Whether it’s your first dog or your 21st, most dog parents have a lot of questions. Everyone just wants to do the best that they can when caring for their best friend and veterinarians are here to help you on that journey. “There’s no such thing as a bad question” rings true in veterinary medicine, so don’t be afraid to ask. However, if you’re having a hard time knowing where to start, especially if being a dog parent is new territory, we’ll outline some important questions that you will want to ask and the reasons why that question could make a difference in your pup’s health and happiness.
- How Often Should My Dog See a Vet?
The easy answer to the question of how often should a dog go to the vet is as often as you deem necessary! But since dog parents are usually looking for cut and dry answers, the real answer is at least once a year, preferably twice for regular check-ups. After that, your dog should go to the veterinarian whenever they are in need. That being said, there are some variations when it comes to the age of your pup.
Puppies should see the vet upon adoption or purchase. This means to get them to your clinic of choice as soon as possible after you bring them home, especially if they’ve had a long journey to get to you. Some shelters and breeders will actually require a veterinary checkup to ensure that your pup was in the best health possible when you received it and that they didn’t have any issues when they left their previous home. Adjusting to a new home comes with its fair share of stresses as well, so having your new dog get a quick look-over allows you to discuss how best to decrease these stresses to make the transition smoother.
As puppies are growing, they’re not only increasing in size and weight, their immune system is also becoming stronger and more effective. However, until your little one reaches maturity they are more susceptible to common illnesses, including severe ones like parvo and minor ones like the sniffles. Frequent vet visits for vaccinations and the first sign of illness will help keep them healthier so they can continue to grow strong and play hard.
Most adult dogs will do well seeing their vet once to twice a year. These annual or biannual visits are important to assess dental health, weight, and vaccination status. It’s also a great opportunity to talk with a professional about training issues that you’re having or any behavioral questions that you may have.
Senior dogs should also see the vet more often as aging brings about other issues that have a better outcome if addressed early. Arthritis, for instance, is more easily treated in the early stages than when it gets debilitating. Have your older pooch see the vet at least twice a year, maybe more depending on their overall health. Again, these visits are important for dental health and to address any aging issues that your pup may be experiencing.
- What Vaccinations Does My Dog Need?
The vaccination requirements vary between dogs and are definitely something to discuss with your vet. Pups that are on the go, traveling here and there, will need to be protected against things that dogs that stay home have never even heard of. Also, dogs that socialize in large groups will need a little extra barrier against illness than dogs that prefer their alone time. Let’s start by talking about the core vaccines and then move on to the extras.
Core vaccines are those that every dog, regardless of lifestyle, should receive. These vaccines consist of a combo shot containing distemper, parvo, adenovirus, and parainfluenza. Puppies should receive their first shot around 8 weeks old and get a booster at 12 and 16 weeks. After that, they should get a booster one year later. Depending on the pup’s situation, veterinarians may recommend giving this shot yearly or every three years. Another core vaccine is rabies. All mammals are susceptible to rabies and nearly it’s 100% fatal, so why not vaccinate? Rabies shots can be given starting at 12 weeks old, should be boostered one year later, and then every three years. Most cities require a rabies vaccination in order for a dog to be licensed, another great reason to get it done.
Leptospirosis is a bad bug that can be vaccinated for and is sometimes included in the combo shot from above. This illness is passed through deer urine and can be fatal, so it’s a must for dogs that have or can have contact with deer. This means dogs that live out of town or even those that share their yard with the occasional deer grazer.
Coronavirus is another possible add-in vaccination, mainly for puppies. This virus can wreak havoc on the intestines causing bloody diarrhea. Puppies are especially susceptible so it is often included in the combo shot of that first series.
Depending on the area of the country that you live in, your vet may also recommend vaccinating against Lyme disease. Lyme disease is passed by those yucky ticks and does infect humans as well. In high-risk areas, Lyme vaccination may still be recommended for dogs on flea and tick prevention. Lyme vaccinations are given to dogs of all ages and include an initial shot followed by a booster 2-4 weeks later. Annual boosters are recommended after that as long as the risk is still high.
Vaccination against kennel cough consists of an intranasal or injectable concoction of Bordetella bronchiseptica and Canine Parainfluenza Virus. Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection that is more common in dogs that are boarded, shown or groomed in large facilities housing multiple dogs. While it’s typically not life-threatening, it can be an annoyance and lead to other illnesses. Some boarding kennels and grooming facilities will require current kennel cough vaccinations to prevent illness. Protection is usually sufficient with yearly boosters but some facilities may require updates every six months.
- What Should I Feed My Dog and What is Their Ideal Weight?
With literally hundreds of dog foods on the market, what should I feed my dog is at the top of every dog parent’s mind. It’s also not an easy question to answer. However, the importance of feeding a quality dog food is no question. A healthy diet is the basis for a healthy dog, so a lot of issues may be treated or prevented by feeding a quality food. So what makes a quality food?
The first thing you should know is that all dog foods that meet the AAFCO standards are complete and balanced, so it’s important to check your labels. AAFCO accepted food contains all of the necessary nutrients that your dog needs to grow and stay healthy, which includes protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. Even with those requirements met, there’s still going to be a wide variation in the quality of dog food, so always read the labels.
Quality dog food should have real, whole meat as the first ingredient, preferable as the first two ingredients. Whole meat does not mean meat byproduct or meat meal. Next, the fewer ingredients the better. This holds especially true for pups that may experience allergies. The fewer ingredients there are in a food, the fewer things there are to be allergic to. It’s also best to hold off on the number of ingredients that you can’t pronounce. While there will be some long words in there that are usually preservatives, you just don’t want a lot of junk in your dog food.
After that the next thing you need to look at is affordability. It won’t do your dog any good to eat a high quality, yet expensive food if you can’t afford to buy it for them. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable options available and don’t forget that you often end up feeding less of a high quality food than you do a low-quality food, so the price tends to even out. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend quality foods in every price range.
On that note of feeding amount, dog food should come with a recommended feeding guide. This is just that, recommended. That doesn’t mean that some active dogs can’t have more in order to keep weight on and that those easy keepers might need a little less. Have your veterinarian tell you what an ideal weight for your particular pooch would be. After that, adjust your feeding amounts as necessary to maintain that healthy weight. Keeping a dog at an ideal weight is a great way of preventing many diseases including arthritis and diabetes. It will also keep your pup happy and energetic for longer.
You should think of your vet as a partner, not an observer, or your dog’s health. Come to them with any inquiry that you may have about how to best keep your pup healthy. These three questions should only grease the wheels to get the conversation going so that you can build a lifelong relationship between you, your vet and your best friend.