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"
While a majority of people say their cat just "showed up" - and if one shows up for you, please take it as the honor that it is! - we typically exercise a little more choice when it comes to dogs. 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, choose a small breed of dog, or one that needs less exercise. Perhaps a Yorkshire Terrier or Pug would be well suited, but a Beagle or Border Collie 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. It's estimated that 25% of dogs in shelters are purebreds, so contact your local shelters and rescure organizations if you are set on a particular breed. Age is no object to adoption, either; animals of all ages, from litters of puppies and kittens to elderly fellows, are always in need of "forever" homes.
Cats differ, too, from breed to breed – so if you have the opportunity, definitely do the same homework you would if choosing a dog. Kittens and very small children are not usually a good combination, but an easy-going young Ragdoll or Maine coon might be just the thing for an active young family.
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, and 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:
Certain flower essences, like Spirit Essences New Beginnings 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. Sentry Pheromone Calming Collars can be worn by your pet to offer a calming "scent" at all times.
Routine, Routine, Routine
Kittens and puppies thrive on routine – and this is especially important to house training 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 house training 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 asThe 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. Cats prefer 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. However, 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. Scratching in sand produces a reflex to "go" - making most kitty box training amazingly quick and easy.
Separation anxiety is normal for many animals, and can be prevented, and often managed, by gradually getting your pet accustomed to being alone. Start with short departures – just a few seconds at first, then a minute or two, 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 Loneliness / Home Alone Flower Essence can help support your pet through the learning process. See the article about Treating Mild Anxiety in Cats and Dogs.
Puppies, especially, should not be left for the entire work day. Dogs are pack animals and do not like to be alone for such long stretches; not to mention there is no way a puppy can hold its bladder 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 longer periods until he is older. A general rule of thumb is that a puppy can "hold it" for as many hours as his age in months; so a 2 month old can hang on for two hours at the most between potty breaks, a 3 month old can wait 3 hours, etc.
Healthy Food & Treats
Start your companion out with a variety of top quality foods 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's or kitten's natural instincts. If you are not prepared to try raw, consider easy to prepare Dehydrated, Home Prepared, or Freeze Dried foods. 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 the food is labeled "for all life stages." Please see What You Need to Know About Your Pet’s Food for more information.
Feed your new friend frequently in the beginning – at least 3 to 4 times per day (more often if they're very young). At 5 to 6 months you can slowly transition to 2-3 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, or at the time of neutering, their growth process slows down, so watch your companion’s waistline and reduce the amount you feed if necessary. Overfeeding your puppy or kitten can set them up for health problems, 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. Not only does free-choice feeding frequently lead to overweight pets, it is also a strain on their developing immune and digestive systems. 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 2-3 meals per day. For cats, who would naturally catch several mice or birds per day, a meal in the morning, right after work, and at bedtime is ideal.
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:
Colostrum - 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. If you are caring for a young orphaned puppy or kitten, colostrum is absolutely essential.
Digestive Enzymes - 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, production of hormones, proper cardiovascular function, and development of eyes, brain, skin and coat. Fish oils are the best source of Omega 3 EFAs (Omega 6s are abundant in the diet) and most dogs and cats enjoy the taste as long as you start slowly.
Multi-Vitamin - Many of us take a daily multivitamin supplement to ensure that 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. Think of a multi-vitamin supplement as health insurance. Making sure 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 and cat guardian. Appropriate vaccinations can help prevent serious illnesses, but over vaccination stresses 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.
If possible, wait to vaccinate puppies and kittens until 9 - 12 weeks of age. Prior to that age, in most cases, antibodies from the mother's milk prevent vaccines from taking hold. Ask for vaccines with the fewest antigens (a 3- or 4-way is preferable than a 7-way, or multiple vaccines), and give each vaccines three weeks apart if possible. It takes 10-14 days for a vaccine to become effective (3-4 days for intranasal vaccines). Until 16 weeks of age (or as advised by your veterinarian) 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 (which 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 and benefits 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. Consider administering a remedy such as Newton Homeopathics Thuja within two hour of the injection. Thuja is also the primary vaccinosis (adverse reaction to a vaccine) remedy for all species. If you must have your pet vaccinated, it is a good idea to give a dose of Thuja 30C . It is also helpful in case of immediate vaccine reactions, such as vomiting or diarrhea occurring within a few hours of the shot.
For more information about vaccination issues please see the article What You Need to Know About Vaccinations 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 dewormed 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 safer and more effective than over-the-counter chemical dewormers available at pet stores, such as piperazine. 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 little pal. Choose a comb or brush suitable to your kitten's 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 and ticks. 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, you'll need to treat the animal's bedding and favorite resting spots with the powder as well. 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. Be sure to read our The Natural Approach to Flea Control if you are in a high-flea area!
Chewing & Scratching
There is no way around it – puppies must chew and kittens must scratch; and even kittens will need to chew when teething (around 4-6 months of age). Like house training 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 these are totally normal, natural behaviors – so don’t punish them for chewing or scratching. Simply re-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. Stuffed Kong toys or a Planet Dog Mazee are favorites for those times your pup will be left unsupervised but may need a "pacifier." Stuff the Kong with some 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 cat scratcher 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 Scratch Lounge 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. Apply Sticky Paws BEFORE your kitten comes home so she is never attracted to those surfaces from the day she arrives. There are behavioral solutions to all scratching problems, so please work with your kitty's natural needs, and DO NOT DECLAW! 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, both their minds and bodies are active and growing. They need to keep exploring and learning as they grow. Toys and games are their best learning experiences, so provide them with a variety of things to satisfy their needs.
Kittens need chewy toys for teething like the Chase the Hemp Cat Tails or Catnip Chew Toy. They also need something to chase such as the Go Cat Da Bird. The Peek and Play Toy Box is a big favorite for growing kittens. But the best toys are the ones that come with you on the other end! Regular interactive play will help you keep your kitty slim and trim, and will prevent the many behavioral problems that can develop in bored, lonely cats.
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 wolf within.
Remember to get a collar or harness 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 good first aid supplies. 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.