Your Puppy’s Regular Checkup
Whether your new puppy is from a breeder or a shelter, one of the first things you need to do is arrange a veterinary checkup within a couple of days of welcoming him home. This way, if there is a pre-existing condition in the puppy, you can alert the breeder or shelter, especially if it’s a contagious condition. Many breeder contracts insist on such an exam so that you both have assurance that the puppy is healthy at the time of transfer, and you’ll want to know that your puppy is starting off with a clean bill of health. If you have other pets at home, keep your new puppy separated from them until your vet gives you the go-ahead to introduce him. This helps reduce the risk of spreading contagious diseases to your other pets.
Getting to the Vet
Before heading to the veterinarian, gather together any previous health records, including details of vaccinations and deworming. Write down what you’re feeding in case the veterinarian asks. Also record any questions, possible signs of illness or problems you’re having with your new pet — otherwise these seem to fly out of mind’s reach once in the exam room. If you have pet health insurance, bring the information for it. Bring a fresh stool sample (not the whole thing; about a tablespoon is ample).
Have the puppy ride to the veterinary clinic in a carrier. It’s a good idea not to feed him for at least an hour before leaving because many puppies get carsick. Bring extra towels and maybe some rinse-free puppy shampoo in case of an accident. Otherwise your vision of showing off your gorgeous new puppy may deteriorate into showing off your vomit-covered puppy.
Once at the clinic, leave the puppy in his crate or hold him on your lap. Don’t let him visit with other dogs, who may not feel well. Don’t let him on the floor because of the risk of communicable diseases in an unvaccinated puppy. If he’s too large to crate or hold, bring a towel for him to sit on.
It’s common for a veterinary technician to obtain a health history from you and to perform the preliminary check-in, including weight, temperature, pulse and respiration rate. If you brought a stool sample, the specimen will be checked for evidence of intestinal parasites. Any abnormalities found during this preliminary check-in will be reported to the veterinarian, who will then perform a full physical examination.
Very often the veterinary exam goes from head to tail, starting with the mouth (in fact, it’s sometimes called a "teeth-to-tail" exam). She will check your dog’s gums, teeth, tongue, palate and throat, making note of gum color, tooth occlusion and whether the baby teeth are being properly replaced by permanent teeth (if your puppy is the appropriate age for that). She’ll move on to the ears, possibly peering inside the canal with an otoscope, looking for debris and discharge that may indicate mites or an ear infection in puppies. She’ll look at the eyes, making note of discharge and staining, redness or lid abnormalities.
The veterinarian will then move on to the body, perhaps tenting the skin to check for dehydration. She’ll look at the hair and skin, parting the hair to look for signs of parasites or skin disease. Then she’ll feel along the body and palpate the abdomen, feeling for abnormalities in internal organs. She’ll check the penis and vulva for abnormal discharge or conformation, and the anus for evidence of prolonged diarrhea.
One of the most important things the veterinarian will do is listen to the heart with a stethoscope. Some puppies have congenital heart defects that can cause a murmur. But not all murmurs in puppies indicate a heart defect; many times puppies grow out of these. Your veterinarian will want to recheck this on subsequent visits.
Based upon your puppy’s vaccination history and age, the veterinarian will then administer the proper vaccines. She may also give deworming medicine. Depending on age, she may have you start the puppy on heartworm prevention. And she may suggest a flea and tick preventive as well. She may talk to you about feeding, behavior, and your plans for spaying or neutering.
Before leaving, make sure you understand the veterinarian’s instructions. When you check out, these may also be given to you in written form; if not, write them down. You’ll probably be instructed to return in three weeks for follow-up vaccinations. The timing of these vaccinations is important; don’t put off coming back for them. At each subsequent visit for vaccinations, the veterinarian will probably give your puppy a repeat exam.
Be sure your puppy gets to meet the staff, who will often coo over him and give him treats. It’s important for him to enjoy his visits. In fact, many clinics encourage you to bring your puppy just to visit occasionally so he looks forward to seeing his friends. This sets the stage for fear-free visits for the rest of his life — and a healthy future!