The Ultimate Vet-Prepared Guide to Your Dog’s First Year

The Ultimate Vet-Prepared Guide to Your Dog’s First Year

Labrador Retriever Puppy Running in a Field

The first year with a new furry friend is an exciting time, full of laughter and fun — and plenty of love. There are also a fair number of challenges, and it’s important to approach owning a pet with a realistic expectation of the work and expenses that are involved to ensure you and your family are ready for the significant commitment required for dog care. Initial setup costs for your pet are only the start, as you will also need to budget for ongoing needs such as food, veterinarian checkups, treats, toys and any medical needs such as spaying or neutering your pet or regular dog dental cleaning. When you understand the physical development stages of your pet, you will have a better idea of how your first year will go and be watchful for any problems that might occur. This quick guide will help ensure that you don’t leave anything to chance with your new canine companion!

A Few Words About Costs

You shouldn’t be frightened by the costs associated with pet ownership, as it is hard to put a value on the unconditional love and support that you will receive from your pet. While costs can vary dramatically depending on your selections, there are certain items that your family will need for responsible pet ownership. Getting set up for your pet requires safety items such as:

  • A collar or harness and leash
  • Dog food and water bowls
  • Crate for carrying your pet or for sleeping
  • Pet bed for their lounging comfort
  • License
  • Microchip to help find your pooch if he becomes lost

Once you have all of these items in place to promote dog health, there are some additional items that you should expect to pay for on an ongoing basis, such as treats, toys and their food. Some pets require a special diet, such as puppies or certain breeds of dogs. Your pet vet can help determine if your puppy or dog has special needs in terms of nutrition and can often order unique food items that can be difficult to find in grocery stores.


You shouldn’t be frightened by the costs associated with pet ownership, as it is hard to put a value on the unconditional love and support that you will receive from your pet.

Before you bring any new animals into contact with each other or your family, there are certain dog vaccinations and other treatments that need to be started. This could include everything from an initial medical exam, preventative vaccines, deworming, fecal exams, flea, tick and heartworm prevention and more. You should also speak with your veterinarian about the costs associated with spaying or neutering your pet, and the timeline for getting that important surgery scheduled.

A final area of cost consideration is whether your pet will need to be groomed by professionals on a regular basis and whether you want to invest in pet insurance. Just as with humans, medical procedures can become quite expensive. For instance, if your large pup manages to swallow a rubber ball or a sock he could easily need emergency surgery or pet medication to help eliminate the threat. Pet medical insurance can help pay for this type of unexpected event. Training classes or a pet trainer is another financial consideration to keep in mind.

Puppy Outside

Birth to 8 weeks — Provide Warmth and Nutrition

The first few weeks of your pet’s life are an exciting time, but your sweet little package also requires a great deal of care and consideration. Your tiny pup’s eyes will not even open until she is three weeks old, and their physical development during this time happens with the help of a great deal of sleep. Just like humans, puppies are quite vulnerable during their first few weeks of life and these cute, clumsy little creatures cannot maintain their own body warmth and may show little interest in their surroundings. Once the pups are around four weeks old, they begin to become more engaged with the world — and with you! All nutrition for puppies comes from their mother, but they can be weaned after their fourth week of life.


“It is best if puppies stay with their mother/littermates until at least 6 weeks, 8 weeks is preferable. This helps the puppy develop socially so that they begin to learn how to interact with other dogs. They should be weaned over to puppy food at 4-5 weeks and allowed to explore their immediate surroundings and when they’re with their families they have a “safety net” to help reduce anxiety, even anxiety later in life. Then the next life stage can be 6 weeks to 4 months where they will be moving to their new homes if being adopted, going to the vet for exams and vaccines, etc.”

Dr Lucas White, DVM
Puppy Looking Up

2 to 4 months — First Veterinary Visit

Going to the vet clinic with your puppy for the first time is exciting because you will learn a great deal from your veterinarian about dog health and care. Your tiny pup is still quite vulnerable and will likely sleep a great deal of the day. He or she cannot yet control their bathroom activities, which can lead to some puppy puddles that will need to be quickly cleaned up! You might notice that puppy teeth are falling out, so avoid hard chew toys and stick with softer options that your puppy cannot swallow. During months one through four, your puppy might exhibit initial fear of new surroundings or activities but will quickly learn and become engaged. During the seventh to eighth week of life, you will visit your veterinary clinic for vaccinations, heartworm prevention and an initial exam. Your puppy should then visit the veterinarian for every 3-4 weeks until they are four months old to ensure they are developing properly.


During the seventh to eighth week of life, you will visit your veterinary clinic for vaccinations, heartworm prevention and an initial exam.

During this phase, your puppy will begin weaning from milk and will now need high-quality puppy food up to three times each day, depending on the recommendations of your veterinarian. A good rule of thumb is to limit treats to 10% of your puppy’s caloric intake, and always ensure that he or she has a ready supply of fresh water. It’s time to start house training your pet, but don’t be surprised if this takes several weeks and still results in a few accidents. You can also begin introducing a collar and leash as well as crate training and even baths — which can be a fun, splashy time with your new pet!

Walking Puppy

4 to 6 months — Puppy Training

There will be many physical advances during the next few months with your puppy, as he or she begins sleeping through the night and is better able to control their bladder and bowels. You’ll still notice puppy teeth coming out, but adult teeth will be quickly taking their place, making introducing dog dental care a priority. You will notice that he or she is losing their “puppy look” during these months, and you can expect to see some excessive biting or chewing as they learn their boundaries in your home and as part of the family.


“Obedience training is part of the responsibility of being a dog owner and it starts when they are puppies. This discipline can create a world with less anxiety and aggressive behavior as well as provide safety, socialization and trust with other dogs and people, not to mention some fun tricks along the way.”

Dr. Michelle Casey, DVM

Proactive training during this time period will help result in a well-adjusted puppy that becomes an easy part of your family, as opposed to a challenging pet that constantly feels the need to act out. Dogs need boundaries just as children do but consult with your veterinarian on appropriate ways to curtail bad behavior. Monthly heartworm prevention is a crucial addition to your vet visits, and you should still limit treats to 10% of your dog’s total nutritional intake. Help your pet stay on track with their development by introducing appropriate new experiences once all vaccinations are complete. Be consistent yet firm with your pup, rewarding calm behavior and the response to basic commands to sit, stay and lie down.

Husky Dog Examination

6 to 9 months — Time to Spay/Neuter

As your pet grows out of their puppy stage, expect to see a more mature look evolve which also means it’s time to speak with your veterinarian about when to spay or neuter your pet. Your dog should now have most of their adult teeth and be comfortable with regular dental cleanings. You might see an increase in energy or behaviors such as males marking their territories or attempting to “mount” you. It’s vital that you do not wait too long to spay or neuter your pet, as females can go into heat younger than you might realize and could quickly become pregnant. Continue to feed your pet high-quality puppy food based on the recommendations of your veterinarian, and maintain a good source of fresh, cool water at all times.


“We typically look to spay and neuter young dogs at 6 months to 1 year depending on sex, size and other factors. Contrary to popular “urban myths”, these surgeries do not “change who they are” or impair growth, etc. We encourage owners to communicate openly with their veterinarian and ask questions. Every dog is different and general rules may need to be adjusted according to specific needs. In the end, the list of benefits of spaying and neutering is long. Your veterinarian is here to help and make certain you understand and trust the process.”

Dr. Danel Grimmett, DVM

Now that all vaccines have been completed, it’s time to focus on socializing your pet and introducing them to new and potentially stressful situations and other animals. It’s good to take these steps slowly and patiently when your pet is relatively young, as it will help him to react appropriately to loud noises, other pets or unfamiliar surroundings in the future. Ignore behavior that is fearful but be sure to reward good behavior. Now is also the time to enhance his or her training in advanced commands such as rolling over and coming in the event of an emergency — a useful skill that can get them out of a tight situation such as chasing vehicles.

Labrador Retriever Outside

9 to 12 months — Keep up the Routine

Chances are that your pet is now in a great routine and has become a comfortable and beloved part of your family. The majority of breeds are fully-grown by 12 months and have a well-established personality, but this is also a time to be vigilant with your veterinarian visits as any genetic problems could be displayed around this age. Some breeds begin to shed their hair at varying degrees by a year of age, and you can also expect to see new behaviors such as males expanding their need to mark certain areas. Fortunately, the manic “puppy energy” is likely to be dispelled by this age, resulting in a more sedate and consistent personality for your pet. All vaccinations are complete, but it is important to maintain dog dental care throughout the life of your pet.


“After the first year we recommend Annual Wellness exams to maintain preventive health care and provide early detection of any medicals that may arise.  The next several years will be awesome as your young energetic adult dog becomes a very important member of your family.  Our goal at Sunset Veterinary Clinic is to help our pet parents maximize these years in quantity, quality and safety for the entire family.”

Dr. Tim Kennemer, DVM

Advanced training requirements may seem to call for additional snacks, but it’s important to continue to limit snacking between the three main meals for your dog. This helps them maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity, which can be extremely dangerous for your pets. If your pet still has a great deal of energy, try new activities that will help them relax — and give them the need to rest and recharge! You’ll find that your pet is more comfortable being left alone for long periods of time, making it easier to manage your daily schedule with your dog.

French Bulldog Birthday

Happy Birthday!

That’s it! Your puppy’s first year provides a wealth of learning and fun at each stage, as well as the wonder of watching a new little life grow and evolve. From starting out as a blind little creature to becoming a romping, hopping, loving and licking companion, keeping your puppy happy and healthy begins with creating a lifelong relationship with your veterinarian. These vet visits not only help you identify any problems early on, but your vet can also help walk you through any challenges that you’re having and provide practical suggestions that will make your life easier and more comfortable.

Ready to become a pet parent for a new puppy? Contact the friendly team at Sunset Veterinary Clinic today at 405-844-2888 for more information or to ask any questions that you have about pet ownership or your puppy’s first year — and beyond.

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