Watch the video to see the Petfix Vet Spot on RTE’s Today show: learn about what to do if considering getting a new puppy.
See below for more detailed notes on the topic
How to choose a new pet
The biggest mistake that people make when getting a new pet is to rush into it, rather than planning carefully. Typically, people decide that they want a particular breed or type of dog, they search for one online, they pay significant sums of money for it and that’s it. And right now, people are paying crazily high prices: around five times the prices for puppies a year ago, due to the huge demand for dogs by staying-at-home families during COVID. Cats are less popular as pets, but the same type of situation is happening too.
So a few tips:
- Adopt, don’t shop. Thousands of dogs need homes, and you don’t need to have an expensive pedigree or designer bred pup to have a great pet.
- Many people are finding that there are adult dogs that need homes, and these fit the bill equally as well as young pups in many situations. And yes, sometimes there are pups in rescue centres that need homes.
- If you do choose a pedigree dog, do your research first. Find out about the breed’s health issues, and buy from a breeder who has done the recommended health tests to reduce the risk of problems. You may need to pay an even higher price, and you may need to wait for a few months, but in the long run, this is worth it because you will have a healthier, longer-lived pet.
- Learn how to avoid a puppy farmer. Follow the guidelines on the website of the Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group (IPAAG) – see here
Essentially, puppy adverts should include:
- A picture of the puppy: Beware of stock photos or if you see the same photos in multiple adverts: Right-click the photo and select ‘search Google for image’ to see if pictures used come up on other ads
- The puppy’s age: Puppies need to be at least 8 weeks old before leaving their mothers
- The puppy’s vaccination status: Most vets won’t vaccinate a puppy before 6 weeks of age.
- Puppies should be fully vaccinated by 10-12 weeks.
- The puppy’s microchip status: It is a legal requirement in Ireland that puppies must be microchipped by the time they reach 12 weeks, or before they permanently leave the land or premises where they were born, whichever comes first
- Whether the puppy has been treated for parasites: The breeder should be able to tell you the specific treatment that was used
- Should say the puppy can be viewed at the breeder’s property: Never allow a puppy to be sent to you, or agree to meet in a neutral location such as a car park. Always visit the property
- Must include that the puppy can be seen with its mother: You should be able to see a puppy and his/her mother interacting. A mother will not interact with a puppy that isn’t hers.
If these boxes are not ticked, do not proceed.
A new Irish website www.petbond.ie has been set up to help people find healthy, happy new pets, from ethical backgrounds, and their sources include rescue centres as well as private breeders.
How to transport the new puppy home
- Ideally, buy a carrier cage of some type for your pet:
- for a small breed of dog or a cat, this could be a plastic cat carrier
- for a bigger breed of dog, this could be a wire mesh indoor kennel that you lift into the back of your car.
- Line this carrier with some bedding that the young animal is used to at the breeder; this will carry the reassuring scent of “home” and “family”, and it will make the journey less stressful.
- Have someone sit close to the carrier, reassuring the pup or kitten
- If the pup or kitten is small enough, it may be better to hold them in your arms during the journey, but in most cases, it’s best to have them in their cage, with the knowledge that a caring human is close by, talking to them.
How to make the new puppy or kitten feel at home
The process of leaving their family and arriving in a new home is a normal and natural part of life for young animals. There is some unavoidable stress, but pups and kittens have adaptable minds, and as long as care is taken to avoid big shocks, most rapidly adjust to their new home environment and family.
- The carrier that was used to transport the young animal can have a useful function as their new private bedroom in the house. They can sleep here, and if the door is left open to give them continual access, they will often use it as a sanctuary for whenever they feel like “time out” or snoozing. It can also be helpful for house training – see below. It helps to leave the bedding from their original home in there for the first few weeks, only taking it out to wash it if really needed.
- You can also use plug-in pheromone-based diffusers or herb-sourced diffusers that plug in near their beds, to give them a sense of calm and reassurance.
- Try to get into a good daily routine from the start, with regular meal times, play times, snooze times etc. Animals love a steady routine: sometimes it almost seems as if they can read the clock, their timing is so good.
What to feed a new pup or kitten?
The best starting point is to continue to feed the same diet that was fed in their original home. Good breeders normally give new owners a small supply of the same pet food, so that they can continue to eat the same food during the initial stressful period while they are adapting to their new home.
Choose carefully for a longer term diet for your pup or kitten; this depends on breed, size, activity levels, and budget. There are some excellent online guides to choosing dog food now available, but be aware that people can be very opinionated: make sure that you get your information from a trusted source. (e.g. https://petfixclub.com/choosing-the-right-food-video/)
As an example, many people who feed their dogs on raw meat seem to believe that this is the best diet for every animal: the truth is that there are some risks attached to raw diets (e.g they can carry bacteria that can make humans ill) so if there are immunocompromised people in the home,it is definitely a bad idea to use raw food.
Most pups should be fed:
- four times a day up until twelve weeks of age
- three times a day up till four months of age
- twice daily for the rest of their lives
The feeding quantity guidelines on the packaging are just guidelines: you should apply common sense:
If the pup is chasing the empty bowl around the floor for five minutes after they’ve finished, you should be feeding them more.
If they routinely leave half a bowlful behind, start to offer them less.
Pups can be finicky eaters, and it’s easy to find yourself being “trained” by a smart young dog. Some dogs learn that if they turn their heads away from their dinner, their owner will soon offer them something tastier (but not necessarily better for them). So in general, it’s best to choose a good quality diet, leave it down with the pup for twenty minutes, and if it’s not been eaten, take it away. Then offer a fresh bowl of food at the next feeding time, again leaving it down for twenty minutes then removing it. If you take this no-nonsense approach, most pups will soon learn that the easiest option is just to tuck into their food when it’s offered.
The importance of good early socialisation of pups.
A well socialised puppy is more likely to develop into a well-balanced, calm, obedient adult dog.
A badly socialised pup is more likely to be a frightened, nervous, disobedient, aggressive adult dog.
Early socialisation is critically important, even before you have your pet. Breeders should be socialising pups from 2 weeks of age onwards, so ask about this when you get your pup. A pup should be calm and friendly: do not choose a nervous, anxious pup as this suggests poor early socialisation.
Puppies are geared to learn about and accept new experiences easily until they are around 12 weeks of age, up to 16 weeks max; after this, their minds become less adaptable, and it’s more difficult for them to adjust to new experiences. For this reason, it’s important to take specific steps to optimise their social experiences while they are young. The idea is to encourage them to enjoy a wide range of new experiences while not traumatising them by going too far, too quickly. The Kennel Club has designed a specific Puppy Socialisation Plan to be used by breeders and new owners, and it’s well worth following this as closely as possible.
How to introduce a new puppy to the family dog
One of the big worries facing new puppy owners is the reaction of an established family pet. It can be to predict how this will go, but previous reactions of the dog-in-residence to other animals should give you some clues. If your dog is a social creature, enjoying the company of other dogs on walks, this is positive
If your dog is aggressive to other animals, and isn’t friendly and playful, you are more likely to encounter problems.
For a smooth introduction, the general idea is to make the puppy as unthreatening as possible.
- Start by introducing the puppy’s smell only: bring back some puppy-used blankets or bedding, and allow your dog to sniff these.
- Choose a neutral area to make the first introductions: an area outside somewhere, or a friend’s house, with the pup being held by a friend when you arrive with your dog.
- Keep both animals under close control, allowing them to sniff one another.
- Then put the pup into its carrier, and allow the dog to sniff this from the outside.
- If all goes well, you can then bring the carrier back to your home and allow further sniffing to happen there.
- Finally, if there are no signs of discontent, you can allow nose-to-nose contact in the open.
- Supervise the animals carefully, with a loose long leash on each so that you can control them if there is any conflict.
- Even if they seem to get on well at first, continue to keep them under observation for some time. Puppies often show inappropriate behaviour to older dogs, hanging on to dangling ears, biting tail tips or just generally hassling the other animal. You need to ensure that your older dog has an escape route so that they can go somewhere else where the puppy can’t follow them if they get fed up.
- It’s normal for there to be some growling and even occasional “snaps” from the older animal; this is often how pups are taught to behave. All the same, you should stay close by in these early stages to ensure that no harm is done to the younger, more vulnerable animal.
How introduce a new puppy or kitten to the family cat
Most cats are adept at managing introductions to new animals like puppies and kittens: they have enough life experience to know how they want things to go. They may wish to engage up to a point, before finally either telling the young animal to go away (with a hiss and perhaps a batted paw) or choosing to move out of their range (e.g. jumping onto a chair or out of the cat flap). Again, you can facilitate a smooth meeting by allowing the cat to smell the new bedding before the animal arrives, and by keeping the new arrival in its carrier for the first few hours, so that the cat can come up and have a sniff/look on his/her own terms.
As with the dog, you should ensure that the cat always has an escape route, such as a chair to jump onto or a doorway to run out of. As long as a cat has other options, they are generally unlikely to react in an aggressive way to a new arrival. Close observation is important however, since animals – both dogs and cats – can be unpredictable in social situations.
How to get a new puppy through its first night
Your new puppy will be reassured by the scent from its original bedding, and the extra scents of a nearby diffuser should add to a sense of calmness. From the pup’s arrival, instigate a daily routine, so that your pup soon learns what’s expected. It can be helpful to offer supper a couple of hours before bedtime, followed by a period of play/ interaction, then a quiet interlude winding down towards bedtime. Then:
- Go outside for a final walk and emptying of bladder and bowels.
- Leave a radio playing beside the pup’s bed, so that there is some auditory comfort and distraction.
- When it’s time for you to go to bed, put the pup into their own bed (inside their carrier/ indoor kennel) and just leave them to it.
- It’s often as simple as that: young animals naturally seem to know that the hours of darkness are the time to sleep.
How to stop a new puppy from crying
Your new pup may not have experienced sleeping on their own: up until this time, their short lifetime will have been filled with companionship from mother and siblings. However the adaptability of pups means that most rapidly adapt to their new situation of being on their own.
They may whine a little, but you should not react immediately if you hear this: if you go to them at once, you will teach them that whining gets rapid results, and they will be more likely to do this whenever they want anything. Instead, ensure that their set up is as ideal as possible, with comfy bedding, comforting background noise (with a radio playing), and a warm ambient temperature.
Try to ignore them if they cry, and most often, after a few minutes, they will accept their new environment and sleep.
If the crying persists, check to make sure there is not a real issue (such as a paw trapped somewhere), and then after reassuring them, leave them in peace.
Try to be less reactive rather than over-protective: this usually works best for owner and pup.
Separation anxiety is a common problem in young adult dogs, and if you can teach your pup to be on its own comfortably from an early stage, they are more likely to be happy in their own company as they get older.
How to train a new puppy and kitten
Young puppies are intelligent and they learn quickly. The most important early tasks to learn are control of urination and defaecation. The “indoor kennel” concept is the best way of teaching this: dogs have a natural instinct not to go in their own den, so even a young animal with no training is unwilling to “do their business” in their own bed.
The house-training process starts by recognising the most likely times that a puppy will need to go to the toilet:
- Within five minutes of waking up
- Within ten minutes of finishing a meal
- Shortly after they start to behave differently when playing, sniffing around and pausing their activity
At these times, you should take the puppy outside, and allow them to play outdoors until they do the necessary job. And while they are piddling/poohing, take time to tell them what wonderful little creatures they are. You can even teach them to go on command, by repeating a specific word at the same time as they are are doing the act (e.g. “busy busy”)
If you cannot get outside (eg in foul weather or if you live in an apartment), you can use a puppy pad for the same purpose: put the pup onto the pad at the times they are likely to go, praising them whenever they do.
Puppies soon learn what’s expected of them, and house training issues are rare in pups over four months of age.
Kittens are even easier to train: they nearly always naturally start to use a litter tray with no special encouragement.