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Full of fun but sometimes mysterious, puppies always make you wonder about their next move. For new owners and those with previous paw knowledge, figuring out if a pup has a health issue can drive anyone batty. Is a loose stool OK? What about vomiting after a meal? And how many zzzs does a puppy need anyway?

Looking Normal

When a puppy seems off its game, it helps to recognize the typical canine signs of good health. Making a daily habit of checking out your puppy’s physical and mental wellness can often make the difference between life and death.

“Dogs and cats are creatures of habit,” says Jerry Klein DVM, AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer and an expert in veterinary emergency and critical care.

Klein cautions owners to observe changes in their pup’s behavior and health and not to feel shy about contacting their veterinarian if they think their dog is acting odd.

“This includes changes in your pup’s appetite, repeated vomiting, or diarrhea in the same day or across several days,” says Klein. “Veterinarians would rather address issues early before they become significant.”

If you choose a new puppy from a breeder, it’s important to observe the pup’s overall condition and start with a healthy dog. Most likely, a reputable breeder will not offer an unhealthy pup for sale, but it’s helpful to spot puppies in tip-top condition on your own.

Signs of a Healthy Pup

  • Body Condition: All the pups in a litter should be about the same size without looking too plump or too emaciated.
  • Coat: Shiny and clean without any irritated, red, or bare spots. These could mean a skin problem, such as mange or allergies.
  • Ears: Clean and free of odor, discharge, or redness.
  • Eyes: Bright and clear without any discharge.
  • Activity Level: Taking a nap is OK—even a few throughout the day is acceptable, but a puppy shouldn’t be lethargic once it’s awake. Once your puppy settles in, it should act curious to explore its surroundings and play with people or other dogs in the household.
  • Appetite: When competing with their littermates for food, puppies are enthusiastic gobblers. After moving to a new home, it may take a few meals before your pup cleans the plate. Skipping one or two meals is acceptable, but missing more than that or eating only a few bites warrants a call to the veterinarian.
  • Vomiting: An occasional regurgitation is probably fine. Repeated episodes after or during a meal signal a veterinary visit.
  • Potty Trips: Look for firm, regular stools and clear urine. Bloody urine may indicate a urinary tract infection. One loose or runny stool may not indicate a problem, but repeated bloody or watery stools lasting more than 24 hours could mean a problem. Bacteria, viruses, internal parasites, ingestion of a toxic substance, or overeating may be responsible.

Boston Terrier puppy standing in a pen outdoors.

Pano and Parvo

When AKC Breeder of Merit Cathy Chapman, a 31-year breeder of Sadik Salukis, sells a puppy, she sends a few days’ worth of dog food she’s fed the litter.

“Feeding the same diet for a few days helps avoid loose stools or upset digestion,” says Chapman. “If owners want to change the food, it gives them a chance to do so gradually.”

Chapman also advises owners about panosteitis, or “pano.” Large breed puppies between 5 months and 18 months are commonly diagnosed with pano, which is bone inflammation. The condition causes lameness or limping and may last a few days to a few weeks. It often goes away on its own.

“If they see their pup limping, they may not panic,” says Chapman. Fever, loss of appetite, or a high white blood cell count may accompany pano. These are signs of other serious illnesses, but a veterinarian can take blood samples and x-rays to rule them out.

Parvo is another condition far more dangerous and potentially deadly in puppies from 6 weeks to 6 months. Highly contagious, this virus weakens the immune system, attacks the stomach and small intestines, and increases the chance of a secondary bacterial infection.

The Signs of Parvo:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration

Recognizing the symptoms of parvo and getting your puppy to see the veterinarian immediately may help save its life. Many pups who survive the first three to four days of the disease can make a full recovery.

Curious puppies get into plenty of trouble during their early months and years. Start off on the right paw by enrolling your pup in a pet insurance policy. AKC Pet Insurance helps pet care budgets go farther by offering reimbursement for eligible funds to puppy owners.

Related article: Should My Puppy Wear a Harness or Collar? Choosing the Safest Option
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