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New Pet – Now What?

January 31, 2021

You’ve prepared your home (see our previous blog: Bringing Home Baby,) and your new puppy or kitten will be here any day. Now its time to start strategizing your pet’s veterinary care and socialization plans, so they can grow into a happy and healthy family member!

Hopefully you’ve already scheduled your pet’s first visit with us ahead of time. We are eager to meet your new family member too! We recommend a vet visit the week you get your new fur-child for several reasons, most importantly so we can make sure you and your new pet hit the ground running. We schedule new pet visits for an hour, since there’s so much information to share with you, and to allow us time to give your pet a thorough exam! Young animals may have issues like heart murmurs or hernias, which require a medical professional to diagnose and discuss treatment options. Your pet may also need several vaccines or a microchip placed. Young cats and kittens may also need to be tested for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). There’s also the possibility your pet may arrive with intestinal parasites could potentially be transferred to you or your family. So an exam should be high on your priorities for your new pet!

Young pets also require vaccine boosters – meaning they will need to receive the vaccine again (sometimes more than once, depending on their age and the vaccine in question.) These boosters must be done 3 to 4 weeks after the initial injection, or else you risk having an incomplete response and have to re-start the whole series! Your vet will also ask questions about your lifestyle with your pet to help you decide what vaccines your puppy or kitten should receive. Once your pet is a year old, most vaccines only need to be given once a year, or in some cases, once every 3 years.

We also suggest a general de-worming for your pet, since intestinal parasites – no matter where your pet comes from – are very, very common. This is done at the clinic, and subsequent doses are sent home to be given at intervals, this is to help treat parasites that may not have reached maturity at the first deworming. We’ll encourage you to start puppies on flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives right away, so they can stay healthy and parasite-free as they grow. Because puppies grow so much in their first year, we won’t send home more than a dose or two at a time, since the dose is based on weight, and we want to make sure your pup is protected!

An important part of your pet’s first visit with us is general exposure to the clinic and staff, so they get used to being around the sights, smells, and experiences that happen here. This is part of the socialization process. Speaking of which…

What IS socialization: Socializing is a lifelong process of pairing new things with positive experiences.

Socialization to something new should always start at a level of exposure that is not scary (as decided by your pet, not you), be paired with a positive reward (such as food or toys), and exposure gradually increases with increasing confidence.

What socialization is NOT: Socialization is NOT forced exposure or “flooding.”

Exposure by itself is not adequate socialization. In addition, socialization does not stop when your pet reaches an arbitrary age; it is common for puppies or kittens to go through “fear periods” throughout their first year of life where they may suddenly seem to “forget” their previous socialization. Continuing to work through these periods helps solidify their earlier socialization.

Do Not Force Socialization! Let your pet’s comfort level guide you. Stressed, fearful brains do not learn well, or learn the wrong things. A few helpful tips:

  • Pair new experiences with positive things. A favorite treat, praise and petting, or the opportunity to play with a favorite toy in response to a new experience is a great way to help your pet make good associations with something that might scare them.
  • Think about all the things your pet might be expected to do throughout their lifetime and start exposing them to these things when they’re young. An excellent resource for this is the FREE puppy socialization app from Preventive Vet:  https://www.preventivevet.com/pupstanding-app
  • Dog parks are not good places to socialize puppies! There tend to be groups of rowdy adolescent and young adult dogs that are overwhelming for puppies, and you have no control over the personalities or play styles of dogs that other people choose to bring to a dog park. The risk of inadvertently causing a fear of other dogs from negative experiences at the dog park is high. Instead, take your puppy to an age appropriate, supervised play group or visit one or two known stable adult dogs (friends’ or neighbors’ dogs) at a time.
  • People sometimes worry that by using positive rewards during socialization, they will inadvertently reward fear. Studies have shown that you cannot reinforce emotions. You can reinforce behavior – for example, if your pet is afraid and paws at you, and then you reward, your pet may learn to paw at you more the next time. But you aren’t rewarding the fear itself. Be sure to only reward your pet when they are exhibiting calm behavior and you cannot and will not reinforce fear, even if they are experiencing fear at the time. If your pet paws you when they’re anxious, don’t reward the pawing, wait until they’re not touching you, not vocalizing, and THEN you reward them.
  • Take your pet’s breed and individual personality into account. Genetics play a large part in adult temperament. If we consider two pets of the same species and even breed, their genetics may give them each a range of potential temperaments from “very fearful” to “very confident.” Even with absolutely perfect socialization, Pet A may never be as confident as Pet B has the potential to be. And even with no socialization whatsoever, Pet B may never be as fearful as Pet A has the potential to be. This is a gross oversimplification but is just a reminder that you should not expect every pet to have a cookie cutter personality, nor should you beat yourself up over doing something “wrong” if your pet doesn’t grow up to be as confident as someone else’s pet.

If you have questions about veterinary care or socialization for your growing pet, please feel free to reach out. Remember: you want your pet to become a happy, healthy, and enjoyable part of your family, and the earlier you can begin this crucial process, the better chance of success for you both!

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