Here's When to Take Your Dog to the Vet
One of the (many) things to consider as you think about getting a dog is his vet care, finding the person who will be responsible for the health and wellbeing of your new furry friend.
You also might be wondering how often you’ll need to take your dog to the veterinarian once you bring the new pup home. The short answer, assuming your dog is healthy: a lot at first, then not so much, then semi-often.
As with cats, the frequency of vet visits depends on myriad factors: your dog’s age, any chronic health conditions, where the dog lives, and its breed, says veterinarian Randy Wheeler, the executive director of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘general rule,’” he says.
Perhaps proving his point, the American Animal Hospital Association says all pets should get an exam at least once a year. But: Some pets may need more frequent visits, depending on the conditions Wheeler listed.
One of his biggest recommendations, is to develop a relationship with your vet, almost becoming friends so you can get ahold of them whenever problems arise. Plus, they’re the ones who’ll definitively tell you when to take your dog to the vet.
Here’s a general guide on how often you might visit the vet, based on your pup’s age:
Puppy Vet Visits
The first year of your buddy’s life might be when you see his vet the most often, potentially monthly for the first half-year of his life, Wheeler says.
The main reason: vaccinations. Those start when your dog is 6–8 weeks old and continue on for the rest of their life.
The recommended shots begin with vaccines for distemper and parvovirus, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). When your puppy is 10–12 weeks old, it’s time for the DHPP (distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus) shot. Six weeks after that, it’s time for another DHPP shot along with the first rabies shot, the AKC says.
During these visits, your vet will examine your pup and recommend flea and tick preventatives while also looking for any evidence of heartworms.
When your dog is 6–9 months old, he will be ready for spaying or neutering, Wheeler says.
Adult Dog Vet Visits
When your dog is between 1 and 8 years old, you’ll still need to visit the vet regularly. If your dog is healthy, once a year might be enough.
Again, your dog’s breed or underlying health issues may necessitate more visits, so talk with your vet; they’ll know the best plan of action.
Your dog will still need booster shots for the rabies and DHPP vaccines every 1–3 years. He might need more, depending on where you live. Dogs who live in areas where Lyme disease is common may want to get that vaccine, Wheeler says.
Check-ups also give vets the opportunity to check your dog’s teeth. Infections and bacteria in dogs’ teeth can spread to other organs like the liver or kidneys, so it’s important to make sure they’re in good shape, Wheeler says.
“[Dental health is] critical in our pets and many times overlooked,” he says. “It’s being addressed more and more.”
Unclean teeth also cause bad breath, which, you know, stinks. Your vet can tell you how to put a stop to it.
During your visits, your vet can also recommend any diet changes that might be needed if your dog is overweight, or do blood tests to investigate any potential problems.
Senior Dog Vet Visits
You’ll probably start seeing more of your vet around the time your dog turns 8, roughly twice a year for a healthy dog.
Teeth wear down as dogs get older, so your veterinarian will continue to monitor your dog’s chompers. They’ll also do more blood work and consider changes to your dog’s diet, perhaps switching to a food with fewer calories.
At this point, you’ve hopefully been seeing a vet for years, so all the preventative care you’ve been doing should make the latter stages of life more comfortable for your pup.
Wheeler says that while paying for preventative vet care can be costly, it will likely save money in the long run if your pet stays healthy, avoiding big procedures or illnesses.
It might be tempting to visit vaccine-only clinics or clinics exclusively for spaying and neutering, but your dog might not get all the care he needs, Wheeler says.
“Many times you're getting what you’re paying for,” he says.