New puppy advice – Six common questions answered by a vet

Puppy advice
(Image credit: Getty)

Don’t worry if you feel in need of some puppy advice when you bring home your bundle of fluff for the first time. It’s completely normal to feel unsure and incredibly responsible for this new little life – puppies are just as much work as babies to start with! These are some of the most common questions I get asked about new puppies, and I’ve answered them here to help you adapt to your new member of the family!

1. What puppy food is best?

How to choose the best puppy food is probably some of the best puppy advice we can give. But feeding dogs is a minefield and there’s lots of information and misinformation out there. For the best start in life, you should find a food that:

  • Has the FEDIAF (EU) or AAFCO (US) ‘complete and balanced’ nutritional adequacy statement for ‘growth of puppies,’ or ‘all life stages.’ This means it contains the correct amount and ratio of nutrients to help your puppy grow.
  • Complies with the WSAVA recommendations for manufacturers. This helps to ensure the company has proper quality controls in place.

In addition, if you have a large or giant-breed puppy, finding a food specifically formulated for large-breed puppies is best. The calcium-phosphorus ratio and energy density are slightly different, encouraging slower growth thought to reduce the risk of bone and joint conditions.

Nutrition is never more important for your dog than in the first few months of life. Whatever your beliefs about feeding raw, grain-free, vegan, or home-made, I’d encourage you to stick to a scientifically-backed complete and balanced diet at least until your puppy finishes growing. Boutique diets and those containing limited or exotic ingredients are more likely to make serious mistakes with their foods, resulting in nutritional deficiencies and severe problems, including death

2. Can a puppy eat adult dog food?

The best dog food for adult dogs is not toxic to puppies and it won’t harm them if your puppy takes a little bite of your adult dog’s food. However, it doesn’t contain the right balance of nutrients for growth, so if your puppy eats adult dog food regularly, or instead of his puppy food, he may develop nutrient deficiencies. 

Dog food formulated for adult dogs is lower in protein, and has a different calcium-phosphorus ratio compared to puppy food. This means it is not a complete and balanced diet for a growing puppy and isn’t suitable for long-term feeding.  

It’s best to separate your puppy and adult dog during feed time to ensure they each eat the correct meals. This will also help to prevent food aggression and conflict between your dogs.

3. What puppy shots are needed?

Vets vaccinate puppies against diseases that are common in their area. In the UK, the ‘core vaccinations’ are:

  • Distemper
  • Hepatitis
  • Parvovirus
  • Leptospirosis

Non-core vaccines that are commonly prescribed include:

  • Bordatella (kennel cough)
  • Parainfluenza (kennel cough)
  • Rabies (for travelling pets)

It’s recommended that all puppies receive a vaccination against Distemper, Hepatitis, and Parvovirus (called ‘DHP’) at, or after, 10 weeks old. For earlier protection, a vaccination may be given at 6 or 8 weeks old, but this should still be repeated at 10+ weeks old, when the puppy’s immune system is more mature. In addition, the WSAVA recommends repeated injections every 2-4 weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks old, and this may be offered in areas where parvovirus is a significant problem.

Not only is leptospirosis a horrible disease that is invariably fatal, it’s also zoonotic, which means your dog can pass it onto you, or onto the vets and nurses treating him. Leptospirosis vaccination involves two injections, 2-4 weeks apart (depending on the brand), with the second vaccination occurring at or after 10 weeks of age.

A normal vaccination schedule for a puppy in the UK might look like this:

  • 6-8 weeks: DHP and leptospirosis
  • 10-12 weeks: Repeat DHP and leptospirosis, optional kennel cough

However, it can be as complex as:

  • 6 weeks: first parvovirus
  • 8 weeks: DHP and L4
  • 10 weeks: 2nd DHP
  • 12 weeks: 2nd L4
  • 16 weeks: Extra DHP

It’s best to talk to your puppy’s vet about their recommended vaccination schedule, as this will change depending on local disease risks and the vaccinations your dog has had with their breeder. Dogs in different countries may receive different vaccinations.

Puppy advice

(Image credit: Getty)

4. Do puppies sleep a lot?

Yes! Puppies, like human babies, need a lot of sleep. They’ll nap a lot during the day, sometimes without much warning, simply stopping where they are and having a quick snooze. Most puppies will go through short cycles of eat-play-sleep-repeat throughout the day. Unlike adult dogs, their sleep cycles are shorter, and they often have vivid dreams that result in movement, twitching, and even yapping. Being sure you’re well prepared with the best dog bed and best puppy sleep aids you can find should help.

Of course, normal sleep should not be confused with lethargy. Puppies sleep a lot, but between naps they should be active and always getting into mischief. Puppies that are not active enough, find it difficult to stand, are difficult to rouse, or who aren’t keen on eating should be assessed by your vet.

5. How do I cope with a puppy that bites?

It’s normal for puppies to explore the world with their teeth, and this can involve some chewing and biting. However, it’s important to teach your puppy at a young age that biting isn’t the right thing to do.

Most puppies bite because they’re overexcited during play. If this is the case, immediately stop the game as soon as they’ve bitten. Turn your back on them, fold your arms and ignore them. After a couple of minutes, when your puppy is calm, you can start the game again.

If you do this every time your dog bites, they’ll soon realise that biting is boring. This is actually a really easy lesson for puppies to learn, as they’d learn this in a pack too – if I bite my brother/mother/uncle, they won’t want to play with me anymore.

Some puppies bite because they’re trying to chew on something. Unlike play, this will happen when you’re cuddled up together and generally happens when a puppy is calm. To correct this, redirect your dog’s chewing by replacing your hand with a suitable object, such as a rubber toy (see our guide to the best dog chew toys). If your dog keeps returning to your hand, you can use a short term like ‘ah’ or ‘oops’ then remove yourself from the situation. When your dog is chewing the toy, not you, you should offer them lots of praise, and even interrupt them briefly to offer a treat. See our guide to improving puppy behavior for more information.

6. Do puppy teeth fall out?

Just like humans, puppies are born with ‘baby teeth’ or ‘milk teeth’. We call these ‘deciduous teeth’, because, like a tree in winter sheds its leaves, your puppy will lose his teeth when he reaches a certain age.

For puppies, this is around 14 weeks old, though it can vary breed to breed. The teeth tend to fall out one at a time. You may notice a small amount of blood on your puppy’s toy, or even teeth on the floor. However, many teeth will be swallowed by the dog and passed in their stool, so you may not notice them being lost.

By 6-7 months old, it’s expected that dogs will have lost all of their puppy teeth. Sometimes, a tooth won’t fall out, which is called a ‘retained tooth’ or ‘persistent tooth’. These can cause problems, as they force the new tooth to grow wrongly or provide a place for food to become trapped in the mouth. If your puppy has retained teeth, your vet will discuss removing them surgically at the same time as they’re neutered.

Getting a new puppy will undoubtably leave you with lots of questions. Hopefully, we’ve provided you with enough puppy advice to answer some of the most important queries you have about your first few days with a puppy, but if you have more questions your veterinary team will be very happy to help!

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS

After graduating as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham, Dr Joanna Woodnutt went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She quickly developed a love of consulting and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behaviour and nutrition - anything that involved helping clients understand their pets better. Jo started writing about pet health in 2017, realising that it meant she could help even more pet parents. Since then, she has written for countless online and print publications and is a regular contributor for Edition Dog Magazine. Jo now lives in the Channel Islands with her husband Ian and terrier Pixie, and they are expecting their first child very soon.