It’s gifting season and many people opt to add a four-legged friend to the family. If you’re getting a new puppy, however, there are several things to consider; just as there would be when bringing home a baby. Get off on the right foot—and paw—with these six tips for a healthy and rewarding first year.
Puppy-Proof the Home
Puppies are naturally mischievous creatures. It’s how they learn, discover, and entertain themselves. But, to keep them—and your most prized possessions—safe, you’ll likely need to take some precautions. Start by addressing each area of the home while putting yourself in your young dog’s perspective. Look for potential dangers such as electrical cords and power strips, candles, space heaters, fans, and plants, placing them on higher shelves, or removing them altogether. You may consider raising or tying drapes to make them inaccessible. Window and door screens could be a hazard if your puppy scratches or bites through the barrier, so ensure your pup cannot access these areas. Some pets are even clever enough to nuzzle their way through closet or bedroom doors, so be sure to pet-proof closet interiors, too. If you’re decking the halls for the holidays, consider placing a barrier around decorative items or stowing them out of reach.
Get the Right Supplies
Gathering goodies for your pet isn’t only enjoyable—it’s necessary. While there are plenty of products on the market that you can go without, some—even toys—are essential. First, make a stop at the collar and leash aisle and choose a cloth or nylon neck collar and clip-on leash that will fit your puppy right now. You’ll likely have to upgrade to a larger size or two in the near future, depending on your pet’s expected size.
Refrain from choosing prong collars, chain leashes, and retractable leashes, which can be cumbersome and uncomfortable for both you and your puppy. Slip leads are an excellent tool for training, so add this to your list as well. If your puppy is a brachycephalic or flat-nosed breed (i.e. bulldog, boxer, or Shih Tzu), you’ll need a harness, which should be used in place of a traditional neck collar for leash use.
Don’t forget a personalized identification tag to complete your pet’s ensemble. Next, pick up a variety of toys that address different senses and urges. For instance, toys that make noise and that have different shapes and textures. Puppies love to chew, so a strong rubber chew toy is ideal to satisfy this urge, but stay away from hard toys and treats. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t bend or compress it, skip it.
Next, choose a few essential grooming tools such as nail clippers, styptic powder, a brush, and gentle puppy shampoo. If your puppy will have long or thick hair, you may need a few different brushes and combs. Lastly, add a couple of stainless steel or ceramic food and water bowls to your cart before choosing a puppy food.
Choose Quality Puppy Food
Puppy food is quite simply the most important item you’ll buy for your new friend, so invest wisely. Opt for a well-researched food that utilizes high-quality ingredients and that meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards. Many brands even offer specialized puppy foods based on size or breed. Ask your breeder or shelter staff what kind of food your pup’s been eating and decide whether you want to switch to a new food. Your veterinarian can help you with this decision. If you choose a new food, you’ll need to gradually transition your pup over several days to avoid digestive upset. For instance, on day 1 feed ¾ portion of the older food along with ¼ portion of the new food, the next day ½ and ½, and so on. You’ll do this again at around one year of age when you transition your puppy to adult food. Be sure to grab a couple bags of bite-sized treats for puppy classes and at-home behavior training.
Visit Your Veterinarian
One of the most important steps in owning a new puppy is obtaining adequate veterinary care. Young pets require frequent health checks to ensure they are growing properly and that they are free from congenital problems. Preventive care, including immunizations and parasite prevention, are crucial components of these early vet visits—and timeliness is everything. For juvenile dogs to mount an appropriate immune response to dangerous infectious diseases like parvovirus and distemper virus, they must receive their vaccinations at particular intervals—typically beginning at 8-weeks-old and then every three to four weeks until they reach 16 weeks of age. After that, you can expect to return for the spay or neuter surgery at your veterinarian’s recommendation, but this is typically done during the first year.
Other discussion topics that may come up at your veterinary visits include microchipping, dental care, and wellness and/or insurance plans. Do yourself a favor and come prepared with questions and concerns for these important appointments—this is your chance to pick the expert’s brain. In the meantime, if your puppy comes down with an ear infection or an episode of vomiting, you may find yourself at the clinic more often. This is all to be expected during the first year of your dog’s life, but developing good, healthy habits with your pup early may help you avoid unexpected vet visits later on.
Desensitize and Socialize
Your puppy’s formative weeks are the ideal time to acclimate her to other pets, people, and routines. From about three weeks to three months of age, puppies experience their most sensitive period for socialization—one of the most important times in her life. Without adequate opportunities to meet new animals and people, she may become fearful of unfamiliar faces as she grows older. Unfortunately, this time period coincides with their most physically vulnerable period as most puppies this age are not fully vaccinated. Therefore, while you’ll want to avoid dog parks and situations where it is difficult to monitor who your pet is coming into contact with, controlled group settings such as puppy classes and planned meet-ups are great ways to provide social opportunities while staying safe.
This life stage is also the best time to desensitize your puppy to new sights, sounds, and sensations. Many common canine aversions, such as a distaste for nail trims, ear cleanings, and tooth brushing can be avoided with timely conditioning. Accustom your pup to these procedures by touching her feet, toes, mouth, teeth, ears, and other potentially sensitive areas often, rewarding her along the way.
Puppies are a lot of work. It’s not uncommon for new puppy owners to experience bouts of frustration and anger. From housetraining to behavior training to ‘round-the-clock bathroom and play breaks, caring for a puppy isn’t far off from raising a baby, so allow yourself some grace during this temporary period. That being said, consistency in feeding, training, and all other aspects of your puppy’s life will help her feel safe, secure, and confident, leading to a well-mannered adult dog.
Begin training early, especially if you’ve taken on a large or giant breed puppy who may quickly grow to become a safety hazard without proper discipline. Remain steadfast in your behavior and house-training methods and ensure all family members are on the same page regarding commands, which behaviors are tolerated, and which are not. Of course, while diligence is essential, providing unconditional love is equally important for growing puppies. Simultaneously practicing patience, affection, and discipline is no easy task, but the end result will leave you with a well-behaved lifelong companion by your side.
When a dog has over 10 million followers on Instagram, it’s no surprise that 88 percent of pet owners say they consider their four-legged companion a member of the family. And with that devotion comes the desire to keep our beloved furry companions safe and healthy. That’s where pet insurance comes in.
According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA), 2.5 million pets are insured in the United States and 83 percent of those pets are dogs.
“Where pet insurance benefits are nice is that veterinary medicine has come a long way in what we can and can’t do,” says Jerry Scheck, DVM, CVA, CSMT, a veterinarian in Hopewell Junction, NY. “We can do more for pets. Now acupuncture, CAT scans and MRIs are more common. We routinely do knee, brain and heart surgeries. And with those treatments come big expenses. With pet insurance, it makes people more comfortable with saying ‘yes.’ It allows you a comfort level with extending a pet’s quality of life and not worrying about the cost.”
But with so many options out there, it can be hard to know if pet insurance is worth it. One way to look at insuring your dog is to consider it a way of planning for an emergency, says Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian in Whitehouse, TX. “[Pet insurance] is a forced saving account for your pet that will actually pay more if your pet is injured,” Dr. Ochoa explains. “This will help give you the peace of mind that you can get your dog whatever medical care that they need whatever the cost.”
If you’re deciding whether or not pet insurance is worth it for you, here are some reasons a plan for your pup might be a good investment.
Unlike human health care, there are few restrictions on who can provide service to your pet. In most cases pet insurance companies don’t have in network or out of network doctors so you don’t have to worry about searching for available vets, emergency clinic or specialist in your area or shop for doctors who take your plan.
Typically the only requirement is that the veterinarian is licensed. Some insurers may have an additional stipulation that the doctor has joined the American Veterinary Medical Association or the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association so check with the pet insurance company and your favorite vet before signing up for coverage.
Most pet insurance is highly customizable so you can decide the amount of coverage you want to invest in. The rates vary depending on your dog’s age, breed, size and geographic location.
Value Penguin reports you can pay from $10 to more than $100 a month but most people pay between $30 and $50 a month for pet insurance benefits. According to the North American Pet Insurance Association’s (NAPHIA), the average cost of premiums in the U.S. for dogs was about $534, or $43 a month. When it comes to claims, the average was $278 per claim.
What can make pet insurance affordable is that you determine what copay you want to have and how much the pet insurance company will reimburse you. Typical reimbursement levels are 70, 80 and 90%. And there is usually a deductible that you have to pay out of pocket before the plan will pay any expenses. You can also choose a range of deductibles anywhere between $0 and $1,000. But as it is with human insurance, generally the lower your out-of-pocket costs upfront, the higher your monthly premiums will be.
“It’s never once policy fits all,” Dr. Scheck says. “It’s important that you read the fine print to find something will work for what you need for your pet.”
When determining if pet insurance is worth it for you, look for the plan options available. Generally you’ll be able to select from accident, illness and wellness plans.
An accident plan covers expenses related to your dog getting injured or poisoned. One company covered $2,200 toward a plate and screws to repair a broken leg.
If your dog gets sick, you’ll need an illness plan to help cover the costs of cancer treatment. For example, Trupanion reports paying over $13,000 for treatments for a Labrador with lymphoma.
According to an analysis of pet insurance claims by Nationwide Pet Insurance, the most expensive condition to treat for dogs was noncancerous skin masses with an average cost of $347. Skin allergies were the most common condition health issue costing $210 per dog.
For routine care and preventative care like exams and vaccines, you’ll have to enroll in wellness coverage that addresses these expenses. “One of the best things that some pet insurance companies cover is preventative medicine,” Dr. Ochoa says. “This would be things such as vaccines, spay or neutering, heartworm, and flea and tick prevention.”
Some plans include supplements, therapeutic diets and medications if a doctor prescribes them. And there are options that cover alternative medicine, rehabilitative care, physical therapy, and even grooming.
No plan covers preexisting conditions for any illness or injury—so any health issues your dog has before you enroll in a policy won’t be covered. That’s why it’s best to enroll your dog as young as possible for the most coverage. Any insurer will request records from your vet to see what health conditions have been flagged. As long as you keep your payment current, your pet will be covered under the policy. And as your dog gets older, you may be required to follow guidelines for senior care such as annual visits and certain wellness testing to remain eligible for plans.
As your dog gets older and develops more health conditions, rates can increase. Monthly rates can easily quadruple from a puppy to a 12-year-old dog. And the older your dog gets, the harder it can be to insure your pup. Some companies cut off plans at 10 to 14 years. ASPCA has no upper age limit and Healthy Paws and Trupanion doesn’t decrease coverage as pet gets older. When you get a quote for your dog, also get a quote for when your pup is 5 or 10 years older to see how the plan changes.
To find the best pet insurance plan for you, you should comparison shop plans with different pet insurance companies so you can do a head-to-head comparison of what the plan costs would be for your pet. Companies will be able to give you the breakdown of the expenses for your dog to make comparison shopping for the best price simple.
The good news is there are several different companies that offer a range of options. Here are five of the best pet insurance companies with highlights of what they offer:
(Sample plans were for a 5-year-old medium size mixed breed male dog in Indiana.)
ASPCA: ASPCA Pet Health Insurance offer comprehensive coverage for accidents, illness, and behavioral issues as well as chemotherapy, stem-cell therapy and acupuncture. Their Complete Coverage plan was $50.24 a month with a $250 deductible and 90% reimbursement. There’s an option to add on a preventative care plan for $9.95 or $24.95 a month that covers dental cleaning, wellness exams and some tests. Plus, there’s a 10% discount for multiple pets.
Embrace: Embrace Pet Insurance offers a diminishing deductible that reduces your annual deductible by $50 for each year you don’t have a claim payment. You can opt for a Wellness Rewards plan that covers up to $650 a year of costs including exam fees, vaccinations, flea and heartworm medication, spay and neuter surgery, microchipping, supplements, grooming and training. For $36.62 a month you can get an accident and illness plan with a $300 deductible with 90% reimbursement. And you earn a 10% discount for enrolling multiple pets.
Healthy Paws: A major perk of Healthy Paws Pet Isurance is that there are no maximum per-incident, annual or lifetime payouts. They cover hereditary, congenital and chronic conditions. And will include payment for diagnostic treatment, X-rays, blood tests and ultrasounds. Healthy Paws also earns high customer reviews for speedy processing of claims. For $41.77 a month you can buy plan with a $250 deductible and 80% reimbursement.
Nationwide: As the first pet health insurance company (they insured Lassie in 1982), Nationwide is the largest provider. Their Whole Pet with Wellness plan offers unlimited annual benefits and covers hereditary and congenital disorders. And their comprehensive plan includes behavioral treatments and diagnostic testing as well as medications, nutritional supplements and therapeutic diets that are prescribed by a veterinarian. A comprehensive plan with a $250 deductible and 90% reimbursement is $82.20 a month or major medical is $37.85 a month. (They have a handy comparison tool on their site worth checking out.)
Trupanion: There are no coverage caps or payout limits with Trupanion and you can select any deductible from $0 to $1,000. A $200 deductible with 90% coverage is $88.27 a month. While there’s no wellness plan offered, you can opt to add coverage for recovery and complementary care that includes acupuncture, behavioral modification, chiropractic, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, naturopathy, physical therapy and rehabilitative therapy for $11.14 month. Trupanion also offers a direct pay option that covers a portion of the bill at checkout so you don’t have to wait for the full amount to be reimbursed.