Being a responsible pet guardian involves taking your four-legged friend to the vets regularly, not just when they get sick or injured. Vet checkups are essential for catching any health concerns early before they become life-threatening. However, how often you should take them to the vet depends on their age and general health condition.
So if you've just got a new pup or thinking of getting one and are wondering how often I should take my dog to the vet, you're in the right place. This article explains the importance of an annual checkup for all canines, regardless of age. We'll then break down the ideal amount of vet visits your pooch needs from puppyhood to senior years.
Annual Wellness Exam
An annual dog wellness exam is crucial for preventive care and essential for dogs of all ages. At a yearly checkup, the vet will carry out a physical examination of your pup, checking the condition of their skin, fur, teeth, ears, eyes, and more. They can spot any issues such as fleas, ear mites, skin infections, or dental problems like the onset of periodontitis.
The vet will also listen to their heart and lungs, checking for abnormalities. In addition, as many vaccinations require yearly boosters, they will often administer them during this checkup.
These exams are a good way for owners to track their pup's growth and development and check that they are a healthy weight and size. In addition, the vet may ask you questions about your dog's eating and lifestyle habits and suggest any changes they feel could be beneficial.
Puppyhood: Birth to One Year
Vet visits are vital for pups in their first year of life. If you have just brought a puppy, the breeder should have had them vet checked before the sale. Likewise, if you adopted from a shelter, they most likely received a health check beforehand.
However, depending on your new puppy's age, there is a chance that they are not yet vaccinated against the common canine diseases, many of which can be fatal. Healthy puppies should get their first vaccine between 6 to 8 weeks old and complete the vaccination schedule by 18 weeks (4.5 months).
Therefore, if your new pup is younger than 18 weeks, they will be at risk of picking up nasty infections and dangerous diseases. So taking your puppy to the vet during the first few months of their life will allow the vet to check for any signs of illness and ensure they are growing at the correct rate.
A puppy checkup will also allow your vet to create a preventive plan to ensure your bundle of joy stays healthy. This includes treatments for fleas, ticks, and heartworm. In addition, many vets will combine a puppy checkup with the vaccine appointment schedule, as detailed below.
Puppy vaccination schedule
It's recommended that every puppy gets three vaccine shots of DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvo, and parainfluenza) or DHLPPC (hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus, and coronavirus). In addition, your fur child will need one rabies shot. The exact timeframe of these vaccines will depend on where you live and your dog's breed. Still, a typical puppy vaccination schedule will look like this:
- 6 - 8 weeks: First DHPP/DHLPPC shot
- 10–12 weeks: Second DHPP/DHLPPC shot
- 14–16 weeks: Third First DHPP/DHLPPC shot + rabies shot
Ensure you leave 3 to 4 weeks between each vaccination. So, for example, if you give your puppy their first shot at 8 weeks, they will need their next one at 11 or 12 weeks.
It's also essential not to miss the second or third dose. If you miss the booster by 2 or more weeks, there will be a lower immune response, reducing the vaccines effectively. If you miss an appointment, your vet might suggest an additional one beyond 16 weeks.
Another reason why a puppy may not finish their vaccine schedule by 16 weeks is if they get sick in the meantime. Most vets won't vaccinate sick puppies as their immune response is too low to take the vaccine effectively. In this case, the vet will wait until the pup is healthy.
Once your puppy has three shots of DHPP, it will need a booster every 1 to 2 years for the rest of its life. They will also need a rabies booster every 1 to 3 years.
Adulthood: 1-7 years
Healthy dogs between 1 and 7 years generally do not need additional vet visits aside from their annual exam and booster vaccine which can be done simultaneously. However, if you have any concerns about your dog's health or wellbeing, book an appointment rather than wait for the next exam. Even if it seems minor, it's better to be on the safe side.
Senior years: 8+
Once a dog reaches 8 years old, they are classed as seniors, becoming more susceptible to illnesses and age-related diseases like cancer, arthritis, kidney disease, and dementia. For this reason, you should increase your dog's vet check-ups to at least twice a year.
Routine checks usually become more thorough as a dog ages, too. The vet will likely start taking blood, urine samples, and any other tests they feel are necessary.
When to Take Your Dog to The Vet Immediately
In an ideal world, the only time you'll need to go to the vet is for your pup's routine checks. However, like with us humans, emergencies sometimes happen, requiring urgent medical care. According to AVMA, you should take your dog to the vet without delay in the following 13 emergency cases:
- Your dog becomes unconscious or unresponsive.
- Your dog has one or more seizures.
- In any case of severe blood loss or if bleeding lasts more than 5 minutes.
- Your canine is bleeding from the nose, mouth, rectum, or coughing up blood.
- Your pup breaks or fractures a bone and cannot walk or move a leg.
- You notice choking, difficulty breathing, or excessive non-stop coughing.
- Your dog cannot urinate or pass feces, struggles to do so, or you see blood in urine or feces.
- You believe your dog has consumed something poisonous or got bitten by a poisonous snake.
- Any eye injuries.
- Your pup has refused to drink for more than 24 hours.
- In case of severe vomiting or diarrhea (lasting longer than 24 hours).
- Heat stress/ heat stroke.
- If there is any case of unseen pain or extreme anxiety.
When we become animal guardians, we commit to taking care of their health. This includes knowing when to take your puppy to the vet and ensuring you make it to their appointments. Annual checkups and vaccinations should never be neglected as they can and often do prevent dogs from getting seriously sick.