Next to you and your family, your veterinarian is one of the most important people in your dog's life. You should identify a veterinarian for your new dog before you bring it home and arrange for a first appointment as soon as possible. The first vet visit gives you and your veterinarian an opportunity to establish your dog's baseline level of health and identify any potential long-term or chronic health problems. This visit can confirm the health status identified when you purchased your pet.
When you meet with the vet, be sure to discuss your daily care routines, home environment, any anticipated problems or concerns you may have, ask questions about any behaviors about which you need more information and your grooming preferences, particularly nail clipping. Your vet will examine your dog to ensure healthy bones, joints and muscles, and good heart, eye, ear and other organ functions. The vet will also do a blood test to check to make sure your dog has the right levels of nutrients and minerals.
Your dog may experience some stress going to the vet. The best way to alleviate this is with positive reinforcement, attention and happy visits. Stop in at the vet's office with your dog a couple of times when it doesn't need to be examined so that your dog associates the clinic with positive experiences. Pet your dog and give it praise when it behaves calmly and well at the vet's office. Take some treats to help keep your dog happy and to have staff give your pet. Fortunately, vet staff is experienced at handling dogs of all sorts and will likely make your job much easier.
After the first visit and your dog's initial vaccinations, you should plan on getting your dog checked by the vet once a year. You may need to go more frequently if the vet is clipping your dog's nails.
A basic vaccination series should be a part of your puppy's schedule during the first four months. A combination vaccine is given once a month from two months through four months and then once annually. It protects your puppy from leading infections and illnesses, including distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus and parainfluenza. If you acquired a dog that is older than four months and that has not been vaccinated, the vet will use a different protocol -- two vaccinations given two to three weeks apart and then annual vaccinations. Some breeds get vaccinated into their fifth month, including Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and American Staffordshire Terriers.
Your dog will also need a rabies vaccination. However, laws around the country differ about when this vaccination must be given, so check with your vet about scheduling a rabies vaccination for your dog. Your vet can also tell you about other vaccinations that may be appropriate depending on where you live.
Spaying and Neutering
Most pet dogs are spayed (females) or neutered (for males) to remove reproductive organs and prevent pregnancy. But health issues provide other compelling reasons for spaying and neutering dogs.
Female dogs have a high incidence of cancers of the reproductive system. Spaying removes the ovaries and the uterus, preventing the production of estrogen, which leads to most of the reproductive cancers. A vast majority of unspayed older females contract a life-threatening infection of the uterus, call pyometra. This infection is caused by problems with progesterone, another female hormone which is eliminated through spaying. Female dogs should be spayed before their first heat, if possible, which generally occurs between six months and one year of age.
Males that are not neutered often exhibit extremely aggressive behaviors, which can be dangerous to them, other animals and people. A dog that was well-behaved and calm in its youth can suddenly show a pack mentality and become more aggressive, chase cars, try to get loose to roam freely, or bark and growl a lot -- all as a result of high testosterone levels. Many of these habits become hard to break. A male dog neutered between six months and one year of age will retain its youthful calm.
Spaying and neutering are common surgeries. They require some form of anesthesia and most vets prefer for the dog to remain in the hospital overnight. Your dog may be under the weather for a few more days as a result of the surgery, but will heal within a matter of a week or so.
Common Health Issues
Your dog is likely to have some health issues during its life. The worst can be prevented through vaccinations and spaying and neutering. Others, such as cancers and other diseases may not be avoidable. That's why it is important to maintain your dog's diet, nutrition and exercise at all times. However, there are a few common health problems you need to take care of to keep your dog well.
Fleas and Ticks. Fleas are external parasites that cause a skin allergy, a common skin disease for dogs and cats. Ticks latch on to the skin and burrow in to feed on blood. Both can be itching, annoying and unhealthy for your dog and you. Keeping your dog flea and tick free is easier today thanks to new products that can be applied once-a-month. However, you need to visually inspect your dog's skin for signs of fleas during daily grooming and check for ticks after returning from an area known to have them, like wooded camping sites.
Heartworm. Heartworm, roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm are other parasites that can enter your dog's bloodstream and create serious health problems. Heartworm parasites are passed on to dogs through mosquitoes. Hookworm and roundworm larvae end up on your dog's feet, which, through licking, enters its abdominal system. The best form of treatment is early and regular prevention. A monthly pill will help your dog avoid these parasites. If your dog does contract a worm, it is important for your vet to do testing to determine which kind it is suffering from and what level the development the worm has reached. A correct diagnosis is needed because the treatment for one worm is not the same as for another. Symptoms of a worm parasite are an occasional cough, fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing. Talk to your vet about how often s/he recommends checking for worm parasites, since the symptoms may not present themselves before serious damage occurs.
Poisoning. Many common indoor and outdoor plants can be poisonous to dogs. Before your bring your dog home, get rid of any houseplants that appear on the list below. Don't let your dog eat plants and leaves when outdoors. If you do suspect poisoning, get your pet to the veterinarian immediately. You should also keep the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center hotline number near your phone in case of emergency. You can reach this 24/7 hotline by calling toll free (888) 426-4435.
Following is a partial list developed by the ASPCA's Poison Control Center of common plants that are poisonous to dogs and cats:
Apple leaf croton
Avocado (both the fruit and pit)
Bird of paradise
Cherry (seeds and wilting leaves)
Fruit salad plant
Giant dumb cane
Gold dust dracaena
Hahn's self-branching ivy
Indian rubber plant
Janet Craig dracaena
Lacy tree philodendron
Lily of the valley
Madagascar dragon tree
Peach (wilting leaves and pit)
Saddle leaf philodendron
Spotted dumb cane
String of pearls
Swiss cheese plant
Tomato plant (green fruit, stem and leaves)
Tropic snow dieffenbachia