All puppies require worming with a complete wormer (that handles tapeworms as well as the usual roundworms and hookworms) starting at 2 weeks of age. Pups and their lactating mothers are the most susceptible to intestinal parasites, which are “switched on” to greater activity and egg and larvae production as whelping approaches and throughout lactation. The lactating bitch is thus the most dangerous potential source of infection for puppies and children alike. Puppies can even be infected while still in the womb! Infection can even occur while suckling via the bitch’s breast milk. The feces of untreated lactating bitches and their puppies will be absolutely loaded with parasites.
Affected puppies are poorly grown, listless and often have a pot-bellied appearance that seems out of proportion with their weak and spindly legs. They will commonly also suffer from diarrhea (which will be similarly heavily contaminated with parasitic eggs and/or tiny larvae).
Worming should therefore begin at 2 weeks of age and continue fortnightly until the puppy is 8 weeks old. Thereafter it is recommended to worm the puppy again at 12 weeks of age, then every 3 months throughout its lifetime. You can dramatically reduce the contamination burden in your dog areas through basic hygiene. Clean up and remove all feces before they have been there 7 days or more, and regularly worming your dogs (especially pregnant bitches – more on that later). After 7 days, the stages of many common parasites will leave the feces and no longer be amenable to easy removal. All public places frequented by dogs will be heavily loaded with hookworm larvae (especially during warm, moist conditions) and most particularly roundworm eggs, which are long lasting in the environment under all conditions and tend to adhere to fur and shoes by which means they can invade your home space.
Up until it is about 4 weeks of age, a puppy suckling off a vaccinated bitch will receive antibodies to common diseases in her milk, and thus have some measure of protection. Your puppy should have been vaccinated at 6 weeks of age, and come to you with an authentic vaccination certificate. The most commonly vaccinated for diseases (in Australia) are Canine Distemper, Canine Hepatitis and Parvovirus. In wet areas Leptospirosis is commonly vaccinated for. In rabies endemic areas, rabies is naturally also on the list. Ask you veterinarian about diseases common in your area, and vaccinate accordingly. If your dog will live in a kennel situation either all the time (God forbid!) or occasionally, then you should also ensure it is vaccinated against Kennel Cough. Reputable kennels insist on this.
It normally takes six weeks for immunization to “take” and the body to produce an effective arsenal of antibodies in readiness for infection. A good immune response will normally require that the puppy receive a repeat vaccination at 12 weeks of age (for Parvovirus, a third shot at 18 weeks is often recommended). For this reason, it is wise to keep your puppy away from potential sources of infection until it has had its 12 week shots. However, some immunity will develop after two weeks from their first vaccination. And given the importance of proper socialization during the puppy stage to the temperament of the adult dog, careful exposure to vaccinated dogs in clean environments should be risked by the new owner (see above section on socialization).
If you are going to take your dogs out into the public arena every day for a good solid bout of exercise, they will be exposed to what is known as “street boosters”. Every post, dog or poo they sniff will be a potential source of exposure to infection, acting in much the same way as a vaccination. As such, they will be able to maintain a strong immunity status to most common diseases. In this situation, despite what your vet might say, you should only need to vaccinate every few years. However, dogs kept always away from public spaces, or those that have reduced immunity due to sickness or old age, should be vaccinated each and every year.
If you live in a heartworm endemic area, you will also need to provide your puppy with heartworm prevention medication to destroy the larval stages – the microfilaria – before they develop into adults in the heart and pulmonary artery (the main artery from the heart to the lungs). This protection should start well before the dog reaches 5 months of age and continue every few months (the drug companies and your vet will say every month) for the life of the dog.
If you get a dog that has not had such a treatment regime maintained, then you must not give it heartworm prevention medication! That is because it may have adult worms already living in the heart. If you medicate, these can die and float off into the arteries of the lungs, to lodge in and block the smaller arterioles, leading to massive death of lung tissue and a possibly fatal outcome!
Exercise is important!
To be healthy and happy, your dogs (and you!) require daily exercise. So, chuck in your gym membership, and commit yourself to at least 20 minutes (preferably 40 minutes) of brisk walking with your dogs every day. Make daily exercise a routine and you and your animals will enjoy greater health and fewer medical bills for the rest of your life!
There are other benefits too. Did you know that walking a dog is the best way to meet other people? They’ll often say hello to him and give him a pat, totally ignoring you! But such meetings can and do lead to getting to know the other people in your community and sometimes even the develop of valuable new friendships.
My own mother is a living example. Thanks to her rather food-oriented fox terrier “Dopey” she met the love of her life. She was walking over a bridge where people were fishing, when Dopey decided to sample some rather yummy smelling bait that seemed to him to be there for the taking. The episode led to conversation, then a date, and now a ‘happy ever after’!