As a new pet owner, there are many things you need to prepare for. One of the most important is your first visit with your vet. All too often, new pet owners only consider the fun side of owning a dog. They forget the importance of maintaining their dog's health. Regular vaccinations and check-ups are critical to keeping your new family member living a long and happy life.
What can you expect at your first vet visit? Be prepared and check these tips before you and your first dog or puppy head out to the vet:
#1 Bring current records
If you have a new puppy this might be their first or second visit to the vet. Oftentimes, the breeders may have supplied the first round of vaccinations. Be sure to ask and get records of those shots if that's the case. If they did not provide the first round of vaccinations, then it's vital for you to schedule a vet appointment within the first few weeks after bringing your dog home. If your dog is older, perhaps you got him from a rescue group or shelter; find out if they administered vaccinations before you bring him home. If not, you will need to schedule an appointment and get your pup up-to-date on the major annual vaccinations (covered later in this post). Bring all records you have on your first visit to ensure your vet knows what's already been administered and the general health of your dog. They should enter that data permanently into their computer system. I keep a file folder and bring it to every visit to the vet to keep our records up to date. It's a good way to stay organized, especially if you have pet insurance and need to make any claims.
#2 Nervous or playful pup
I happen to have two dogs. One is quite nervous when it comes to vet visits but the other is bold and happy to be there. You will discover soon enough which "camp" your dog is in, the "nervous dog camp" or the "calm dog camp" (or somewhere in between). Be prepared by having someone else accompany you to help ease the stress the dog might feel. A gentle hug from my daughter helps calm our nervous dog. And my other daughter keeps our confident dog in check from jumping up onto the counter to find a dog biscuit. Be sure to keep your dogs on leashes and train them to sit while you are in the waiting room. Bring a crate if your small dog feels calmer inside. Some people I know take their dog for a long walk ahead of time to calm their nerves.
#3 What vaccines are in store?
When you make your appointment, be sure to ask what vaccines will be administered during your first appointment. A new pup or a dog without a vaccination record will need a variety of vaccines and require multiple visits their first year. Of those, the Distemper vaccine is very important as it is a collection of vaccines administered in one shot. That includes vaccines for Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Parainfluenza. Two of these diseases, Distemper and Parvovirus, can be fatal to the dog if they are not vaccinated against them. Many owners do not realize that their new pup should not be allowed to visit doggie trails or go on walks where other dogs roam until they have had their full range of vaccinations for the Parvovirus. In other words, it may not be until the dog is 4 months old that you can take them on regular walks without the risk of infection. Additionally they will need a Rabies, Corona and Bordatela shot their first year. At around 7-9 months they will have a heartworm test (you may have to bring a stool sample at some point), and if you live in an area where there are rattlesnakes, as we do, a rattlesnake vaccine. Be sure to schedule subsequent appointments to complete their first year of vaccinations. Your vet will supply you with a specific schedule.
#4 A general physical exam
In addition to getting vaccinated, your vet will give your dog a basic physical exam. They will note any possible abnormalities and check their weight, ears, skin (for parasites, ticks, and fleas), eyes and temperature (typically a rectal temperature check). All of their findings will be recorded. In the event that you move or go to another vet, those records can be transferred to the new veterinarian.
#5 Questions to ask the vet
Be prepared with a list of question you might want to ask the veterinarian. If you notice unusual behavior or physical issues, be sure to bring them up. Ask about monthly medication such as heartworm, flea and tick medicine and any other prescription and over-the-counter medication they may need. Your vet will weigh your pet and discuss whether your dog is overweight or not.
#6 The importance of maintaining a healthy weight
Be sure to discuss your dog's dietary needs. They will change depending on their age. A new pup will require a diet that has a little more fat content to ensure healthy growth. As they become adult size, their diet will change. As they become senior citizens in the doggie world, their diet will change yet again. Your veterinarian will be able to give you kibble recommendations and warn you about the bad habit of feeding a dog table scraps. We keep both dogs healthy by only feeding them kibble and never from the dinner table. You don't want to start a bad begging habit by doing that.
#7 Obedience School
Your vet can give you a few recommendations for obedience school or dog training. It's vital to train your dog some basic commands and manners, not only for your family's sanity but for their own safety. The commands, "Sit," "Stay," "Come," and "Lie Down," are all fundamental commands every owner should teach their dog. For instance, our dogs used to devour their food in a few quick gulps until we taught them to "Sit" and "Stay" before being allowed to eat. We wanted them to have manners and eat slowly. We add a tennis ball in their food bowl to slow down their eating (yes, we have two food-motivated dogs). Also, when we go for a walk, we teach them to sit at designated spots before crossing the street. It helps them get in the habit of learning to look before crossing the street. Also, we ask our dogs to "Sit" before answering the front door so they do not jump on our guest.
#8 Dog grooming
Your veterinarian should give you advice on how frequently you should groom your dog. Depending on where you live, the frequency should match the lifestyle. We bathe our dogs every month a few days after administering their monthly flea and tick medicine (as directed on the box). They feel better when they are clean, too. A clean and healthy dog is a happy dog, generally. Be sure to wipe their ears dry after a bath or swim to prevent an infection. Our vet showed us the proper way to clean the inside of our dogs' ears because infections can be quite common, especially for dogs that love to swim.
#9 The big decision - to spay or neuter?
One of the biggest questions, if not the most important question, to ask your vet the first year is whether to have your dog spayed (if female) or neutered (if male). As a dog owner, you need to decide whether you intend to breed your pup to have a litter or not. For the female dog owner, this will mean they will have a menstrual cycle and go into heat every 4-6 months. For the male dog owner, if you do not neuter them they have the potential to be slightly more aggressive. You need to be sure to train them properly to avoid fighting with other dogs. In our case we spayed our female Golden Retriever. We adopted a Labrador Retriever who had been neutered. If you do elect to have them spayed or neutered, it usually takes place when they are 6 months or older.
#10 The cost
Don't be shocked at how much a dog vet visit costs. It is comparable to your own doctor visit in some cases, especially if you don't have pet insurance. When you make you first appointment be sure to ask ahead what to expect in terms of cost. In another article I wrote entitled, "Budgeting for unexpected pet health care" I list creative ways you can lower the cost of your vet bills. Don't be shocked before you go, ask how much first.
Were there other things you experienced at your first vet visit?
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