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How to Choose a Healthy Puppy
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Race Foster, DVM
Acquiring a Dog
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Puppy with tug toy

You are finally ready for a companion or a family pet. You already made the decisions on whether you want a dog or cat, male or female, purebred or mixed breed. Now you are looking for just the right animal. Do you know what to look for in a healthy pet? What type of disposition will fit your lifestyle? Your final decision will probably be one of the heart, but we can give you some suggestions to guide you as far as health and temperament.

Age and disposition

The best age at which to buy a puppy is around eight weeks of age. They have become self-reliant, but are still impressionable. It is also a good time to establish some bonds of affection and begin training. The young puppy learns rules of behavior and how to relate to others from his littermates and his mother's reactions. The overly aggressive pup will probably be aggressive as an older dog; the withdrawn, inactive puppy will probably remain timid. Although care, feeding, and socialization of a pet after purchase are very important, you can determine much from their behavior at eight weeks of age. Pick a puppy that likes to play, is eager for attention, and reacts positively to affection.

The head

Examine the condition of the puppy. Is the nose cool and damp, or are there signs of a nasal discharge? The gums should be a bright pink; a pale color can mean anemia or a problem with worms. Are the teeth clean and straight? If the upper and lower teeth are undershot or overshot, the problem will not correct itself. Eyes should be bright, clear, and look straight ahead. White spots or visible lines on the surface of the eye can mean problems. Check for redness or inflammation of the third eyelid, or eyelids that roll in or outward. The ear canals should be clean and odor-free. A build-up of wax and dirt, head shaking, or tenderness could indicate ear mites or infection.

The body

Feel the stomach. A swollen stomach can indicate poor diet or possible worm infestation. A bulge at the navel or groin can mean a hernia. Is the heartbeat strong and regular? The genitals should be clean and free from irritation, which could indicate worms, diarrhea, or a digestive disorder. Both testicles should be present in the male. The coat should be fluffy, clean, and free of mats. Sores, itching, or deposits in the fur indicate fleas, mites, or other parasites.

The bones and muscles

Finally, check for soundness and structure. Are the legs straight and well formed? Are the toes well arched? Does the pet run without lameness? Be wary of an animal that is thin and underweight or noticeably overweight. The most desirable pet is one that appears correctly proportioned for his age and weight.

Information from the breeder or other source

It is time for the final selection. Ask for a record of vaccinations, suggested diet, and registration papers for a pure breed. You have taken all the right steps to ensure a healthy start. Congratulations! That energetic, bright-eyed puppy is going home with you.

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