Puppies: vaccinations, diet and healthcare

 Getting a puppy is an exciting time, however it is also an anxious time of decisions.  From food and vaccinations to basic puppy healthcare, we asked holistic vet Dr Nick Thompson, MRCVS, to share his advice and recommendations about all things puppy – from vaccinations to diet and basic healthcare. 

Vaccinations

There is a lot of information here, but it is important. New puppy owners should check the guidelines for vaccinations, which can be easily found on the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) website.  The WSAVA is an independent body and and in 2017, they produced a definitive set of new guidelines for new puppy owners.  

Which vaccinations does my puppy need?

Under current WSAVA guidance, every animal should be vaccinated with the core vaccines for PHD:

  • Parvo 
  • Hepatitis 
  • Distemper

There are also non-core vaccines available for Leptospirosis (Lepto) and Kennel Cough, however these should only be given when necessary. For example, if your puppy is likely to be living a town-based life away from brackish water and paddling through ditches, then it is unlikely that your dog would require the Lepto vaccine.

When should I vaccinate?

The WSAVA recommend that a puppy receives their final injection in their primary course of vaccines when they are 16 weeks old.  The vaccine is then much more likely to flourish in your puppy’s system, as the antibodies passed on by their mother have dissipated enough not to attack the vaccine.

A single vaccination given for PHD, at or beyond 16 weeks, can last a lifetime.

However, all dogs should receive a first booster for the core PHD vaccine 12-months after completion of their primary vaccination course.  The 12-month booster will ensure immunity for dogs who may not have responded to their puppy vaccinations.  

The WSAVA state that the PHD vaccine should not be given any more frequently than every three years after your pup’s first 12-month booster injection. 

What if the breeder has vaccinated my pup beforehand?

Sometimes your breeder will have vaccinated your pup at 8 weeks of age.  When you take the pup to your own vet, they may tell you that it is a different vaccine and that they will need to restart the course of vaccines.  The WSAVA have confirmed that they think this practise is unjustified so make sure to discuss your options with your vet and, if in doubt, ask your vet to perform a titre test to discover the exact immunological status of your puppy.

Titre Testing

A titre test is a blood test that your vet can perform to test antibody performance, however it is worth having a discussion with them as to whether they have an in-house titre testing kit or whether they would send away the blood for testing in an external lab.  All vets can access a titre test kit from their usual suppliers.

In order to find out exactly when your dog might need a top up of the PHD vaccine, you can titre test every 1-3 years to see how strong their antibody reaction is to various diseases. 98% of core puppy vaccines given at 16 weeks of age will provide immunity against PHD for many years, possibly even for your dog’s entire life, but annual titre testing will give you confidence in their immunity.

Feeding pups – the first weeks

Deciding what to feed your puppy is arguably one of the most important choices you will make moving forwards. Dr Nick puts forward a strong case for a raw diet. 

"As a vet, my personal choice would always be raw feeding for all dogs.  I have been studying raw feeding in the UK for over 25 years and it improves your dog’s health and condition, teeth, ears, energy and digestion."

Raw food is growing in popularity. 

At what age can I start raw feeding? 

You can start feeding a puppy on raw food (a very fine mince) from three weeks of age.  If you receive your puppy when they’re eight weeks of age, it is likely that they will have been fed a kibble or tinned food by their breeder.  If you make the choice to transition them on to a raw diet, you can transition them by either going ‘cold turkey’ the second they walk through the door and moving them straight on to raw food, or through a gradual transition over a four day period.

Dr Nick continues, "I strongly recommend that you choose complete meals from a reputable supplier as opposed to using a DIY system, especially for the first six months of your puppy’s life.  This will really help you to know that everything is balanced for your pup’s age, weight and height." 

How much should I feed my pup?

When calculating how much to feed your puppy, a good rule of thumb is that during the first few months of their life, you should be feeding them 10% of their bodyweight daily.  As your puppy reaches maturity, you can gradually bring this down to 2% - 3% of their bodyweight.

If you’re looking to feed kibble or tinned food to your puppy, your local vet will be able to advise you how to proceed.

Teething

When your puppy starts to teethe, a really great natural way that you can help them with the discomfort of this is to freeze part of a chicken carcass, chicken wings or even a chicken/duck/turkey neck and give it to your puppy as a treat.   Your puppy will love being able to chew on something so delicious and the frozen element will provide relief for their gums as their adult teeth break through.

Treating your puppy’s upset stomach

It can be quite an anxious experience for a new owner if your puppy develops diarrhoea and a question often asked is: how do I know when I should call the vet? A bright and chirpy pup with a decent appetite and a small amount of diarrhoea is probably something you can keep an eye on at home.  However, if your puppy becomes floppy, develops a fever (you can check this by feeling their ears, do they seem hotter than usual?) or loses their appetite then you need to make an appointment with your vet.  This is because your puppy could have a bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can swiftly cause dehydration in your dog, among other issues.

If your pup remains otherwise well, aside from their diarrhoea, then there are certain things you can try at home to help them get back to normal. If you’re feeding raw food to your puppy, try adding Slippery Elm or Marshmallow Root Powder to their food. This should help settle their stomachs.  Another solution is to feed your puppy a very bland food until the diarrhoea has passed.   A bowl of food which is 80% turkey or fish is an excellent option, with the remaining 20% made up of well chopped green veg and quinoa or buckwheat.

Bone broth is a wonderful thing to give to puppies with diarrhoea.  This is simple to make yourself at home, take some raw animal bones (chicken or beef work well) and boil them in a large pot full of water for eight hours, making sure the lid is on so that it doesn’t boil dry.  This is an appetising and hydrating way to soothe your puppy’s stomach.

If you’re feeding your puppy a kibble or tinned food, then your vet will be able to supply you with a special formulation which should settle your puppy’s stomach.  These can be eye-wateringly expensive though, so bone broth is certainly something to try initially.

Interested to learn more?

Puppies: vaccinations, diet and healthcare - Watch Dr Nick's talk

Digestive health and pickupable poos - read the article

January 21, 2021