The day you pick up your new puppy is so exciting! It’s the first day of the rest of your lives together. But it’s important to remember that for your puppy everything is new so it can be a very stressful time. This may be their first time separated from their mother and littermates and they may have even traveled a long distance, possibly by plane. Then they are brought into your home: a new environment with all new people. Many puppies will be affected by the stress of this transition. Puppies are already immunocompromised, meaning that they are less equipped to fight off diseases than an adult dog. Adding stress to the mix can increase the risk that your puppy will be susceptible to any parasites or viruses that are lurking. So how can we reduce the stress our new puppy is experiencing? And what are some warning signs that they need help?
When can my puppy come home? Puppies should be at least eight weeks old before they leave their mom and litter mates. Breeders of toy or smaller dogs may keep puppies until 12 weeks of age because they are especially fragile. Puppies who are separated from their mothers too soon are more fearful and anxious as adults, so as much as you might like to get your puppy early, it’s critical to wait until they are ready!
The puppy socialization window (between approximately 3 and 12 weeks of age) is when your puppy best learns about how to be a dog by interacting with and observing mom and litter mates. Positive interactions with new people and being positively exposed to different sounds and experiences is especially important during this time. You can continue these life lessons at home with your new pup.
Puppies are especially sensitive to stress between 8 and 12 weeks of age, which is why it is so important to help them feel safe and secure as they transition to their new home.
Being Prepared One of the most important things you can do before you pick up your puppy is to set up a veterinary visit for them, ideally within your puppy’s first 24 - 72 hours at home. As soon as you know your puppy’s pickup date, call your veterinary clinic to make an appointment. Although here at Central Coast German Shepherds we do have a puppy Well Check Exam right before leaving for their new home it is a good idea to schedule your own appointment with your Vet as well. Having this appointment set up ahead of time ensures that your puppy will get a secondary wellness check and establish a patient relationship with your own Veterinarian. You’ll want to bring any medical records that we have provided for you, along with anything else your clinic recommends (a stool sample for example, especially if your pup has had any diarrhea).
Reducing stress for your new puppy Help your puppy adjust to moving day with some simple techniques:
We will be sending home a familiar blanket/bedding. The smell will be comforting to your puppy as they get used to their new environment.
Please do not make any dietary changes, unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian.
Be sure to socialize with your puppy, but don’t overwhelm them with too many visitors or activities the first few days.
What’s normal and what are some warning signs?
Changes in appetite Many puppies will have a reduced appetite during the first day or two, but they should be eating some food. You can help by offering them their familiar diet that they were eating here with us.
Diarrhea Some puppies may have a little soft stool when they first come home – this can be related to stress, a change of diet, or something more serious. Puppies with soft stool usually still have control over their bowels, and do not generally have an excessive number of bowel movements.
Vomiting Vomiting can be more concerning than diarrhea as it can quickly cause dehydration. Vomiting can also indicate a serious infection, such as parvovirus. If your puppy vomits only once and is otherwise playing, eating and drinking normally, then you can continue to monitor them closely. Make sure they have access to and are drinking fresh water.
Parasites or worms Parasites and worms are very common in puppies, which is why puppies need to be dewormed multiple times. If your puppy has parasites, it doesn’t mean that they were not appropriately dewormed by your breeder. Puppy parasites are a fact of life and they can be persistent! If you see worms in your puppy's stool, or your puppy has soft, smelly stool, be sure to bring in a sample for your puppy’s wellness visit so your veterinarian can take a closer look.
Warning signs Seek veterinary care if:
Your puppy seems withdrawn, lethargic or painful
Your puppy is not eating or drinking for more than 6-8 hours.
Your puppy has liquid diarrhea that lasts more than 12 hours (seek help sooner if they are also vomiting and/or lethargic)
Your puppy vomits more than 1-2 times in a day, the vomit contains blood (red or dark brown streaks), and/or they also have diarrhea or are lethargic
When is it an emergency? When in doubt, call your veterinarian; puppies are fragile and can decline quickly. If your puppy is eating, drinking, playing and seems lively, then keep a close eye on them. A puppy who is withdrawn or lethargic needs immediate care. If you aren’t sure, you can also reach out to a teletriage veterinarian, who can help you assess whether your puppy should be seen right away.
By Dr. Mikel Delgado, PhD and Dr. Judi Stella, PhD Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, PhD is Standards & Research Lead at Good Dog. Mikel received her PhD in animal behavior/cognition from the Psychology Department of UC Berkeley, and was a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine before joining Good Dog. Mikel is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, and has over 20 years of experience working with companion animals. Dr. Judi Stella, PhD is Head of Standards & Research at Good Dog. She earned her bachelor's degree in Animal Sciences from The Pennsylvania State University and her Ph.D. in Comparative and Veterinary Medicine, with an emphasis on applied ethology and animal welfare science, from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She was a USDA Science Fellow with the APHIS-Center for Animal Welfare and a visiting scholar at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.