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How Often Should Puppies Go to the Vet?

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Overview

Published: 10/4/2021

As pet parents, we want our dogs to live long, healthy, and happy lives — that's why it's important you start off on the right "paw" with regular vet visits. Regular wellness checkups can help prevent illnesses and identify and treat problems before they become severe.

Besides keeping your pet healthy, regular vet visits help foster a relationship with the vet. Consistent vet visits will acquaint your pet care provider with your dog's personality and history, which can be important when diagnosing a condition. 

So how often should your puppy be visiting the vet? The short answer is often, especially early on. Let's take a closer look at how often puppies should go to the vet, as well as common puppy conditions and pet care considerations.


How often should puppies go to the vet?

Plan on your puppy spending a lot of time at the vet during their first few months of life. Healthy puppies should be seen every 3 to 4 weeks from the age of 6 weeks old to 16 weeks old for vaccinations and wellness checks.

During a puppy wellness exam, vets typically:

  • Inquire about your pup's medical history, diet, medications, and prior vaccinations

  • Get your pet's weight

  • Use a stethoscope to check the heart and lungs

  • Perform a fecal test (to check for the presence of parasites)

  • Inspect and palpate the body (checking for pain or swollen lymph nodes)

  • Inspect the ears, eyes, and nose with an otoscope

  • Check for abnormalities of the skin or fur

  • Administer vaccinations and dewormer as necessary

Puppies should also visit the vet as needed for arising healthcare concerns or emergencies. Some conditions and scenarios that warrant an immediate trip to the vet include:



Common health conditions in puppies

Puppies are susceptible to many health conditions, especially before they're eligible for their vaccinations. Below are some of the most common conditions in pups.


Parvo

Parvo is a highly infectious and deadly gastrointestinal disease that most often affects unvaccinated puppies. Parvovirus is mainly transmitted by contact with contaminated poop, though the virus can also live on food dishes and human skin.

The virus is highly resilient to environmental factors and may live on surfaces for many months. This virus is often lethal if not treated within the first few days of symptom onset. The most effective way to prevent parvo in pups is to vaccinate your dog as soon as they're eligible.

Symptoms of this virus include:


Distemper

Canine distemper is another virus that infects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of young pups. Distemper is commonly misdiagnosed as a respiratory illness since the initial symptoms are much like a cold. As the illness progresses, more severe symptoms can appear, like convulsions, paralysis, and sudden blindness.

Vaccinating your dog is the best way to protect them. There's no cure for canine distemper, though early intervention can increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. Canine distemper must run its course, but supportive medications like IV fluids, anti-epileptic drugs, and antibiotics may be necessary to manage the symptoms and secondary infections.

Dogs can remain contagious for months after recovering from distemper. Symptoms of distemper vary considerably depending on the stage of infection and severity.

Some of the most common symptoms of distemper include:


Intestinal parasites

Most dogs will encounter a parasitic infection at some point during puppyhood.

The good news is, most intestinal parasites are easy to treat and do not cause any lasting effects if caught early. The bad news is, intestinal parasite infections can be deadly to puppies if left untreated.

The most common intestinal parasites that vets encounter in pups are:

Fecal testing is essential for diagnosing intestinal parasites since not all types of intestinal parasites are visible in the feces. Undiagnosed parasitic infections can lead to malnutrition, anemia, and even death.

Symptoms of intestinal parasites in puppies include:

  • Round, distended belly

  • Diarrhea (with or without blood or mucus)

  • Increased appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Worm segments in the feces

  • Weight loss

  • Dull coat


Gastric obstructions

Puppies have a tendency to eat everything in sight — including inedible objects. For this reason, many pups end up at the vet for gastric obstructions or intestinal blockages.

Sometimes, dogs can pass small objects on their own, but this isn't always the case. Surgical intervention may be necessary when a dog ingests something too large to pass through the digestive tract. If you suspect your pup has swallowed a foreign object, seek immediate treatment.

Signs of a gastric obstruction include:

  • Partially chewed objects in their vicinity

  • Vomiting

  • Anorexia

  • Difficult or painful defecation

  • Abdominal distention

  • Stomach pain

  • Refusing to lie down


Kennel cough

Kennel cough is a contagious respiratory illness that can affect dogs of all ages. Many viruses and strains of bacteria can cause kennel cough in dogs. True to its name, kennel cough is common in places with a high capacity of dogs, like boarding kennels and grooming facilities.

Kennel cough is primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets, though dogs can also contract it by coming into contact with contaminated objects. Recovery from kennel cough can take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks, though dogs will need to quarantine for up to 14 weeks after recovery.

There is a kennel cough vaccine, but it's not a core vaccine, so pet parents must request it. Unfortunately, the kennel cough vaccine is not 100% effective against all strains of kennel cough. 

Symptoms of kennel cough in puppies include:


Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is quite common in puppies, especially in small breeds. Low blood sugar can happen for many reasons. Overexertion, undereating, and going too long between meals can all cause a dog's blood sugar to drop.

External stressors (like being boarded) and environmental factors (like low temperatures) can also contribute to hypoglycemia. A meal or some honey on a spoon will usually remedy this condition, though prolonged bouts of low blood sugar can lead to coma or even death in young puppies.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia in puppies include:




Average vet care costs for puppies

Vet care costs for puppies are nothing to scoff at. Between the regular checkups, vaccinations, and testing that pups undergo, pet parents can expect to pay hundreds — if not thousands — for veterinary care during their dog's first year of life. Let's explore some common veterinary costs for puppies that pet parents encounter:

  • Wellness checkups: $50 – $250

  • Vaccinations: $15 – $28 (per shot)

  • Fecal testing: $25 – $45

  • Parasite preventative medication: $30/month

  • Blood work: $80 – $200

  • Spay or neuter surgery: $160 – $220

  • Microchipping: $30 – $50

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Pet care considerations for puppies

Meeting a puppy's physiological, mental, and safety needs is a full-time job. Below are some things to consider when caring for a new puppy. 


Puppy proof your home

When preparing to bring a new puppy home, the first thing you should do is puppy proof your house and yard. Here are a few things you should be doing to ensure your home is safe for Fido:

  • Move trinkets, small items, and cords out of paw's reach. 

  • Gate off unsafe areas of the home.

  • Lock up cleaning chemicals and other toxic items.

  • Put up an outdoor fence.

  • Maintain your fence by repairing holes or broken boards as necessary.

  • Store medications up high.

  • Leave toilet lids down.

  • Relocate poisonous houseplants to off-limits areas of the house.

  • Fix cord blinds so Fido cannot get caught in them.

  • Invest in a locking trash can.

  • Don't leave doors or windows open.


Start house training right away

Potty training should begin the day you bring your pooch home. For successful house training, you'll need to watch your dog and recognize the signs that they need to potty. Signs can vary from dog to dog, but generally, pacing, sniffing the floor, whining, and standing or scratching at the door are all indications that your pooch needs to potty ASAP.

Avoid accidents by taking your pup to potty right after waking up, after meals, before bed, and every 2 hours in between. Don't hit or scold your dog for misbehavior or accidents. Negative reinforcement will only make your dog fearful of you. Instead, praise your dog and offer treats for pottying in the correct spot.


Provide your puppy with a complete and well-balanced diet

Growing pups have very specific nutritional needs — that’s why you should take great care when selecting a food for your pet. Read the ingredient labels, and make sure real meat comprises the first two ingredients.

Choose food with minimal fillers (like soy, corn, and wheat gluten) since these offer little nutritional value and can be difficult to digest. Steer clear of over-processed foods and those with chemical preservatives.

If you're still unsure of which puppy food to choose, ask your vet. Veterinarians can offer insight on the best formulas for your pet.


Groom your pup from the get-go

Grooming a dog that doesn't like to be groomed can be extremely challenging (or nearly impossible). For this reason, it's a good idea to start grooming your dog from the day you bring them home. Brush your dog's coat and teeth every day to get them accustomed to grooming. Trim your puppy's claws every couple of weeks to prevent overgrowth, accidental scratches, and poor posture.


Vaccinate your pet

Vaccines are the most effective means for preventing common (and sometimes deadly) puppy illnesses like parvo and distemper. Puppies should receive their first round of shots at 6 to 8 weeks old and will continue to receive immunizations every few weeks until 16 weeks old. At 6 months old, dogs will require a booster shot for their prior immunizations.

After the first year of age, vets usually recommend boosters yearly, every 2 years, or every 3 years, depending on the type and brand of vaccine used. Learn more about how often your puppy should be vaccinated in our guide to do vaccine schedules.


Have your pet microchipped

Ten million pets go missing each year in the US alone. Microchipping your pet can help ensure the dog will be reunited with you if you get separated.

When a lost dog finds their way to a vet or shelter, facility staff will typically scan them for microchips to help locate their parents. Microchips store contact information for the pet's parents and sometimes the pet's medical records too.

Keeping the database information up to date is just as important as having the microchip implanted in the first place. Make sure you're updating your contact information any time your phone number or address changes.

Related: Do Microchips Have GPS?


Spay or neuter your puppy early

There are many advantages to spaying or neutering your puppy early on. The most obvious benefit is the prevention of unwanted pet pregnancies, but spaying and neutering can also decrease behavioral problems like wandering, territorial tendencies, and same-sex aggression. What's more, spaying and neutering can reduce or eliminate the risks of certain types of cancer.


Socialize, socialize, socialize

Early socialization is the key to molding a puppy into a well-adjusted dog. Schedule regular puppy playdates, and encourage your dog to interact with other people too. The more positive encounters your pup has with other people and animals, the better. Early socialization can minimize social anxiety, fear, and aggression, which often appear in undersocialized dogs.


Exercise your dog regularly

Regular exercise is essential for a dog's physical and mental health. Experts suggest walking your puppy 2 to 3 times a day to meet their daily exercise requirements. Younger puppies may only tolerate short 15- to 20-minute walks, but as they age, you can increase the walking time.

Keep in mind that walks and outings to the dog park can put unvaccinated puppies at risk, so make sure your pup has had all their shots before taking walks to the streets.

So what are the benefits of exercising your puppy? Providing daily exercise for puppies can:

  • Increase joint flexibility

  • Help maintain a healthy weight

  • Provide mental stimulation

  • Boost the immune system

  • Improve mood

  • Decrease stress levels

  • Strengthen the skeletal system


Invest in a crate

When used correctly, crates can be a fantastic tool for encouraging house training and minimizing destructive tendencies. Crates should be large enough for a puppy to move around in but not so big that they have room for your dog to designate a "potty area".

When crate training, praise your pet for interacting with their crate and offer them treats when they go inside. Start slow, having your puppy spend just a few minutes at a time in the crate and gradually work up to longer stints. Be sure to provide your pet with toys to keep them busy while in the crate.

Refrain from crating your dog for too long since this can lead to accidents, undersocialization, separation anxiety, and urinary infections from holding their bladder. Generally, pups can spend an hour in the crate for every month of age, or up to 8 hours. People who work outside the home and must crate their dog for extended periods should consider hiring a dog walker for midday potty breaks.

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