Nothing seems to pull at the heart strings as powerfully as a puppy or kitten. That adorable little bundle of fur, however, comes with a BIG bundle of responsibilities. Though the first six months are the most intense, the responsibility of guardianship lasts for the lifetime of your pet – 15 to 20 years. Are you prepared? Here are some helpful tips for starting off on the right “paw” with your new best friend and a list of essentials to have on hand.
Selecting “The One”
Researching breed characteristics is a must. Choosing a puppy or kitten to match your lifestyle is critical for the long-term success of your relationship. If you are an apartment dweller without much time for long romps in the park, a cat might be a good choice, or a breed of dog that is small or needs less exercise. Perhaps a Yorkshire Terrier or Pug would be well suited, but breeds such as Beagles or Australian Shepard’s would not. No matter how much you fall in love with a particular puppy, if his heritage and breed characteristics are not right for your lifestyle – it’s best to keep looking.
Visit shows and local breeders to get a better feel for the breed you are interested in. Consider contacting local rescue organizations if you are set on a particular breed, or the local shelter. Litters of puppies and kittens are often left at shelters in need of “forever” homes. Cats differ, too, from breed to breed – so do the same homework you would if choosing a dog.
Once you have chosen your new companion – or rather, she has chosen you; prepare her new home in advance. She’ll need places of comfort and safety. A cozy bed of her own is a must, even if she’ll be sharing yours some of the time. For puppies, a large crate or corral is essential for any times she will be unsupervised. Better yet is a room with hard floors such as a kitchen that can be gated off with baby gates. Learn about proper crate and house training before you bring her home. If you start out by leaving her for too long in a crate or without a proper set-up, she may learn to fear confinement.
For kittens, provide a cat tree or hidey hole to retreat to for naps in safety. Some cats prefer a high perch, some prefer a cozy “cave”, so you may need to offer both until you learn your kitten’s preferences. It is usually best to start your kitten out with just one room to explore and become accustomed to. Once he has settled in for a day or two you can gradually expand his territory.
For any puppy or kitten, traveling and acclimating to a new home is quite stressful. You can help immensely in setting the stage for a smooth transition for your companion by supporting them with Flower Essences, Pheromone products and other calming remedies:
Spirit Essences New Beginnings or Pet Essences New Home / Group Living are designed to help support your little companion’s emotional state as she settles in. These can be added to the water or massaged into the ears or paws.
Calming pheromones are natural “scents” produced by nursing mother dogs and cats that soothe and calm puppies and kittens. Phero-Soothe spray can be used in the carrier or crate and car prior to travel, as well as spraying directly on bedding and around the house to help reduce stress. Nutri-Vet Pet-Ease Pheromones can be plugged into any outlet for continual release of pheromones in the room where your new companion will spend the most time.
Routine, Routine, Routine
Kittens and puppies thrive on routine – and this is especially important to housetraining a puppy. Feeding at regular intervals along with taking your puppy out on a schedule is THE BEST way to avoid a long, drawn-out housetraining process. If you follow a routine from day one, you’ll have him trained far more quickly and with fewer “mistakes”. Read a good book on training such as The Other End of The Leash or Don’t Shoot the Dog.
Cats are creatures of habit, so set up the right habits from the start. They like life to be predictable, so go slowly when introducing him to his new environment and housemates, keeping things as calm as possible. Kittens typically do not need much training to use a litter box. No matter what litter you ultimately intend to use, it may be wise to start with some of the same litter your kitten was accustomed to in his previous environment and make a gradual transition. For the first day or two, it can be helpful to place the kitten in the box periodically and gently help him paw a bit of the litter so he gets the idea.
Separation anxiety is normal for many animals and can be managed and curtailed by working slowly; gradually getting your pet accustomed to being alone. Start with short departures – as little as 10 or 15 minutes, until you see how your puppy or kitten reacts. Gradually increase the time you are away until your little friend can be alone for up to several hours at a time. Again, using calming remedies such as HomeoPet Anxiety and/or Lonliness / Home Alone Flower Essence can help support your pet through the learning process. See the article about Separation Anxiety in our Newsletter Archives.
Puppies, especially, should not be left for an 8 hour work day as they are pack animals and do not like to be alone for such long stretches – not to mention there is no way they can hold their bladders that long. Consider a dog walking service, a friendly neighbor, doggy daycare or a combination of solutions. When he is left alone – make sure he has an “approved area” for elimination with puppy pads or newspaper. Do not crate him for more than an hour or two until he is older. A general rule of thumb is that he can hold it for as many hours as his age in months – so a 2 month old can go for two hours at the most between potty breaks, a 3 month old 3 hours, etc.
Healthy Food & Treats
Start your companion out with a top quality diet to support his growth and development and build a strong immune system. The fresher the foods we eat, the healthier we are and the same holds true for our four-legged friends. A raw diet is the closest to your puppy or kittens natural instincts. If you are not prepared to try raw, easy to prepare Dehydrated, Home Prepared, or Freeze Dried foods are the next best thing. Using these along with a good quality canned food for kittens and canned or dry for puppies will provide all their growing systems need. It is not necessary to feed a bag or can of food labeled “puppy” or “kitten” as long as you are feeding a top quality diet. Please see What You Need to Know About Your Pet’s Food for more information.
Feed your little charges frequently in the beginning – 3 to 4 times per day. At 5 to 6 months you can slowly transition to 2 meals per day by gradually reducing the amount of the mid-day meal and increasing breakfast and dinner a bit. Keep in mind that at around 6 months their growth process will begin to slow down, so watch your companion’s waistline and start to slowly reduce the amount you feed if need be. Overfeeding your puppy or kitten can set them up for health problems once they mature such as joint issues and obesity. Puppies and kittens should be trim and fit, not chubby and round.
Do not leave food out free-choice unless you cannot find a way to provide a mid-day meal when you are at work. Free-choice feeding is a set-up for unhealthy eating and elimination habits. If you must leave food out when your kitten or puppy is younger, be sure to eliminate free feeding once he is old enough to transition to 2 meals per day. Not only does free-choice feeding frequently lead to overweight pets, it is also a strain on their developing immune and digestive systems.
Vitamins & Supplements for Optimal Health
Diet is the foundation of any animal’s health – but what can you do in addition to a healthy diet to insure your puppy’s or kitten’s optimal development and strong immune system? Provide supplements tailored to her needs:
Kittens and puppies are more vulnerable than mature animals to parasites and disease because their immune systems are still developing. In addition, they are under a good deal of stress as they leave the safety and familiarity of their mothers and try to learn the ways of living with a human family. Most holistic veterinarians highly recommend supplementing all puppies and kittens diets with colostrum to help boost their immature immune system for at least a month or two after weaning.
To support the proper digestion of foods nature wisely endowed every vegetable, fruit and animal food source with enzymes that help break it down. These enzymes are destroyed, however, by heat and processing. Every dog or cat that is eating a processed food (anything other than raw or lightly cooked) diet should receive digestive enzymes with each meal. This will not only improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients, but it will also help protect against the development of allergies and immune disorders such as IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) which can be caused by poor digestion.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
EFAs are required in the diet – they cannot be produced by the body (hence the “essential” in the name). These essential fatty acids are necessary for proper formation of cell membranes, are precursors for prostaglandins (hormones), aid in proper cardiovascular function and nourish the skin and coat as well as the lining of the digestive tract. They support brain and eye development in growing kittens and puppies. Fish oils are the best source of EFAs and most dogs and cats love the taste as well.
Many of us take a daily multivitamin to insure we receive a basic amount of important vitamins and minerals. Even the best diet for our dogs and cats of fresh raw foods can be lacking in some essential vitamins and minerals. Much of the vitamins and minerals in packaged dog and cat foods are destroyed during the processing. Even when sprayed back onto the food after processing, the vitamins and minerals break down rapidly when exposed to light and air. The first bowl of kibble from a bag may contain most of what the label claims, but each time the bag or container is opened, the nutrients are affected.
Think of a multi-vitamin supplement as health insurance: Insuring the body has everything it needs for proper cell function and growth will keep your little friend’s health at its peak, possibly reducing your veterinarian visits and costs in the long run.
If adding 3 separate supplements to your pet’s diet sounds a bit daunting, try our Only Natural Pet Super Daily Vitamins and Enzymes Skin and Coat Formula. This combination supplement includes flax meal to provide the essential fatty acid component.
Vaccinations & Deworming
The controversy surrounding vaccinations for kittens and puppies is an important issue for consideration by every dog or cat guardian. Vaccinations can help prevent serious illnesses, but they deeply stress the immune system of any animal and can cause adverse reactions and contribute to long term chronic diseases. When it comes to vaccinations; the fewer that are necessary the better for the animal’s long-term health. The decision about vaccinations is very individual and should be guided by your own research on the subject before you go to the veterinarian.
Puppies and kittens should not be vaccinated until at least 10 – 12 weeks of age. Their developing immune systems are especially vulnerable to the stress of vaccines. Individual vaccines are best if available, and vaccinate at least three weeks apart if possible. Until 12 weeks of age keep your companion safe by avoiding exposure to public areas such as parks and pet stores. Keep them close to home and only expose them to animals you know are healthy. DO NOT vaccinate a sick animal – if your puppy or kitten is not in perfect health, delay the vaccines until he is.
The core vaccines that most holistic veterinarians will recommend include, for kittens: feline panleukopenia and rabies – as it is required by law in most states, even for indoor cats. For puppies: parvo, distemper and rabies. Again, research this issue and understand the risks for any non-core vaccinations your veterinarian suggests. If your companion’s risk of exposure is small, then it may be wise to avoid non-core vaccines. Immediately following vaccination, consider administering a remedy such as PediGREEN’s Post Vaccination Pain to help ease the stress on your little fury friend.
For more information about vaccination issues please see the article The Truth About Pet Vaccinations in our Newsletter Archives and the article on Vaccination by one of our consulting veterinarians, Dr. Jean Hofve. In addition, we encourage you to support the Rabies Challenge Fund for further research into the area of vaccines and regulations.
Most puppies and kittens will have worms during their first weeks of life no matter how healthy their mothers are and how clean the environment. Regardless of whether or not your companion was wormed prior to your taking over her care, have a stool sample analyzed by your veterinarian during your first visit. Prescription dewormers from your veterinarian are gentler, safer and more effective than over-the-counter dewormers available at pet stores. Herbal and homeopathic dewormers are available as well, but should be followed up with another stool sample to insure that all infestations are cleared.
Grooming / Flea Control
Grooming is not only about maintaining a healthy coat, but it is also a time for bonding with your four-legged friend. Choose a comb or brush suitable to your kitten or puppy’s coat. Make grooming enjoyable by offering frequent treats during the process. Keeping little nails trimmed frequently can help avoid scratched legs and furniture and will keep your companion more comfortable as well. Grooming and handling your little one prepares them for veterinary visits and examinations.
One of the risks of owning a bundle of fur is that it can attract unwanted visitors to your house – such as fleas. Get a good flea comb to check for fleas if you see your kitten or puppy scratching. Be prepared by keeping some All-In-One Flea Remedy on hand. If fleas are a problem in your area, it is wise to treat the animal’s bedding and favorite resting spots with the powder as a preventative measure. The All-in-One powder is safe for use on puppies and kittens as young as 6 weeks. If you will be walking your puppy anywhere other than your own yard, consider using Herbal Defense Spray to avoid bringing home fleas from the park or a neighbor’s yard.
Chewing & Scratching
There is no way around it – puppies must chew and kittens must scratch; and even kittens will need to chew when teething. Like housetraining or any other learning experience the better you set your new friend up for success, the better the chance for a healthy and enduring relationship between the two of you. Many a puppy and kitten are given up for adoption due to chewing or scratching inappropriate items – like shoes, carpet and furniture.
Remember that it is natural behavior – so don’t punish them for chewing or scratching, just direct the behavior to appropriate objects and remove inappropriate ones. For puppies, anything within reach is fair game – they just don’t know that your favorite Italian stilettos or the TV remote aren’t puppy toys. It is up to you to puppy-proof and keep things out of reach. Along with keeping inappropriate items out of reach, be sure to keep plenty of appropriate toys and chews on hand and within reach. Be prepared with a variety of chews that are appropriately sized so you can find out what her favorites are. See Choosing a Chew on the Only Natural Pet Blog to explore some options. Stuffed Kong toys or an Orka Jack are favorites for those times your pup will be left unsupervised but many need a “pacifier”. Stuff the Kong with some Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter and some small treats – he is likely to enjoy this treat so much he may not even notice you’re gone. To make the game last longer, put the stuffed Kong in the freezer for awhile before giving it to your puppy.
Kittens need to scratch, stretch and climb – it’s in their nature. Again, don’t punish natural behavior – direct it to appropriate areas. Provide at least one high scratching post such as the Ultimate Scratching Post, that your kitten will be able to stretch on even when full grown. It is a good idea to provide more than one scratchable surface. The SmartCat Scratching Ramp is easy to move around the house wherever your kitten seems to be attracted to scratching. Placing one behind the sofa or other tempting furniture sets your kitten up to avoid mistakes. Spray furniture with Herbal Scratch Spray or apply Sticky Paws BEFORE your kitten comes home so she is never attracted to those surfaces from the day she arrives. If you don’t want her sleeping on the backs of your furniture, you’ll need to provide a cat tree or other high ledge she can call her own.
Toys and Exercise
Don’t forget the fun stuff! Kittens and puppies are like kids, they need to keep exploring and learning as they grow. The more you challenge their little minds, the smarter they get. Toys and games are their best learning experiences, so get them a variety of things to satisfy their needs.
Kittens need chewy toys for teething like the Fishy Fun Toys or Catnip Chew Ring. They also need something to chase such as the Kitty Lure Chaser or Catnip Pounce and Play. The Peek and Play Toy Box is a big favorite for growing kittens.
Puppies love a good game of tug o’ war, but don’t forget to let her win occasionally. Another favorite is something cuddly for naps yet floppy for those times he feels ferocious and wants to shake his prey back and forth and unleash the terrible terrier within – try a Simply Fido Organic Plush Toy or Flop-Ability Activation Toy.
Remember to get a collar and leash for walks in the great outdoors. Even kittens can be allowed to explore safely with a secure harness and leash. Fresh air is a necessity of life even for indoor kittens and cats.
Puppies and kittens are notoriously accident prone, so it may be prudent to invest in a good first aid kit and keep the PediGreen First Years homeopathic kit on hand. Choose your veterinarian with care – don’t just go to the closest clinic. Ask at the local shelters, at shows and dog parks to find out who the best vets are in your area. You can check the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s Referral Page for a list of holistically trained veterinarians near you.