My Puppy's First Veterinary Visit: What to Expect
If you have been following along on My Vet and Me’s social media accounts, you know my family recently welcomed TWO Labrador Retriever puppies. It has been 8 years since I have had a puppy in the house and it has definitely taken some getting used to! Puppyhood is so exciting. You make new friends because EVERYONE wants to pet and visit with your new addition, you get less sleep (at least for a few nights) because said puppy needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but you are also making quite a few trips to the veterinarian. Here is a list of what to expect during those puppy visits and to help prepare you (& pup!) ahead of time!
This is a general rule for veterinary visits no matter how young or old your dog (or cat!) is. Puppies usually have intestinal parasites. I see puppies from breeders and from puppy mills and I have seen a whole host of intestinal parasites from both places. Even though breeders and pet shops and rescues will deworm the puppy, there is not one single medication that can get rid of every possible intestinal parasite. I like to see 2 stool samples in a row that show no signs of intestinal parasitism before I will consider a pup free from parasites. Different veterinarians have different standards, but it is ALWAYS a good idea to have a sample on hand!
I know this is a controversial topic for humans and for animals, but it is important to mention here as puppies typically receive several immunizations. I will say that I do not believe in a one size fits all approach (exception: the Rabies vaccine). I tailor vaccination protocols to the lifestyle of my patients. Maybe I have a yorkiepoo puppy who is going to be carried around in her mommy’s Louis Vuitton dog carrier and never touch the ground. That yorkiepoo is going to receive very different vaccinations than a Labrador puppy who is going to be a bird dog and will be out in the water and woods hunting with its owner. The yorkiepoo likely gets groomed every 6 weeks and will be exposed to respiratory diseases like kennel cough and canine influenza. The hunting dog is going to be exposed to the woods and wildlife and the diseases they can transmit like Lyme disease and Leptospirosis. The core vaccinations for dogs are considered to be distemper/parvovirus/hepatitis and Rabies. You can read more about parvovirus here as both of my puppies were exposed to this virus (before we got them), got sick, and were treated in the emergency room for a week. Distemper is a scary disease in which puppies and unvaccinated dogs get terribly ill. The virus causes sneezing, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and it eventually travels to the brain causing seizures. Neither of these diseases have a cure. Patients infected with parvovirus or distemper are hospitalized in isolation as these viruses are extremely contagious. We treat these patients with IV fluids and other medications to help support the animal while he/she fights off the virus. Some dogs build up immunity and get better while others do not survive. The Rabies vaccine is required by law in almost every single state and is 100% fatal. So I do not waiver on this one. Many breeders will tell you not to vaccinate your dog or to space out vaccinations (I am not opposed to spacing out vaccines, I do this frequently for small dogs!). Please find a veterinarian you trust who you can have an open conversation with – because we want your puppy to be happy and healthy for as long as possible!
Puppies are my favorite – cute and cuddly! But we need to remember they are animals and thus, are prone to getting parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice and mites (mange). Many years ago, before the invention of modern day flea prevention, fleas were a common occurrence. Every dog and cat had fleas and people just dealt with it (most keeping their animals outdoors). Now there are many great products on the market to help prevent parasite problems before they start! I like to use a topical flea/tick prevention for puppies because many topical products offer the ability to repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitos in addition to killing them and preventing disease transmission. Every veterinarian has different recommendations, so discuss with your veterinarian the best parasite prevention for your dog.
If you haven’t had a dog before, you might not know about heartworm disease. It is an actual worm, transmitted to your dog (or cat) by a mosquito bite. If your dog is on prevention, the larva (called microfilaria) will die off. If you miss a month, that microfilaria will grow into an adult worm settling in your dog’s heart. It takes 6 months from a missed pill to be able to detect the heartworm on a test. Also, the test will only show up positive if your dog has female worms since they carry the antigen your dog’s immune system reacts to. Puppies can start on heartworm prevention at 8 weeks of age, and many veterinary clinics give the first dose complementary as part of the puppy visit. Don’t miss a month!
People always want to know what they should feed their dog! There are so many awesome foods out there it seems. Well, recently there has been an uproar in pet food with the grain-free trend causing enlarged hearts in many dogs. Pet food is not well regulated so many companies take advantage of that and market their food beautifully. I recommend consulting with a veterinary nutritionist and having them put together a balanced homemade recipe for your puppy OR feed from the one of the large pet food companies like Purina, Royal Canin, or Hills. These companies do research on their diets by actually feeding them to dogs (nope, not every pet food company does this) and making sure they are what they say they are.
Do you want to breed your dog? This is a question you should know the answer to before you see your veterinarian. If you plan on breeding your dog, do your research and reach out to breeders who have a lot of knowledge and experience. If you have a large or giant breed dog, the more recent recommendation is to delay spaying or neutering until 12-24 months of age. Now, there are always exceptions to this. Talk with your family veterinarian about what their recommendation is for your pup!
Puppy visits are full of education. I spend a lot of time talking with my clients about all of the above as well as behavior, enrichment, exercise, crate training, etc. Don’t rush these visits (or any visit) with your veterinarian. Schedule them so you have time to stay and discuss topics that are important to you. Puppyhood is the best time to get you and your dog on the best track for a long and healthy life!
– Leigh Hofmeister, DVM