When you bring a dog into your family, you make a commitment to his health. This guide can keep your pooch healthy through every stage of his life.
You are responsible for the health and happiness of your dog. Keeping your furry friend in good shape will involve regular vet visits to help prevent illnesses and diagnose any problems early, when they are generally easiest to treat.
Whether your new pet is a puppy or an older dog, your first task should be to find a vet. “You want to establish a veterinary relationship with your new pet very shortly after you bring it home,” says Mark J. Stickney, DVM, clinical assistant professor, director of general surgery services, and chair of the internship selection committee at the College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of small animal medicine and surgery at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Dr. Stickney says that having a vet ensures that your dog is getting the pet health care he needs and that you have someone to contact in case of emergency.
Dog Health Care at Every Age and Stage
Health care needs for dogs change over the years, evolving at each stage of his life:
- Health care to-dos for young pups. During the first few months of your puppy’s life, vaccinations are very important. During a puppy’s first visit with a vet, it “will receive the first of a series of puppy vaccinations, and your puppy will need booster shots every three weeks until they are 4 to 5 months old,” says Strickney. These vaccines protect your puppy against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, parainfluenza, and rabies. Another early dog health care need is spaying or neutering. “If you are not planning to breed your dog, you should get them spayed or neutered prior to six months of age,” says Strickney. Early spaying or neutering prevents accidental pregnancies and diminishes the likelihood of health and behavior problems like mammary cancer (in female dogs) and marking (in male dogs).
- More early-life necessities for healthy pets. Until 2 years of age, your dog is considered a puppy. These formative years are the time to develop good dog health care habits. For instance, you should start protecting your dog from fleas and heartworms, which are potentially fatal parasites that can live in the heart of dogs. “Depending on the part of the country that you live in, your pet may need to be placed on flea control and will be started on heartworm prevention,” says Strickney. Dental health is also very important to keep your dog’s teeth strong and healthy. “The current recommendations are to brush their teeth daily and have their teeth cleaned by a veterinarian yearly,” says Strickney.
- Adult dog health care needs. From age 2 to age 7, your dog is considered an “adult.” During adulthood, dog health care revolves around preventing health problems and treating any problems that arise. “You will want to take your dog to the vet every year for a physical exam,” says Strickney. “That will allow the veterinarian to look for things that you might have missed at home, talk with you about any issues, and boost vaccinations.” Rabies vaccinations generally need to be given every 1 to 3 years, and your vet may determine that your dog needs other vaccinations as well. Even though heartworm preventatives are 100 percent effective if given as directed, “most vets like to repeat a heartworm test every year or two to make sure we haven’t had a break in the coverage,” says Strickney.
- Senior dog health care needs. When are dogs and cats considered seniors? According to Stickney, they reach this point at 7 years of age. “That is when we may start recommending yearly blood work to look for any disease processes, like kidney disease, that are just starting to show up.” If your dog develops any health problems, you may need to visit the vet more than once a year.
In addition to regular health care visits, Strickney says to call your vet immediately if your dog is acting unusual or showing worrisome symptoms like inactivity, changes in appetite, limping, lameness, having uncharacteristic accidents in the house, vomiting, diarrhea, or severe itching.
Regular check-ups and following your vet’s advice will help ensure you have a happy and healthy pet.