Getting a puppy is a fun and joyous occasion, but learning about all a puppy needs to be happy and healthy can be overwhelming and intimidating for those who have never raised a dog before. So much information is available now on the internet and so many conflicting opinions regarding pet care are voiced that it can be difficult even for the experienced to decide how to navigate the world of “puppy stuff”! Though everyone has quick access to websites, speaking to a veterinarian during check-ups will still provide the most reliable and relevant advice specific to your pet.
Being prepared and organized for your visit to the clinic can maximize the time you get to spend with your vet. It can be helpful to write down any questions you may have so you don’t forget them during the whirlwind of the first few days of having the puppy. There can be a lot of material to cover during the first appointment, so the list of questions can help keep the conversation focused. Prioritize the questions because there may not be time to ask all of them in one visit! If you have a lot of questions it may be worthwhile to ask the receptionist if you can have an hour long appointment, rather than a 15 – 30 minute allotment.
When should my puppy go see the veterinarian?
It is a good idea to bring your new pet to the veterinarian for an examination within the first week of bringing it home. You may want to give a young puppy some time to settle down from the stress of moving to a new environment, but it is better not to wait too long so any problems can be identified and addressed quickly.
For puppies, the first trip to the vet usually occurs around 8 weeks of age. Most responsible breeders will not separate the puppy from his/her mother and littermates before then, and most will also have done some routine care already – deworming, vaccines, etc.
What should I bring?
Please remember to bring any adoption or breeder paperwork, including any medical/vaccine/deworming history to the first appointment. If your puppy is on any medication right now, please bring the medicine or write down what it is exactly, and what dose they are receiving.
It is useful to bring a stool sample from the puppy if you have one, since it is routine practice to test the stool for intestinal parasites. If you do not have one, the vet may choose to collect one rectally from the puppy during the visit, but it typically is easier on these little ones to bring in a sample if possible. The stool is often re-checked at subsequent visits as well, so it’s always helpful to bring a sample in. The fresher the sample the better, so try to bring in something from the same day. It doesn’t have to be refrigerated, but helpful to bring it in a small sealed container or plastic bag. The vet will only need about a gram, so it doesn’t have to be much.
If you know what the puppy was being fed before coming to you, it is good to make a note of it, as well as what he/she is being fed now, including treats.
Checklist for the first Appointment:
- The first exam – the vet will look at your puppy from nose to tail: he/she should look at the puppy’s eyes, ears, nose and mouth, checking for signs of infections and palate or dental defects. He/she will listen to the chest to make sure there are no signs of a heart murmur or respiratory problems. He/she will palpate the puppy’s abdomen and check the genitalia to make sure he or she is developing normally.
- Check vaccine history and update as needed – the “core” vaccines that the puppy should get are the rabies vaccine (at 16 weeks of age) and the DHPP (distemper/parvovirus) vaccine. Depending on region and risk factors, bordetella, lyme disease and leptospirosis vaccines may also be recommended. The vet will recommend these as needed and vaccinate the puppy if he is old enough and due for it.
- Talk about parasite control and de-worm; start flea/tick/hw prevention – puppies as young as 7 weeks old can start on flea/tick and heartworm prevention. The vet can provide you with these medications. Most puppies are prophylactically dewormed because it is very common to have parasites. The most common signs of intestinal parasites will be diarrhea, occasionally vomiting, a distended abdomen, and in some cases anemia, failure to gain weight, and an “unthrifty” (unkempt/unhealthy) appearance.
- Get a fecal test – bring that stool sample if you can!
- Talk about nutrition – there are countless varieties of dog foods these days and largely most of those available at reputable pet stores will be acceptable brands, but it is important for your puppy to be on a puppy-specific diet. Puppy diets will have a better nutritional balance for the growth life stage. The rest of the selection criteria may be determined by cost, availability, taste preference, or specific health needs. These issues your vet can help you sift through.
- Talk about training and socialization – typically, until a few boosters of vaccines are given, the vet will recommend limited interaction with other dogs to prevent your puppy from picking up contagious diseases. This doesn’t mean you can’t start training your puppy! You can start teaching basic commands like sit and stay, teaching good manners on a leash, and of course, working on house training.
- Talk about spaying/neutering – spaying and neutering pets is the standard recommendation for most pets in the United States. It is recommended for various health reasons, behavioral reasons, as well as population control (reducing unwanted litters and shelter overcrowding/euthanasia). There is a lot of controversy in this area because there are opposing philosophies about the ethics of elective surgery as well as some studies suggesting increased risk of specific diseases associated with earlier age spay and neuter. It is appropriate for you to have a discussion with the vet about all these pros and cons, as well as finding out about the surgical procedures and after-care. This discussion can be postponed, because typically dogs are spayed or neutered at 6 – 9 months of age.
Remember to relax and have fun! Take notes if you need to, but don’t worry… you don’t have to remember most of these things the first time. Your puppy will probably need a check-up every 3 – 4 weeks until he/she is about 5 months old, so there will be plenty more opportunities to learn/refresh your memory.
Tiffany Fu, VMD
Associate Veterinarian at Glenvilah Veterinary Clinic