What to expect when taking your puppy to the veterinarian

  By: Carleigh Cathcart, BSc
        2nd year Student Veterinarian, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada

       July 16, 2018


Congrats on the newest member of your family!  While you are surely busy with all the excitement of a new puppy, it is important that you start off on the right paw by ensuring he or she gets the veterinary care they need to thrive. Below are 8 steps to Fido’s first visit to their veterinarian!

   1)  Prep your Pet for the Vet!

A trip to the veterinarian is often viewed as a stressful experience for both pet and owner, but it does not have to be! The benefit of working with your new puppy is his or her young age, which brings with it an important period of socialization.

Take advantage of this so-called naivety by desensitizing your puppy to the sounds, scents, and sensations he or she will experience at the veterinarian’s office. Even better, take your puppy for a “treat visit” in order to begin to associate those classically ‘scary’ things at your veterinarian’s office with something positive. Expose Fido briefly to tasks such as those below, making sure to reward him or her immediately after. Start with brief interactions and work your way up. Overwhelming the dog will benefit no one, so always be sure to end on a good note. If you are enrolled in puppy classes or working with a trainer, he or she can aid in the specifics of this desensitization.

  • Handle paws and legs in preparation for the exam (and the inevitable nail trim!)
  • Practice slowly looking in the mouth, ears, eyes, lifting the tail, etc.
  • Once confident, introduce a friend or relative to do these tasks so that Fido is comfortable even when strangers are doing the prodding

   2)  Trips Can be Tricky!

When appointment day arrives, it is important to ensure a positive experience for your puppy. Loading, unloading, and the trip in between can be seamless or stressful, depending on your pup and how transport is managed.

To avoid future wrestling matches or coaxing episodes, accustom Fido to car trips early in life and well in advance of his or her first veterinary appointment. Applying concepts of positive association like those mentioned above (e.g., treats) can help your puppy realize that trips to the veterinarian are not only harmless, but can even be fun!

  • Accustom Fido first to being in the car, then to short trips, followed by trips of varying length. Change destinations to prevent building anticipation on familiar routes.
  • Car sickness: Some dogs do, unfortunately, develop a little motion sickness en route! If you find this to be a recurring problem, talk to your veterinarian. Do not try to medicate on your own.
  • Bring along any documentation received from the breeder, if applicable. Ensure you know Fido’s current diet and feeding schedule, and write down any questions or concerns you want to address with the vet.
  • It is also helpful to bring along a poop souvenir in case the veterinarian wants to run a fecal test! These tests check for the presence of unwanted guests such as worms.

   3)  When You Arrive

The veterinarian’s office can be a scary or overstimulating place, especially for a nervous puppy visiting for the first time. Potential waiting room issues include excessive noise/commotion, the presence of many strangers, and other, unfriendly (or too friendly!) animals.

Tackle these challenges by conditioning your puppy ahead of time. For example, weekly or bi-weekly visits to the vet’s office for just a treat (and staff cuddle or two!) can create an experience that Fido associates with fun, not fear. Alternatively, discuss techniques with your trainer or veterinarian.

Before going into the exam room, Fido will likely be weighed, and may even be asked to pose for his or her photo.

   4)  Starting the appointment

What questions will my veterinarian likely ask? What information should I be ready to share?

  • What problems or concerns you or your puppy may have
  • Urination and defecation history, including any abnormalities
  • Feeding regime – how much, how often, which brand and how many treats or extras
  • Your dog’s home life – other pets/children, time left alone, where the dog sleeps, etc.
  • Exercise regime – Dog park? Walks? Backyard? Mix?
  • Any behavioural issues

   5)  Exam Expectations

After getting the latest info on Fido, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam. Typical components of the physical exam to watch for may include:

  • Taking a TPR (temperature, pulse, and respiratory rate)
  • Checking the eyes, and ears, and mouth
  • Feeling the bones/joints/limbs and lymph nodes

Do not to be offended if the veterinarian has asked his or her assistant or technician to hold Fido rather than you. Technicians and assistants go through training for proper animal restraint. This ensures not only that all people in the room are safe and comfortable, but that your pet is, too. Sometimes owners are unaware of nervous feelings they may be projecting, and this is something that Fido can sense, too.

   6) Poking the Pup

If you are taking a healthy puppy to the vet, you are likely there for one of three sets of his or her booster vaccines. Understanding the timelines and abbreviations behind vaccines can be rather confusing. While your veterinarian will be happy to further explain Fido’s shots, here is what you need to know:

  • By law, your dog must be vaccinated against rabies - a fatal disease for humans and animals alike.
  • The most common puppy vaccines include protection for the diseases known as distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. These can be devastating diseases for a dog and therefore the vaccines are considered core and are highly recommended.
  • If you plan on boarding Fido, your veterinarian will likely recommend a vaccine against Bordatella (Kennel Cough), as well. Most kennels require proof of this vaccine.
  • Depending on Fido’s lifestyle, you may also discuss with your veterinarian other vaccines such as Leptospirosis.

Prevention of these potentially devastating diseases is well worth the time and investment for your precious pooch!

   7)  Concluding the Consult

Congrats! You have survived your first puppy visit to the vet. Before you leave, be sure to take the opportunity to address any questions or concerns that have not been addressed in the appointment. If you are being sent home with any preventatives or medication, be sure you understand the directions for administration. Clarifying anything you are uncertain about is always a safer route than guessing.

Finally, you will be asked for payment as you leave. Clinics will offer a detailed invoice, so you can see exactly how much you are being charged, and for which services. Feel free to ask questions if there is something on your invoice that you do not understand.

   8)  The Next Steps

Be sure to book your next vaccine appointment! You can expect your puppy to need vaccinating at approximately 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age.  Consult with your veterinarian for Fido’s specific schedule.

Also, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your puppy’s reaction to the vaccines given. While it is normal for animals to seem a little tired or sore for a day or two after getting poked, if you are concerned, it is better to be safe than sorry!

Reactions that warrant immediate veterinary attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Facial swelling or the appearance of ‘hives’
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Collapse

Check out the American Veterinary Medical Association’s page for more information on "What to expect after your puppy’s vaccines".

Do not wait for your next scheduled appointment if new concerns arise. Be aware of what is Fido’s ‘normal’ so that you can quickly identify if anything changes.