You’re a few days away from picking up your new puppy and everyone is excited. You have a new leash, collar, toys, a crate, but what are you forgetting? Have you scheduled your puppy’s first vet visit yet? It may seem early, but your puppy should head to the vet sometime during the first week at their new home. It is your responsibility to keep your puppy in top shape, and your veterinarian will be able to help establish the guidelines to success.
Finding the Right Vet
One of the best ways to find a veterinarian is to ask friends, neighbors, or even someone you see walking their dog or at the dog park for a local vet recommendation. Finding a clinic close to home is convenient for picking up supplies or emergency trips if there is a problem. You can also call a few clinics and check their websites for vital information, such as hours, how they handle emergencies, services they offer, and other criteria that may be important to you. Some clinics even allow you to fill out new client information forms online and their website may provide information for new puppy owners about the paperwork required for your first vet visit. Learn more tips on how to find the best vet here.
Getting Ready for Your Pet's First Vet Visit
When you make your appointment, the receptionist will tell you a handful of items to bring to the first vet visit. In general, veterinarians will need a copy of your puppy’s medical records and relevant paperwork from the breeder, shelter, rescue organization, or store from which the puppy was purchased. Also bring any medications your puppy is on. Most vet offices also ask that you fill out a new patient information form upon or before arriving. For the first visit, a stool sample is often necessary to test for intestinal parasites. Collect this sample ahead of time and label it with your puppy’s name. As you prepare for the trip, don't forget to prep for travel, so that your can make the car ride to the first veterinary visit a positive experience. For example, bring a comfortable blanket and hold your puppy on your lap or take them in a crate.
What to Expect at Your First Appointment
Every veterinary clinic is different, so be prepared for the unexpected at your pet's first visit. However, there are some common procedures to expect. Generally, a receptionist will greet you at the desk and confirm your arrival. A vet tech will take you and your dog to an exam room and start the appointment by confirming your puppy's age, determining what vaccines they've been given, taking vital signs (temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate), getting their weight, and asking about diet and general well-being (activity level, appetite, and any problems). Ideally, the veterinary staff will offer your puppy treats to make them feel happy and comfortable.
At this point, the veterinarian will step in to perform a comprehensive physical exam. This exam will include listening to the heart and lungs, palpating the abdomen, and conducting a dental check-up. The vet will check your dog’s mouth, ears, eyes, nose, and toes, as well as the skin and coat. It is actually a nose to tail exam at the first visit!
Your vet will then go over a vaccination schedule with you and give any core vaccinations and deworming medications that you choose to move forward with at that time.
Questions to Ask the Veterinary Team
Your veterinarian is the best person to ask any health-related questions regarding your new puppy. Their job is to ensure your dog is healthy, so keeping you informed about your role as caregiver is in their best interest!
Consider the following list of questions for your pet’s first vet visit:
What medical care does my puppy need?
- What vaccines does my puppy need? Core vaccines include protection against diseases such as canine parvovirus, canine distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and rabies. Non-core vaccines such as Bordetella (kennel cough), Lyme disease, and canine flu vaccine recommendations will depend on risk factors such as boarding plans, exposure to dog parks, contact with ticks, and other considerations based on your geographic location. Note: The Rabies vaccine is legally required in most states.
- When does my puppy need this series of vaccines? The first vaccination is given around 8 weeks of age and booster shots are given every 3 to 4 weeks until about 20 weeks of age. It is a good idea for some miniature breed dogs to have their vaccines spaced out longer than larger dogs. Specific recommendations will depend on the age and size of your dog.
- Do I need to deworm my puppy? If so, how and when? Most dewormer medications for the treatment of intestinal parasites are given several times starting at 4 weeks of age.
- Do I need to bring in fecal samples for testing? If so, when? Many clinics like to see two negative samples over the course of the vaccine series.
- Are there possible side effects resulting from the vaccinations? If so, what?
Additional questions to ask your vet:
- What flea, tick, and parasite prevention meds are recommended?
- Do you have specific food recommendations?
- When do I change from puppy to adult food?
- When is it safe to take my puppy to the dog park?
- How can I help make vet trips a positive experience for my puppy?
- Are there any good online resources for housebreaking tips?
What are general care recommendations?
There are several important things every dog owner should know how to do, even if you plan on taking your pet to the groomer. Your vet or a member of the veterinary team should be happy to answer questions about:
- Dental care and oral hygiene advice, including best methods for tooth brushing, appropriate chew, dental toys, or supplements, and the teething process and timeframe
- Best methods for cleaning ears
- Best methods for trimming toenails
- Best age for spay/neuter
- Recommendations for microchipping
- Possible health issues based on breed concerns
- Grooming tips
For answers to many of these questions, read Top 8 New Puppy Questions.
What Will the Vet Visit Cost?
While the first few trips to the vet’s office may seem costly once you factor in parasite control, vaccinations, and boosters, there are some ways to reduce the financial stress. Through the AKC Veterinary Network Certificate Program, puppies and dogs who are newly registered with the AKC receive a certificate for a complimentary first veterinary office visit when taken to veterinarians in their network. Learn more about the costs of veterinary care in the first year here.
Pet insurance is also a great way to reduce financial stress brought on by vet visits. Everyone wants their dog to be the symbol of health, but accidents and illnesses can occur even with the best care. Even diseases like canine parvovirus can be both life-threatening and expensive to treat, with care costing thousands of dollars in some cases. AKC Pet Insurance offers full-term policies that are customizable, so you can choose how much you pay each month. Endorsements such as Exam Coverage and DefenderPlus can be added to cover routine care and annual wellness screenings.
Before You Leave
Don’t forget to schedule future visits for puppy shots before you leave the vet's office, as most vaccinations require boosters to be effective. Vaccines are generally necessary every 3 to 4 weeks until 20 weeks of age. Keeping your dog on a regular exam schedule for preventive healthcare is key to a long and healthy life!