Whether you found your new pet at a local shelter or through a breeder, it's important to have discussions about what veterinary care the youngster has already received. Many organizations and breeders make the effort to give puppies and kittens the necessary treatments in their earliest weeks of life, before they're ready to go home with new owners. However, you should remember that those steps are only the beginning - it's up to you to continue your pet's health care. Follow these tips to ensure that your pet's health stays on track for life.
- Fix at four. Spaying and neutering are an essential part of responsible pet ownership. However, even pet parents who know how important the procedure is might not be aware of how early a pet can start reproducing. Because kittens can get pregnant as early as 4 months and puppies at 6 months, Best Friends Animal Society urges pet owners to keep the principle of "fix at four" in mind. That means, in most cases, that you should spay or neuter at 4 months.
- Vaccinate regularly. Between 6 and 16 weeks of age, pets need a regular schedule of vaccinations. For dogs, vaccines for distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus will likely be recommended by veterinarians; shots will typically be administered in three rounds, at 6-8 weeks, 10-12 weeks and 14-16 weeks. For cats, shots will generally include panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis and calcivirus and perhaps feline leukemia, depending on your vet's recommendations. Some of those are part of a combination vaccine given at 6-7 weeks, 10 weeks, 13 weeks and 16-19 weeks. Rabies vaccinations are also essential for both cats and dogs, and should be given regularly throughout your pet's lifetime.
- Keep up with preventive care. In addition to vaccines, you need to protect your pet from other threats to their health. Some of the most common concerns are ticks, fleas and worms. For both kittens and puppies, you can start fighting heartworm early, by beginning a program of heartworm medication at 6 weeks. If your puppy is older than 7 months and you're not sure whether he's been given heartworm medication in the past, you should have him tested before you start any prevention measures. Other worms, such as roundworms, whipworms and hookworms, can cause diarrhea and growth delays in your pet and are transmissible to humans. Luckily, they are fairly easy to keep in check with a regular deworming treatment schedule.