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The most common puppy problems according to a vet

Written by Dr Louisa Lane
23rd Dec 2022
10 mins read
Many accident claims are puppies under 6 months old. So we've asked Louisa the vet what the most common puppy accidents are and how to avoid them so you can keep your pup happy and healthy.
The most common accidents involve eating things they shouldn't, broken bones, skin and paw injuries, and training and behaviour issues.
Vets see thousands of new puppies and their owners every year. But what are the most common puppy problems? What do new puppy owners find most difficult?Our vet expert Dr. Louisa Lane gives us the lowdown of the most common accidents and illnesses, and what she wishes new puppy owners knew. Read on to help protect your pup and prepare yourself for puppy parenting.

What are the most common accidents for puppies?

Foreign bodies and intoxications

The most common accident is when puppies eat things they shouldn't. This is sometimes called "indiscrimiate eating" or "foreign body ingestion".

Why do puppies eat things that they shouldn’t?

Puppies are naturally curious and inquisitive and will, just like babies, put anything in their mouth. This is to experience new textures, tastes and smells whilst they’re learning. It’s actually
for them to want to do this.
Chewing is also a natural behaviour to them. Not to mention when they’re teething, their motivation for chewing grows to help relieve their mouth pain.
Puppies also eat things they shouldn’t out of boredom.
Don’t forget that our puppies don't know what is safe or dangerous to chew and eat. It is our responsibility as their owners to supervise, guide them, and train them. If we do not supervise our puppies and direct them onto things they are
to chew or eat, their curiosity will get the better of them and they will just chew and eat anything they can get their mouths onto to see what it's like.

When should I take my puppy to the vet?

If you know your puppy has eaten something unsafe (for example ibuprofen, raisins, chocolate, or other prescription medication,)  or have eaten something they can't digest (toys, dummy, etc,) you need to call your vet.
In the early stages of a "foreign body" or "toxin" ingestion it's likely your puppy will be acting normally, but don’t let this fool you. The earlier they’re assessed by the vets, the easier and quicker it is to treat them.
Of course, if your puppy acts in any way unwell, whether they are lethargic or vomiting, they need to see a vet immediately.

How can I stop my puppy from eating things it shouldn’t?

I think it’s important to be mindful that it is a normal instinct for a puppy to chew and given the chance, all dogs will chew or eat something they’re not supposed to at some point.
Having said that, it is our responsibility to train our dogs appropriately. We should also try to be one step ahead of the game and pre-empt any hazards in the house or outside and remove them or avoid them. We should encourage our puppies to chew safe objects using lots of positive reinforcement when they chew things you want them to!
Puppy-proof your house by removing anything they could destroy, and don't leave food or bins in your puppy's reach.
Don't leave your puppies for prolonged periods of time unsupervised in the house where they will become bored and irritable. This leads to destructive behaviour and chewing. Consider crate training your puppies so if you do leave them, for example overnight, they're in a safe place with no access to harmful objects.
Train your puppies from the get-go and remain consistent (eg sit, wait, leave etc). Definitely teach them recall! That means that if you do see a potential hazard, and your dog approaches it (for example, rubbish on the floor on a walk or even a duck swimming in the pond), you can quickly recall your puppy back before they ingest it.

Broken bones

Why do puppies break their bones more often than adult dogs?

Simply speaking, their bones are not as strong compared to adults. They’re much more fragile, especially the ends of their bones where their ‘growth plates’ are which are huge areas of weakness and areas prone to breaking. This is why over-exercising them can be dangerous as well.
Puppies break their bones normally after a traumatic event. I commonly see broken bones in puppies who have fallen off the sofa or bed, been accidentally dropped, stood on, or puppies that have taken a knock after playing with larger dogs. I have also seen puppies with fractures after objects have fallen on them such as a bookshelf and gym equipment. 

Are there any breeds that are more prone to broken bones?

All breeds are prone to fractures. However, I would say I have seen more fractures in smaller patients, perhaps as they’re more easily trodden on or lifted onto furniture than larger puppies. 

How can I stop my puppy breaking a bone?

Be responsible and mindful of their fragility! Don't let them to jump on and off high furniture like sofas, stairs, steps, chairs or beds. Always supervise them especially when they’re being held by children, or playing with larger dogs.

Training and behaviour 

Why is it important to train a puppy? Is there a link between behaviour, and health?

It is essential to start training your puppy from the moment they arrive in your life. Not only do puppies need this for mental stimulation, it also helps to build a bond with you. It also teaches them to become well-mannered, confident, socialised adult dogs who fit into our family life safely and happily.
Puppies do not magically learn how to sit, heel, or behave around small children with food in their hands, for example. If you do not have the time to devote to teaching and training your puppy consistently, then a puppy is not for you.
Lack of appropriate training manifests in so many ways and causes problems for puppies and into adulthood. From destructive behaviour in the house (such as chewing furniture), to separation anxiety related issues (such as soiling in the house), or unwanted aggression to name a few. There is a direct link between lack of training and many behavioural issues, which sadly leads to pet resentment, pet abandonment, and elective euthanasia.

What advice do you have for a new puppy owner about training?

If you haven’t had a puppy before, really consider whether you have the time to devote to training it. It’s honestly very time-consuming and at times, extremely frustrating! Consider puppy training classes for support and start reward-based training from the get go.
For me personally, I devoted time to making sure my dog Finn had excellent recall, meaning I can get him back in any circumstance when he is off the lead. I also made sure I could get him to walk on a lead without pulling me over (this is actually still a work in progress!)  I also made sure he was well-socialised around other dogs, people, and children (I knew I wanted a family). I also exposed him to sounds such as the hoover.
I set boundaries too, for example, never allowing him upstairs. He was crate trained early on, helping him to learn independence so I felt confident leaving him home alone. I dedicated time (and still do) to teach him basic commands such as "sit" and "wait". These have been the foundations to so many skills such as sitting and waiting whilst I brush his teeth!
All of his training was reward-based, where I used high value treats (like cheese and ham) that he otherwise would never be given.
Admittedly I chatted a lot with a friend who is a recognised APBC animal behaviourist for lots of tips and tricks when it came to training Finn, because even I was a little overwhelmed at times! So absolutely seek help wherever you can take it and whenever you need it.

When do puppies calm down?

Some puppies don’t, it depends on the breed, how you raise them, and how you stimulate them! Naturally, puppies have a lot more energy and are still learning how to navigate life so they seem extremely erratic for the most part. But, after the adolescent phase, with appropriate training, they do "calm" a little into adulthood. For more info, you can check out this puppy growth guide.
Having said that, we need to understand that dogs do not just magically turn into perfectly calm family members if they’re neutered or fully grown. This is also down to genetics and the way we train and look after them. For example, you cannot expect a working breed to just sit for hours alone in a house all day with no stimulation or walks. These breeds may become so frustrated that it manifests in erratic and inappropriate behaviour. 

Skin and paw injuries

What are some common skin and paw injuries?

Puppies’ immune systems in those early days aren’t fully mature so they can suffer from skin conditions such as demodectic mange which can be awful. This is a mite that can live on normal skin, but in puppies can really cause havoc. 
Another condition that puppies can develop (although it's rare) is something called "puppy strangles’", aka juvenile cellulitis. This causes swellings and crusting to the face around their nose and ears, and it's extremely painful. 
All dogs can be prone to paw injuries. Grass seeds are a very common problem, but it can become severe as they can enter between the paw pads easily and then travel up the leg.
Fleas are very common in puppies. They can be on your puppy by the time you’ve brought them home if their mother had them, or if the mother wasn’t treated properly.
Food allergies only make up a small amount of allergic skin disease in dogs, but it may manifest from an early age, with puppies showing flaky itchy skin from the start. 

How do I know when I should see a vet?

If you notice any sore or swollen skin, or if your puppy is itchy or uncomfortable, or licking themselves a lot or limping, then definitely get them to a vet.

Is there anything I can do at home?

There's lots of things you can do at home to help prevent problems or spot them early on. Keep checking your dog’s coat and skin and if you’re unsure whether what you’re seeing is normal, ask your vet or veterinary nurse. Feed them a complete, well-balanced diet recommended by your vet, and keep up to date with regular flea treatment as advised by your vet!

What else are common worries for new puppy owners?

When to neuter or spay your puppy - what’s the advice from a vet? 

There is no ‘one rule fits all’ for this and I would redirect you to this detailed article I previously wrote about this.
In summary, the decision to neuter should be considered on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the breed, size, behaviour and environment of that particular dog.
As a general rule in this country, neutering is still advised for a lot of pets from a preventative health standpoint, especially in females. Neutering can help prevent certain illnesses, like pyometra. However, it can also be associated with problems if it's performed too early. This is why there is not a single rule for all dogs, and when to neuter your pet depends on your individual pup!This does not account for other counties where infectious disease, rabies, and overpopulation are a huge issue In which case neutering should be non-negotiable.

Weight gain and feeding - what should a new owner know?

Half of the pet population currently are overweight. Obesity is a welfare issue and we must give our puppies the best start in life by keeping them slim and fit.
Feed them a well-balanced food for their lifestage (puppy vs adult vs neutered) throughout their life. Look at the WSAVA guidelines on choosing the correct food if you feel overwhelmed with all the food available at the pet shops.
Listen to veterinary advice if you’re told that your pet is overweight. Especially when we know it reduces the quality of life of your pet, exacerbates painful conditions such as arthritis, and essentially cut the life of your pets short.

Recognising pain in their pet - how can I recognise pain in my pet?

So many of our pets are in pain without owners even realising it. Signs of pain can vary and can be extremely subtle. Pain can manifest as:
  • Limping or hobbling.
  • Seeming stiff after lying down or after a walk.
  • Slowing down on walks, lagging behind, scuffing nails on the floor.
  • Pacing around struggling to settle and get comfortable.
  • Lying down more than usual.
  • Panting without exercising.
  • Excessive licking over their joints .
  • Not being enthusiastic to jump into or out of the car, or go up and down the stairs.
  • Reluctance to exercise, to greet you, or avoid company.
  • Changes to appetite (sometimes). Appetite can reduce or stop with painful conditions, however, most dogs will eat when they’re painful as eating is a survival instinct.
  • Howling or crying when a painful area is manipulated. But, a lot of dogs will not make a sound despite being painful!
  • Unusual aggression. Unfortunately, a common cause for aggression can be undiagnosed and untreated pain. 
Listen to your vet if they say your pet is in pain. Ask them to teach you ways to recognise and acknowledge signs of pain if you’re finding it difficult. Undiagnosed and untreated pain reduces our pets quality of life and their life expectancy.
Just because your pet is eating, or not vocalising and crying, does NOT mean they aren’t in pain. Dogs in agony will still eat and drink because that’s what they need to do to survive, and they will often still go on a walk because you’re asking them to do it, not because they necessarily want to.

The importance of puppy insurance 

Why should a new puppy owner get pet insurance?

Accidents happen, illness can be unpreventable, and unexpected veterinary bills can be hard to face if we do not have our pets insured. We do not have the luxury of an NHS for our pets and veterinary care costs money. Both of my own pets are insured for this reason.
I would love everybody to have a pet because of how much they enrich our life. However, I am an advocate for responsible pet ownership too, and would discourage anybody from owning a pet if they are concerned about the financial implications of owning one. Too many times have I seen traumatised owners and veterinary colleagues (myself included) be faced with impossible and difficult decisions based on cost alone which can be the sad reality of owning a pet. Circumstances of course change and we cannot predict this, and there are veterinary organisations that can help owners who are struggling.
However, we must think responsibly from the very start because these pets are our lifelong responsibility and we should always try and be in a position where we can care for our pets financially.

What’s better puppy insurance, annual cover or lifetime?

My advice is to take out a policy that covers accident and injury, illness, and dental cover for your pets lifetime.

Jump to

When is it too hot to walk your dog?
When is it too hot to walk your dog?
Most cases of heatstroke in dogs are caused by exercise in the heat, so it can be too hot for walkies.
Can dogs eat prawns
Can dogs eat prawns
Prawns can be a tasty treat for your pup as long as they're plain, cooked, and the shell and tails are removed. But avoid giving them prawn-flavoured foods like crisps or prawn crackers, as these can have harmful or unhealthy ingredients.
How long does it take to toilet train a puppy?
How long does it take to toilet train a puppy?
Puppies aren't born knowing to toilet outside, so we have to train them to do it. It can take a few weeks to months. But by 5-6 months, you'll probably notice fewer accidents in the house.