A Complete Guide to Owning A Puppy


Owning a puppy is a fun challenge but there are a few things that you’ll need to think about, such as neutering, vaccinations, pet insurance and behaviour training. To make things less daunting, we’ve put together this guide for new puppy owners.

NB: This guide is not intended to provide specific veterinary advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your pet, consult your vet for advice and guidance.


Getting your puppy vaccinated is a must to protect his or her health. If you don’t get your new puppy vaccinated, he or she could develop diseases which could have serious or even fatal consequences. Puppies are vulnerable to picking up diseases from other dogs and from their environment.

Vaccination programs may vary depending on the veterinary practice but for the most part, it will look to protect your puppy against these diseases:

Canine Distemper Virus – Distemper is a serious disease that can prove fatal. Symptoms include fever, discharge from the nose and eyes, coughing, diarrhoea, “hardpad” and neurological issues.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis – Also known as Viral Hepatitis, this disease strongly affects the kidneys, liver, spleen and lungs. It can prove fatal but not all dogs will necessarily display obvious symptoms.

Parvovirus – This disease can affect adult dogs but is most common in puppies. Symptoms include gastrointestinal complaints, including vomiting and diarrhoea. In newborn puppies, heart problems can also occur. The severity of symptoms can vary but the disease can be fatal and most dogs who contract parvovirus require hospital treatment to recover.

Leptospirosis – This bacterial infection can cause liver and kidney damage, including jaundice. Contaminated rat urine is a big culprit for contracting leptospirosis. Humans can also develop this condition.

Kennel Cough syndrome – Also known as Infectious Tracheobronchitis, this disease is highly contagious and causes a hacking cough. One of the main culprits is the parainfluenza virus, which is included in most puppy vaccinations. . Bordatella bronchiseptica bacteria can also cause Kennel Cough syndrome and it is possible to have your puppy vaccinated against this too. The condition is not usually serious but can be deeply unpleasant if contracted.

Vaccination will expose your puppy to small, safe doses of infectious agents, which helps their immune system to fight these diseases if they come into contact with them in the future.

Most puppies can be given their first vaccination from the age of eight weeks, followed by a subsequent “booster” vaccination 2-4 weeks later. It can take up to a fortnight after the “booster” vaccination for your puppy to be fully protected so it’s well worth checking with your vet to see when he or she recommends that it’s safe to go out on walks.

These initial vaccinations aren’t all that will be needed; “booster” vaccinations will usually be performed once per year to maintain your pet’s immunity. This should continue for the rest of your dog’s life to ensure that he or she is protected against disease, especially as they get older and become more susceptible to illness.

If you have any further questions or issues regarding getting your puppy vaccinated, get in touch with your vet.


Neutering is the general term used to describe the surgical removal of the reproductive organs in dogs. For male dogs, this is more specifically known as castration and involves removal of the testes. For female dogs, it is known as spaying and involves removal of the ovaries and uterus. Both operations take place under general anaesthetic and have permanent effects. While both types of neutering are significant surgical procedures, they are extremely common in most veterinary practices and are usually performed as day procedures. This means that your pet can come home on the day of the operation, as soon as they are fully recovered.

Castration: Puppies can usually be castrated from the age of 4 months. It can reduce sexual, dominant or aggressive behaviour by reducing testosterone, and is also recommended to reduce the possibility of prostrate problems as your dog gets older and to prevent testicular tumours.

Spaying: Spaying is recommended to reduce the possibility of tumours and to prevent pyometra – a serious infection of the uterus. When to get a female puppy spayed is less straight forward compared to castration but the general consensus is that it can be done from the age of 4 months with no adverse effects. If your female puppy has already come into season before you have arranged to have her spayed, the procedure will usually be delayed until around 3-4 months after her season.

Bear in mind that female dogs will usually have their first season around the age of six months, and this will be repeated approximately every 6 months. A typical season lasts for around 3 weeks, during which her reproductive hormones will be active and she will be receptive to male dogs.

There are a number of things to consider when thinking about having your pet neutered. Any questions or concerns should be raised with your vet.


Microchipping is the modern way to keep track of pets. It involves implanting a small microchip under the skin, usually around the scruff of the neck. The microhip contains a unique code that can be read by scanner and used to identify your pet. Microchipping can be done at any time but it’s common around vaccination time. It can also be done at the same time as neutering to ensure that the puppy is not awake during the procedure. Your vet can advise on the best time to have your puppy microchipped.

Remember to register your pets microchip details as advised by your vets.

Flea Treatment

Fleas can affect dogs of all ages but puppies are often strongly affected. Fleas are parasites which bite and feed on your pet’s blood. This causes irritation and itching, which can lead to problems with the skin and fur. In severe cases, a flea infestation can mean that your puppy goes on to develop anaemia (an iron deficiency) so it’s definitely something that you’ll want to protect against.

There is a wide range of flea treatments on the market, most of which are spot-on solutions or sprays. Some flea products are available to buy without a prescription but others will require you to obtain a prescription from your vet.

Always ensure that you are using a product that is appropriate for your pet. Most flea treatments specify that your puppy should be a certain age or weight in order to use the product. It’s best to speak to your vet before you use a flea treatment on your pet, especially where puppies are concerned.

Worming Treatments

Tapeworms and roundworms are two of the most common worms that could affect your pet’s health. Both of these live in the gastrointestinal tract of affected pets. They can have an impact on general health but as there will not always be obvious symptoms, you’ll need to keep up a regular worming treatment pattern to make sure that your puppy stays healthy.  Tapeworms are also involved in the life cycle of fleas and treating them can also help to prevent flea infestations.

Roundworm infestations are quite common in puppies and can be easily passed on from the mother. This can lead to weight loss or an inability to gain weight, gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhoea, and a “pot-bellied” look to the stomach. The Toxocara canis roundworm can also affect humans, especially children.

It is important to worm your puppy regularly to prevent him or her from contracting worms and contaminating their environment. There are a number of worm treatments on the market but it’s advisable to check with your vet before you use a particular product to ensure that it is appropriate for your puppy and compatible with your choice of flea treatment.


Having pet insurance will protect you if your puppy becomes ill or injured and needs treatment from a vet. This could include diagnostic tests, operations, hospitalisation, on-going treatments and specialist care – all of which could quickly become extremely expensive if you are not covered by pet insurance. Having pet insurance in place means that you can ensure that your pet gets the treatment that they need without worrying about how much it will cost.

Ideally, you should look to get pet insurance for your puppy as soon as you are able to do so, especially as there may be a time delay before you are officially covered by the policy.

There are a number of different policies available with varying levels of cover. This can make it confusing to choose the best policy for your puppy. Here are some of the main points to consider:

  • The total amount of veterinary costs covered will vary between policies. Generally speaking, a cheaper policy will not cover as much as a broader, more comprehensive policy.
  • Look closely at what is covered by the policy and take note of any exclusions. For example, dental problems, prescription diets, physiotherapy and congenital conditions are examples of things that are not necessarily covered by all pet insurance policies.
  • Think about the costs of premiums and the level of excess if you need to make a claim. These will vary between policies.
  • Some pet insurance policies will provide lifetime cover for conditions that will require on-going treatment and monitoring, while others will only provide cover for one year after diagnosis. Check the terms and conditions to see what you’re really covered for.
  • Always read the policy details carefully before signing up for any particular policy. If your pet has any pre-existing health conditions, don’t forget that these must be declared when you arrange the policy or you risk invalidating any future claims.

Training and Socialisation

Being able to engage in friendly, social contact with other dogs is a very important part of enabling your puppy to become a stable, happy and well-mannered dog. Encouraging your puppy to do this while he or she is still young means that they will become comfortable around new dogs and this is particularly crucial for puppies that come from a one-dog household. This is also a good time to start training your puppy to develop good behaviour.

Many veterinary practices run puppy classes, in which owners can bring their puppies to socialise in safe, supervised and controlled environment. Alternatively, you can ask your vet for specific advice on training and socialising your puppy.


Your dog needs a quality diet throughout his or her life but this is particularly crucial for puppies. It’s crucial to make sure that your puppy is getting the right balance of nutrients to grow and develop. Your vet can advise on the most appropriate diet for your puppy.

There are various specially formulated puppy diets on the market, most of which are recommended from weaning through to around one year of age. Beyond this, large breed puppies have specific dietary requirements and should be bred on a diet that takes this into consideration.