By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
There’s something about going to the doctor that strikes fear in the heart of every man, woman, and dog. For humans, most of us wouldn’t even go to our annual checkups if we didn’t have to, and our pups probably feel the same. However, regular veterinary health care visits are a part of responsible pet ownership and are critical to ensure your dog’s life is long, happy, and healthy.
Many pet owners may be reluctant to keep their scheduled veterinary appointments because of the potential stress and costs involved. Fortunately, planning and preparing your pet at home for their veterinary examination will ensure a highly-successful and low-stress visit.
The Importance of Regular Veterinary Visits
Whether you are a pet parent to a new puppy or share a home with a gray-muzzled older dog, regular veterinary care is critical to caring for your pet. It may be tempting to skip the dreaded vet visit, especially when your pet appears healthy. However, pets are experts at masking disease or illness signs. Some problems, like diabetes or cancer, may not be immediately apparent.
With more than 50% of U.S. dogs being overweight or obese and more than 80% of dogs over three years old having dental disease, there is a good chance your dog has an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed to prevent more severe problems. Additionally, pets who enjoy outdoor adventures or dog park dates with their favorite canine friends have an increased risk for diseases like intestinal parasites or dog viruses like kennel cough, parvo, and canine distemper.
Bringing your pet for regular examinations is your best insurance against more severe illnesses. Because veterinary care can be expensive, especially when unexpected diseases or accidents occur, consider enrolling in pet insurance to help defer costs and ensure your pet can receive recommended diagnostic tests or treatments.
What to Expect at a Veterinary Wellness Exam
Similar to people, your pet will receive a complete physical during their wellness exam, which will include the following:
- Discussion of your pet's daily habits (e.g., food and water intake, exercise, energy levels, behavior)
- Nose-to-tail physical examination
- Oral exam to check for dental disease
- Weight check
- Temperature, pulse, and respiration rate measurement
- Heart and lung auscultation to check for abnormalities
- Recommendations for vaccinations based on your pet's age, breed, lifestyle, and environment
Your veterinarian may also recommend blood work to check overall organ health or other blood tests based on abnormalities found during your pet's physical exam. Regular blood work will also help establish your pup's baseline organ health and help catch any underlying health problems.
How Often To Take Your Puppy to the Vet
Puppyhood goes by quickly, and there is much to remember when caring for your puppy during their first year. You and your four-legged family member will become well-acquainted with your veterinarian during your first six months together.
Most puppies are 6 weeks to 2 months old when they join their new human family. Plan to schedule your puppy's first veterinary checkup within the first week of bringing them home. Your veterinarian will establish a baseline for your new puppy's health and check them for common ailments like intestinal parasites. It is not uncommon for puppies to contract intestinal parasites or worms from their mother or original environment, so your puppy may require fecal testing and deworming medication during their first few months.
Since puppies grow like weeds, deworming doses will be adjusted each visit according to their weight to ensure proper protection. Medications to protect against other parasitic infections, like heartworm medication and flea and tick prevention, will also be discussed.
Your veterinarian will discuss a vaccination schedule to protect your pup against common dog diseases. Generally, expect to bring your puppy to the vet for vaccinations once a month until they are 12 weeks old. Vaccinations ensure your puppy builds a strong immune system to fight contagious and potentially deadly diseases.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has established guidelines for recommended core dog vaccinations, including:
- Canine parvovirus
- Canine distempervirus
Upon completing your pet's vaccination series, an additional veterinary visit should be scheduled sometime between 6 months and a year to discuss your pet's spay or neuter procedure. Determining the proper time to sterilize your pet will depend on their breed, lifestyle, and overall health.
To learn more about what vaccines your puppy needs and when, check out our complete guide to puppy vaccines.
How Often to Take a Healthy Adult Dog to the Vet
It may be tempting to skip your veterinary visits when you have no concerns about your pet’s health. Still, regular checkups are the best way to ensure your pet remains healthy throughout adulthood. Healthy adult dogs between the ages of 1 to 7 years old should receive veterinary wellness exams at least once a year. Following their one-year booster shots, they will likely switch to vaccination boosters scheduled every three years.
However, you should still bring your pet for annual vet visits. To combat common dog ailments like obesity and periodontal disease, your veterinarian will check your pet's overall health and recommend preventive care measures, including regular toothbrushing. Yearly blood work will also help monitor your pet's organ health as they age.
How Often to Take Senior Dogs to the Vet
Your pup's golden years are special; and like humans, as your dog ages, you might notice them slowing down. Most medium- to small-breed dogs enter their senior years at around 8 years old, and larger-breed dogs, like Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds, are considered seniors starting at 5 years of age.
Generally, senior dogs should receive a wellness checkup twice yearly. Pets with ongoing illnesses, like kidney disease, may require more frequent veterinary visits to ensure their medication is appropriately regulated. In addition to regular blood work, advanced diagnostic testing, like X-rays, may be recommended to monitor or diagnose subtle changes in your pet's behavior, appetite, or routine. For example, if your pet suddenly starts drinking more water and urinating more frequently, they may have diabetes, thyroid disease, or another hormonal imbalance.
Senior pets require extra TLC and adjustments to their daily routines and diet to remain comfortable and healthy. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a diet change to ensure your pup receives proper nutrients to support their aging organs and joints. Osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease are progressive and painful conditions affecting many senior dogs. Talk to your veterinarian about incorporating joint supplements to support your pup's inflamed, arthritic joints.
When to Take Your Pup for a Checkup or Emergency Care
Proactive, preventive veterinary care will decrease your pet's chances of requiring an urgent or emergency veterinary visit. Never hesitate to bring your pet for an immediate veterinary examination if they are experiencing any of the following disease signs:
- Changes in water or food intake
- Increased urination frequency
- Decreased energy or lethargy
- Reluctance to play or participate in activities previously enjoyed
- Difficulty climbing up or down stairs
- Changes in their sleep/wake cycle
- Vocalizing when touched
- Increased breathing rate or panting when at rest
- Changes in fur texture, thickness, or hair loss
- Foul breath
- Behavioral changes, like hiding
- Any trauma or injury
- Limping or changes in gait
- Trauma with no apparent injury
Tips for a Stress-Free Veterinary Visit
Preparing your pet for a veterinary visit will help decrease their stress and ensure your veterinarian can properly examine your pup. Follow these tips for a low-stress, happy veterinary visit:
- Regularly handle your pet's ears, mouth, feet, and tail at home so that it is not unfamiliar when they receive a veterinary exam or need a nail trim.
- Acclimate your dog to a crate so it is not solely associated with a veterinary visit.
- Acclimate your pup to car rides, and take them to fun places, like the park, so that every car ride does not mean visiting the veterinarian.
- Talk to your veterinarian about scheduling a "happy visit" in which your dog visits the veterinary clinic without having an examination.
- Learn and practice Fear Free techniques to regularly incorporate at home.
- Consider pre-visit pet relaxation aids, like a calming supplement, or talk to your veterinarian about a prescription sedative for extra anxious pups.
- Remain calm, and soothingly speak to your dog. Your pup will often mimic your feelings and behavior. An anxious pet parent can lead to an anxious dog.
For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.