Your first vet visit is an exciting time for every owner, whether it’s with your new pedigree pup, one from a shelter or even an older rescue dog. It’s a time to proudly show off your new addition to the family, and it is an important milestone for your dog.
Having a vet check over your dog or puppy will probably put your mind at ease, and it is the perfect time to ask any burning questions or discuss any problems.
Preparing For Your First Vet Appointment
It is often a good idea to visit the clinic before you go with your dog, that way you can ask some questions and get a good feel for the clinic: Are the staff friendly and professional? Is the clinic clean? Do they offer after-hours emergency care at night time and over the holidays?
It is normal to have a lot of questions to ask the vet during the first visit, especially if it’s your first dog or a breed you haven’t had before. These questions can quickly be forgotten in the excitement of the visit. Therefore, it is best to write them down as a reminder before you go.
Veterinary clinics are busy places, so try to make your appointment well in advance to get a time that suits your schedule.
What to Bring to Your First Vet Visit
- Any paperwork for your dog: medical records such as previous vaccinations or worming history from the breeder or rescue shelter.
- Use a well-fitted collar and lead – you need to have your dog under control as you will meet other dogs.
- Bring some treats to reassure your dog and reward good behaviour – the vet visit should be fun!
What Happens During the First Vet Visit
Often the first visit is between 15-45 minutes, depending on the clinic policy. There are a number of important things the veterinarian should check and discuss:
Your dog will be weighed, and this should be recorded every time you have a consultation.
The vet will ask you questions about your dog, such as: When and where did you get them? Do they have a good appetite? What are you feeding them? Are they toileting normally? Have they had previous vaccines or worming medication? Have they shown any signs of sickness?
The most important part of the consult, every vet will have their own personal way of carrying out a full health examination. They will check things such as your dog’s teeth, eyes, ears, skin and coat, heart, lungs, nails, abdominal palpation, lymph nodes, and temperature.
Your vet should discuss which vaccines are “core” and necessary to protect your dog (e.g., distemper, canine hepatitis, parvovirus and rabies) and which are “non-core” or elective vaccines (e.g., kennel cough, leptospirosis, lyme disease). The vaccines recommended will depend on the area you live and your dog’s lifestyle. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has more info on dog vaccines. If this is your puppy’s first visit, they might receive their first vaccinations, with regular vaccines every 2-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks old.
Implanting a microchip is quick and easy, and your pet only feels a small pinch sensation. Microchips are a permanent way of identifying your dog, and it can help return your dog if they are lost or stolen.
The vet will discuss the advantages of neutering and spaying, and any risks involved. They will also recommend at what age this procedure can be performed.
Parasites are common in pets, especially if they roam outside. Did you know that some parasites which infect dogs, can also cause a risk to humans? Common canine external parasites include fleas, ticks and mites. Common canine internal parasites include heartworm and intestinal parasites (tapeworms, roundworms, whipworms). Administering regular anti-parasitic treatments to your dog can help protect them and your family from infections. Puppies need to be dewormed more regularly than older dogs. Your vet will discuss a suitable plan for your dog, and often administer flea, tick and worm medication to your dog during the consultation.
Breed Specific Health Issues
Some breeds are more at risk of developing certain health problems than others. For example, Dobermans are at a higher risk of developing dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) a serious heart disease, while brachycephalic breeds such as Bulldogs are more likely to have breathing problems due to their flatter noses and narrow windpipes. The vet will discuss if there are any health issues you should be aware of with your dog breed, and what signs to watch out for in the future.
Vets will often recommend that you get your new dog some health insurance. Pet insurance may help cover unexpected emergencies or illnesses. It also allows pet owners to focus on their pet when they are sick, rather than worrying about the cost. However, pet insurance is not for everyone, so be sure to do your research before you decide.
Puppy vs. Older Dog: How Does the Vet Visit Differ
No matter what age your dog is, the basics are always the same, the vet will still take a clinical history and carry out a full physical examination.
For young puppies during their first vet visit, there might be more emphasis on checking for congenital disorders (problems the puppy was born with) such as an umbilical hernia, abnormal teeth development, a congenital heart murmur or entropion (abnormal rolling of the eyelids). The vet will also want to guide the owner on how to start good and healthy habits with their puppy.
For all ages of dogs, the vet will highlight the importance of preventative care to help prevent or reduce the risk of your dog suffering from certain diseases or problems. This is often easier and more effective if started as a puppy. Examples include regular teeth cleaning to prevent dental disease, vaccines to prevent certain infections, proper socialization to help prevent behavioural issues, keeping your dog at a healthy weight to avoid a whole host of problems and heartworm medication to prevent heartworm infection.
In older dogs, especially those over seven years old, there is more of an emphasis on checking for age-related problems such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis or cancer. Catching and diagnosing these diseases early increases the likelihood of successful treatment. Blood tests, x-rays or ultrasound scans may be recommended if the dog is showing signs of illness.
Important Questions to Ask Your Vet
Oral Care: How Can I Look After My Dog’s Teeth?
Your vet will advise on the best methods for brushing their teeth, dental toys and anti-plaque supplements. You might also want to ask about teething advice if your puppy is chewing a lot.
Breed Concerns: What Problems Should I watch for in My Dog?
The vet should discuss common problems and diseases associated with your breed of dog, and the symptoms you should watch out for in the future.
Food Recommendations: Is My Dog’s Diet Ok?
Your dog needs a good quality, complete and balanced diet. Your vet can help recommend what is best for your dog, taking into account their age, breed and activity level.
Weight Loss: How Can I Get My Dog to Lose Weight?
“In 2018, an estimated 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese.” If your dog is overweight, your vet will give you advice on how to slowly encourage your dog to shed the pounds by adjusting their diet and increasing exercise.
- Behavioural Problems: How Can I Improve My Dog’s Behaviour?
Did you know that behavioural problems are the main reason why dogs end up in rescue shelters? If you are concerned about your pet’s behaviour, then it is important to get advice from your veterinarian. Common behavioural problems include excessive barking, aggression towards other dogs and inappropriate toileting in the home. Your vet may give you some pointers on how to improve the situation or refer you to a certified canine behaviourist.
Grooming: How Can I Clean My Dog’s Ears? And Trim Their Nails?
The vet or vet technician will often happily demonstrate how to carry out these grooming tasks. If you don’t feel comfortable doing them, many people don’t, then book your dog into a dog groomer.
Parasites: When Does My Dog Need Their Next Treatment?
The vet should recommend a tailored anti-parasite plan for your dog, depending on their age, lifestyle and the area where you live. This might involve giving your dog a monthly pill or a liquid spot treatment.
Future Visits: How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet
Puppies will require regular visits to the vet clinic. As they are at higher risk of catching infectious diseases, they usually need vaccinations every 2-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks old. They also require regular weighing and deworming, as some puppies are born with a roundworm infection. A routine deworming protocol for puppies often involves treatment every 2 weeks until the puppy is 3 months old, then every month until it is 6 months old. After this time, it follows an adult worming protocol.
Every dog should at least have an annual check-up, to allow the vet to assess the health of your dog, administer any required vaccine boosters and pick up your anti-parasite prescription.
Older dogs benefit from more regular check-ups, often every six months, less if your dog has a specific health problem which needs to be closely monitored.
You might have realized by now, there is actually a lot to pack into that first consultation. Choose a vet you feel comfortable with, trust and who has a high standard of care. Your veterinarian will be the cornerstone for future health care for your dog, providing regular health checks throughout their life, helping your dog when they are sick, and being your go-to-person for any dog related health worries. The important take-home messages are; choose a great vet, try to make the visit as fun as possible and be prepared by making a list of questions in advance. Hopefully, you are now fully prepared for your first vet visit!