Are Annual Vet Checkups Enough?
If you are a completely new dog owner, you might be wondering: How often should I take my dog to the vet? There isn’t any golden rule of thumb. If your dog is an adult without health issues, an annual checkup might be more than enough- or it may not be. It all depends on your dog’s life stage, general health, and a bit of luck.
Continue reading to learn more about your dog’s vaccine schedule, preventive care and wellness visits!
A Checklist of Signs and Symptoms Requiring a Vet’s Visit
We all want our furry friends to stay happy and healthy, preferably all their lives. However, sometimes, they might get sick. But knowing when your dog will need a veterinarian can be pretty tricky at times. Luckily, we’ve made a list of some of the most common symptoms you may experience when living alongside your dog— and what to do when they arise!
Please note that all the symptoms described below are generalizations. If you are in any way in doubt, you should contact a licensed veterinarian immediately.
Coughing is rarely an emergency and is a common symptom in dogs, especially younger ones. Coughing can arise for several reasons, some of the most common being parasites or kennel cough.
If your dog is coughing, and it doesn’t seem to be due to the airways being blocked, it is still necessary to determine why it is essential to consult a veterinarian and have the proper tests done. Tests will often include a blood sample and fecal tests for parasites.
Note: If you suspect your dog is suffering from kennel cough, it is imperative that you isolate your dog from other dogs, as it is very contagious.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
We decided to put these two symptoms together, as they often come together. We will also address them separately. If your dog is an adult with no known health conditions, vomiting, and diarrhea may not be something to worry about and will often pass with some time. You can help your dog by giving it easily digested food and ensuring it drinks plenty of water.
Your dog must keep drinking when vomiting and having diarrhea. Contact a vet immediately if:
- Your dog stops drinking
- Your dog seems lethargic
- The condition persists
- The fluids contain blood
If your dog is vomiting with no other symptoms, you should contact a veterinarian for an evaluation of your dog. Vomiting, especially straight after ingesting food, can be a symptom of something, like a ball or stick, blocking your dog’s intestines, which can be both painful and dangerous.
If your dog is unconscious, you should immediately contact an emergency care veterinarian. There are many reasons a dog may be unconscious, but all of them demand immediate veterinary care to ensure that your dog survives.
If your dog is known to suffer from epilepsy, you should discuss with the vet beforehand what to do if your dog starts having a seizure.
If your dog does not have any known conditions that may cause seizures, it is vital to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible. While waiting for the seizure to pass, remain calm and, if possible, film the seizure with an available phone or camera. This will significantly help your vet in the diagnosis process.
If your dog is bleeding, it needs to be seen by a veterinarian immediately. If it is an emergency, you should attempt to slow the bleeding by putting pressure on it and keeping it there while (if possible) elevating the limb until you reach emergency care.
Limping may or may not be an emergency, depending on what happened. If your dog is running around in a field and is suddenly limping but doesn’t seem to be in severe pain, the first step is to make sure to check its paws thoroughly for foreign objects.
If you can’t find a foreign object, it may be worth putting the paw into temperate water for 10 minutes to see if anything dislodges itself. If your dog is still limping hereafter, contact a veterinarian.
This is, of course, an emergency, and an emergency vet needs to be contacted at once.
Ingestion of Something Toxic
If your dog has ingested something that may be toxic, it is an emergency. Toxic substances can include:
- Prescription medication
If it is within 3 hours since your dog ingested it, it should be possible to induce vomiting and get the substances out of the stomach. However, if it is more than 3 hours since ingestion, other treatments may be necessary.
Symptoms of pain in dogs are:
If your dog seems to be in pain, you need to contact a vet. It may or may not be an emergency, but a vet should nonetheless evaluate your dog and be pain medicated as soon as possible.
In the end, you know your dog better than anyone else. Trust your gut! If your dog seems “off” without any specific symptoms, it is still okay to feel that way, and you should contact a vet for a checkup.
Types of Veterinary Exams
All dogs should visit the vet at least once a year. Your vet will be able to track not just how your dog is growing but also discuss any concerns or questions you may have, talk about preventive care, and, of course, find any ailments your dog may be suffering from.
Although an annual health check is essential, there may be times and life stages where your dog needs to visit the vet more frequently.
Your dog will need to visit the vet quite frequently as a young pup. Not because they’re more likely to be ill, but because they have a lot of growing to do and a lot of vaccines to receive. During these first visits, you can also help your puppy become more comfortable visiting the vet, with plenty of treats and praise!
Your puppy’s vaccine schedule can depend a lot on where in the world you’re living, but also the lifestyle you and your best friend are living. Generally, though, the recommended vaccinations include the following.
DHP Vaccine: At 8, 12, and 16 Weeks Old and Again at 6-8 Months Old
This is a combination vaccination and part of what is often called the “basis” vaccination program. They are the ones all dogs should have. The vaccine will protect your puppy against three diseases:
- Distemper (footpad disease): Causes a respiratory disease similar to the common cold in humans.
- Hepatitis: A disease that targets the liver but can also affect many other organs.
- Parvovirus: A virus that causes severe and often bloody diarrhea.
DHP needs to be boosted every 3rd year.
Kennel Cough: At 8 Weeks Old
Also, a part of the basic vaccination program for many dogs, this vaccine will help protect your puppy from the effects of the kennel cough. This is especially relevant if your dog often socializes with other dogs or needs to stay at a kennel.
The kennel cough vaccine needs to be boosted every year.
Rabies: At 12 Weeks Old
Rabies is not often an issue amongst the dog population in the western world, but dogs can still be exposed to the risk of infection. More importantly, though, the rabies vaccination is a must for all dogs planning on traveling as it is often required to travel across borders.
The rabies vaccine needs to be boosted every 3rd year.
L4: At 12 Weeks Old
This vaccine protects against infection with leptospirosis disease. A disease often carried by rats. Not all dogs may need this vaccine. If you live in an area with many rats, for example, city areas, or if your dog is known to hunt rats, it might be very well worth getting this vaccine for your pup.
The leptospirosis vaccine needs to be boosted every year.
Your vet will know what vaccines are recommended for your area and will be able to help guide you through the vaccination jungle!
Besides giving your puppy its vaccinations and booster jabs, your vet will probably also talk to you, during the first year, about other preventive care measures. This includes:
- Flea and tick prevention
- Parasite prevention
- Proper nutrition
- Any health issues your dog may be at risk for developing due to health conditions, breed, or anything else.
Adult (1-8 Years Old)
Healthy, adult dogs typically only need annual health checks. This will entail a head-to-tail check where your vet will listen to the lungs and the heart, check your dog is growing as you want it to, and isn’t getting too heavy either. Obesity is a big issue with pets, so it is essential to keep an eye on your dog’s weight whenever you visit the vet.
During adulthood, your vet will also do an annual dental examination to ensure that your dog isn’t suffering from any issues with the teeth and administer any booster vaccines your dog may need. After turning one year old, your vet may also talk to you about neutralization.
These checkups are also where you can bring up any concerns you may have at home or with your dog. But, if you are worried now, don’t wait- you can always call your vet!
Senior (+8 Years Old)
A healthy senior dog may not need more than an annual check. They are generally prone to more illnesses and injuries than when they were younger, and may therefore need to visit the vet more often. Most vets recommend that senior dogs come in once every six months to keep on top of any health concerns that may arise.
Your vet may also start recommending that they take a blood sample. A blood sample will help them evaluate the organ function within the body.
What Should I do When I Can’t Afford a Vet?
We know that vets are expensive. Please don’t be mistaken, it is not because vets are greedy or don’t want to help your pet, but it is costly to run an animal hospital or veterinary clinic. The expensive treatments are why our no. 1 recommendation today will be this: Get dog health insurance for your dog!
Health insurance should cover all unforeseen treatments and checks your dog may need throughout its life. There will most likely still be something you need to pay yourself, but it will be significantly cheaper.
If you do not have health insurance or the money to pay for a vet visit, you can try contacting charities within your region that may be able to help you. There may also be some grants you can apply to help you cover the costs of medical care for your friend.
Lastly, it would help if you also talked to the vet. Not all do it, but some places have pay-plans available to help you split the cost of treatment into more easily handled bits. Talk to them; they may be able to help you and your dog.
How to Calm Your Dog Before a Veterinary Appointment
No matter how nice you think your vet is, our furry friends often do not like the vet. At all. That’s understandable, but we can try to make it better for our dogs. The best thing you can do is to stay calm. Going to the vet might be worrying for you as well, but your dog will “read” your mood and start worrying before even getting there. Try to remain calm.
At the vets, make sure to give your dog plenty of praise (and dog treats if allowed). But don’t fuss your dog or become overly protective. Talk to your dog in a regular and calm voice. Even though dogs don’t understand our words, they understand our tone of voice. If you are calm, your dog is more likely to stay calm.
If your dog is entirely terrified, talk to your vet. Perhaps you can work together to make it better for your dog? Some studies have shown that scared dogs are calmer if they wait in the car rather than in the waiting area! There are many options to help make your visit much more comfortable for you and your best friend.
In the end, you should visit the vet as often as your dog needs. You know your dog better than anyone, and you’re better than anyone at picking up when something is wrong with them.
If your dog seems happy and healthy, eating, drinking and playing, an annual check may be more than enough. If something is wrong? Grab the phone and give your vet a call! That’s what they’re there for.
Catharina is a Veterinary Medicine student from Uni of Copenhagen. When she isn’t making camp in the library, stuck to the books, she’s also a writer and avid photographer. Capturing everything from buildings to dogs – especially her poodle Bailey is a frequent subject.