Q: I am looking for a new puppy. I really want a German shepherd. I am worried about hip dysplasia and my last dog was sick all the time. How can I be sure to get a healthy puppy?
A: I am glad that you are doing your homework and researching and planning for a new puppy. Too many people buy a puppy on impulse and they really are not ready or able to handle the care and training involved.
If you are looking for a registered German shepherd puppy then you are probably going to a breeder to purchase one. A reputable breeder generally screens all of their breeding dogs and selects breeding dogs that have been certified as good or excellent for hip and elbow conformation by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).
Make sure to ask if the OFA testing has been done on the parents. There are now many DNA genetic tests available to check for known abnormalities for various breeds of dogs. They can be very expensive but concerned owners and breeders will do some of these tests.
Unfortunately, even if both parents are healthy and happy it is no guarantee that your new puppy will be healthy. Most dogs will have some illness in their lives and require medical care. Be sure to budget for unexpected illness or accident and consider getting medical insurance for your new puppy.
You may want to consider an older dog that is already trained. Many shelters have dogs that need homes and they have already been vaccinated, dewormed, spayed or neutered, heartworm-tested and fecal analysis performed. Many are already house-trained and have some obedience training.
Many people feel that mixed breeds may even be healthier than purebred dogs since the gene pool may be more diverse. Although mixed-breed dogs may still pick up infections and have gastric upsets from eating things that they shouldn’t, they are generally less likely to have a genetic disease.
I highly recommend that you take your new puppy to a veterinarian for a comprehensive wellness exam as soon as possible. Your veterinarian may be able to uncover a health issue early on before you get attached. Sometimes a puppy can be healthy when you purchase it but a disease process may emerge at a later date.
There are many things that you can do to keep your pet healthy.
Feed him the best food you can afford. Brush his teeth every day. Bathe and groom him regularly. Give him lots of exercise. Keep him at a good healthy weight. Make sure to have him on a good heartworm prevention and parasite prevention. Give him fresh pure water to drink. Clean and refill his water dish at least twice a day.
Keep him safe either on a leash or in a fenced yard for his playtime. Make sure he is microchipped. Keep him in an area of your house that has been puppy-proofed. Take him to your veterinarian for regular examinations and vaccinations. Take him to training classes and follow through with training at home. Avoid contact with toxic products.
These are all very important to help your dog live a long healthy life!
Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.