause things like separation anxiety. Those first couple months are really the period that are important in terms of setting you up for success for the future with your pet.
So as strict as you can be to try to, again, make the crate a rewarding experience. Giving them a treat or something like that when they go in there. Things that can sometimes help is putting a blanket over the top to make it dark and can make them calm down a little bit. There's also, for instance with cats, there's a Feel Away, which is kind of like a pheromone that you can put there to calm them down. There's actually one for dogs, too, called Adaptil and you can get that and it kind of releases calming pheromones. Those are options. Some times people say if you play light classical music or something like that where they are, it can also calm them down a little bit. So that's another option for the crate as well. But as mch as you can resist, the better they'll be for the future.
In a way really great because a lot of shelters are really emptying out right now with the pandemic. A lot more people are adopting and there is a lot less dogs and cats that are available, which is amazing. I don't think it's ever been this high of an adoption rate in recent history for sure, so that's definitely one plus of what's going on right now. I would say I hugely recommend your guys's platform right now to get signed up with that. That'll eliminate a lot of potential visits to the vet and give you answers right away super quick, and avoid you having to go interact and be outside and be around other people for your protection as well. So it's super easy to just jump on there, chat with the vet, ask quick questions and limit the amount of times that you have to go to your vet right now.