For most people, going to the doctor is at the top of their list of unpleasant tasks. It falls slightly above scrubbing grout with a toothbrush but just below paying taxes. Fortunately dogs don’t worry about things like we often do. In fact, when owners approach vet visits the right way, many dogs even enjoy visiting the veterinarian. This is good news because routine checkups are the best way to maintain your dog’s good health.
The First Year
Puppies need to visit the vet about once every four to six weeks until they are four months old. The first appointment will include a thorough physical examination to make sure your dog is developing properly. This initial visit offers an excellent opportunity for you to ask any questions you may have about caring for your pup.
During this visit, you should also discuss having your dog spayed or neutered. Although some owners wait until their dogs are one year old, most pups are ready for this important surgery by the time they are four to six months old. Dogs who are spayed or neutered before they reach sexual maturity face lower risks for several types of cancer and help control the pet population.
Most puppies begin the vaccination process before they go home with their new owners, but your dog will need at least a few more shots on your watch. Pups get their first rabies shot at four months old. After the first booster shot one year later, they only need the shot every two to three years. The rabies vaccine is required by law, but the exact timetable differs by state. Your veterinarian can tell you how often your dog needs a booster and which other vaccines you should consider.
Keep Up the Routine Each and Every Year
Once your dog reaches adulthood, he only needs to visit the vet once a year barring any illnesses or injuries. Even if he is remarkably healthy, do not skip this important wellness exam. Diagnosing a health issue in its early stages is the best way to make sure it doesn’t become a more serious problem.
Once your dog enters his senior years, you may even want to schedule two yearly exams instead of one. Older dogs have a higher risk for many diseases, but again, early intervention is the key to a good outcome. Problems such as arthritis are common among mature pets, but modern veterinary medicine offers many ways to manage this and many other age-related ailments.
Make It Fun!
Whether you bought your puppy from a breeder or adopted him from a shelter or rescue, be sure to make his experience with the vet a positive one from the get-go. First and foremost, don’t worry about him having a bad reaction. This could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy—dogs are especially good at picking up on their owners’ emotions. You don’t want to create fear where it doesn’t exist. Instead, make every effort to treat the vet visit like any other fun outing. Bring along treats and encourage staff members to give them to your dog. Even if he’s a bit frightened the first time, edible rewards can help push vet visits to the top his list of fun activities—just below going to the dog park but far above bath time for sure!
Tammy Gagne is a freelance writer who specializes in the health and behavior of companion animals. A two-time Dog Writers Association of America writing competition nominee, she has written more than pet care books for adults and children. She lives in New England with her husband, son, and myriad furry and feathered creatures.