Dew Claws, Vaccines and Nutrition are subjects that can stir up quite a bit of controversy. Here is what I believe and follow with my dogs and my breeding program. I would invite you to do your own research and talk to your vet about what feels right for you and your dog. I became certified as a veterinary assistant in 2003 and started schooling to become a veterinarian. Although I stopped my schooling and ended up choosing a different route for my life, veterinary medicine continues to fascinate me and I have continued to research and study as much as I can.
We do not remove dew claws on our puppies. “Dewclaws on forelegs may be removed, but are normally left on” (from the breed standard). Golden Retrievers are a sporting breed. They need and use their dew claws in the field. Their dew claws help them in running and in climbing out of steep muddy embankments, and in many other things. Plus there has been research done on the connection between removing dew claws and arthritis. The dew claws are just like any other appendage and removing them requires the tearing of ligaments. It is an amputation to remove them, and when done on tiny puppies, it isn’t done very well. Vets just cut off the toe and pull out the ligament. The reason it is done at such a young age (2 days) is because the puppies can’t vocalize more than a whimper so they can’t express how painful it is. In a recent survey taken from top Golden Retriever Breeders all over the country, 114 say they do not remove dew claws, while only 7 do remove them.
Feeding your dog a good diet will play a significant role in their health. Just because a food is expensive, doesn’t mean it is a good food, but you can bet that any cheap food from the grocery store will not be good at all. The best thing to look for in a dry kibble is the “crude protein” amount. You want a food that has a high protein content. New foods are coming on the market all the time so I’m not going to keep an up to date list of good choices here.
Vaccinating your dog is important to protect them from serious illnesses. That said, not every illness your dog may get is serious, and deciding which vaccines are important can be confusing. Vaccines don’t come without a price. There are risks and side effects that come with each vaccine. Most vaccines are considered fairly safe, however, some are more dangerous than others, and over-vaccinating can have long term negative effects on your dog and shorten their life span. There are also some vaccines available that aren’t worth the side effects, either because they aren’t effective or because the disease is extremely rare or not very serious.
It is popular to give puppies a set of vaccines at 6 weeks old from the breeder, but no veterinarians I’ve met recommend that. Vaccine efficacy is based more upon the age of the puppy than of the number of boosters the puppy receives. For example, if a dog gets its first set of vaccines at one year of age, they do not need a booster until a whole year later, and then boosters every 3 years after that. So why so many for puppies? Because they aren’t effective, vets like to give 3 sets of vaccines starting at around 8 or 9 weeks of age, and ending around 16-17 weeks of age. If a puppy has a set of shots from the breeder at 6 weeks, it doesn’t mean it will skip one of the other 3, it simply means it has had an “extra” set. Which, when taking into consideration over-vaccinating, “extra” isn’t better. As a side note, vets don’t charge breeders to vaccinate their litters. It comes free with the exam. So a breeder who vaccinates at 6 weeks, didn’t pay any extra than a breeder who does not.
So which vaccines are important? The common vaccines are a Distemper/Parvo combination vaccine, Bordatella, and Rabies. Some vets have recently started pushing Leptosporosis, because a new vaccine has come out that isn’t “as dangerous” as the old vaccine. Leptosporosis is very rare, and it was never worth the risks of the vaccine before. Still most vets don’t vaccinate for it as routine and I don’t recommend it. Bordatella is a common one to vaccinate for, but I don’t vaccinate for it for 3 reasons. 1-The vaccine is very ineffective, 2-The disease it quite mild and is a bacteria that is easily killed with an $20 antibiotic, and 3-It is recommended to have boosters every 6 months, which is over-vaccinating to me. Distemper and Parvo are actually really bad diseases and very common. These are important to vaccinate for. The vaccine is actually a combo vaccine that usually has a couple other vaccines with it. Either Hepatitis and Parainfluenza, or Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, and Corona Virus. I don’t care about those other three, as they aren’t common or serious diseases, but finding just a Parvo and Distemper vaccine is hard. So I go ahead and give the “DHPP” vaccine. This is a 3 year vaccine, meaning after the puppy shots and 1st year booster, it is only recommended every 3 years. It lasts AT LEAST that long. It can actually last much longer. (Be sure and read about titer testing below to see how to avoid boosters if your dog is still immune). The final vaccine is Rabies. It is a very serious illness, PLUS it is zoonotic, meaning it is transferable to humans. It is extremely important to vaccinate for Rabies. It is also required by law. However it is a pretty intense vaccine and vets do not like to give it more than is necessary. It has to be administered by a veterinarian (others can be given by a vet assistant, or anyone actually) to make sure it is given correctly. Puppies receive one rabies shot at about 16-17 weeks (no younger than 16), and then a booster in one year, with 3 year boosters after that.
So that might be too much information and confusing. But basically I recommend vaccinating for Distemper and Parvo at 9 weeks, then a booster of that at 13 weeks, and then one more booster of that plus the rabies at 17 weeks. Boosters for all 3 a year from that, and then boosters every 3 years for their life (or check their titers yearly). It is ALWAYS better to wait a little longer than to get them too close together.
Titer testing is something that can be done to check the immunity your dog has to certain diseases. Immunity from vaccines last different amounts of time for different dogs. It is hard to say exactly when immunity will run out. For this reason, the “recommended” vaccine schedule is set to make sure every dog is covered. But the truth is, immunity lasts longer for most dogs. Sometimes a lot longer. So something you can do instead of getting a booster shot for a disease that your dog may still be immune to, is simply do a titer test. Sometimes vets don’t do them much, and if they do, it can be very expensive. If your vet doesn’t do them, or is asking hundreds per disease, you can easily have them draw a little blood for you and you can send it to the lab yourself. It shouldn’t be more than about $60 for the blood draw, shipping and testing of Distemper and Parvo (the only serious diseases aside from rabies). Have your vet or even a vet tech (cheaper) draw 2-3 cc of whole blood and spin it in a red-top serum separator tube for 10 minutes. Fill out the form from hemopet.com and mail with the serum sample (Send in a bubble wrap envelope or box).