10 Things to Ask at Your First Vet Visit
There are no stupid questions...well, when it comes to your dog’s health.
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You and your new pet are probably both pretty anxious about your first visit to the vet together; an unfamiliar place full of strangers and sharp objects is no spa day. But that initial appointment is an opportunity for you to finally square up all the research you’ve done with a professional IRL. Just getting them on the scale is its own special event so while your dog is being distracted by the free biscuits, take a minute to review these important questions with your vet.
1. What should I feed my pet?
The food your vet recommends will depend on a combination of things: your pup’s health, age, and breed. Just like our own diets impact how we feel, it’s important to nail your dog’s nutrition — so be sure to ask about this and don’t just default to whatever brand has the best packaging. The vet will have advice on what to feed your pet, from their puppy to senior stages.
2. What vaccines does my dog need?
Recos for your dog’s vaccines will also be based on a few factors: which ones they’ve already received, their risk of being exposed to diseases, and their age. This info will help vets choose the right inoculations for your dog rather than overdoing it. (Reactions to vaccines are pretty rare in pets, but that doesn’t mean they need all the puppy shots.) Will they go to dog parks, doggie daycare, or be boarded at a kennel? Where they hang out (and who with) will help guide your vax choices. If you don’t have their records, the vet can make recommendations. Age is a major factor, since puppies need routine shots early on, while older dogs usually get vaccinated annually. Your vet is more than capable of running the show when it comes to your dog’s inoculations, but don’t be shy — jump in with questions if you’re wondering why certain ones are being given or skipped.
3. How much exercise does my dog need?
Some people plan their lives around jogging and tennis and the like, while others consider their walk from the couch to the fridge to be ample cardio. The same thing goes for dogs. Your vet can fill you in on where your dog falls on the spectrum, and like with many other questions on this list, it’s probably going to be informed by your dog’s breed, age, and health. For example, Border Collie puppies have lots more energy to burn than Yorkshire Terrier puppies. Keep in mind that young dogs generally need to tread lightly until their bones fuse at around nine months, so put the 10-mile hike on hold until after that milestone.
4. When should I spay or neuter my dog?
There’s a massive pet overpopulation problem in the United States, so it’s usually recommended to have female pets spayed and male pets neutered as soon as possible. But exceptions will be made based on age, weight, and health condition (i.e. a puppy that’s too tiny shouldn’t go under anesthesia until they’re bigger). Your vet will let you know when the right time is to go in for the snip.
5. How much should I save up to cover my pet’s health needs?
Even puppies that may already be vaccinated and spayed/neutered will still run into health issues at some point that will need your (and your wallet’s) attention. This is where pet insurance comes in to give you peace of mind. You may not see the value in a premium when your pup is young and healthy, but trust me, that investment will pay for itself the day your puppy swallows a sock or senior dog develops a mass. Your vet may be able to recommend which insurance companies they work with regularly and trust. If you forego pet insurance, start squirreling away money for an emergency fund. You should never have to compromise your pet’s health care.
6. How can I get my pet to stop [any one of the maddening things puppies do]?
Even the most mild-mannered pup doesn’t come pre-programmed, so don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements if you need help with training. Ask your vet to recommend a dog behaviorist so you can nip behavioral issues in the bud while your pup is still young and amenable.
7. Does my pup needs preventative meds?
Preventing parasites also depends on your pet’s age, lifestyle, and exposure risk, but you need to consider the humans in your home and their risks, too. Children and immunocompromised people are more likely to get infected with a parasite that jumps from pets to humans. Most parasites, likes fleas and ticks, can be prevented with monthly chewables or topicals. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquito, so a preventive is recommended during warmer months (but year-round in sub-tropical climes).
8. What household items are dangerous to my dog?
We know that, as a new pet parent, one can easily lose sleep wondering if your last surviving succulent or your Yuzu-scented floor cleaner are an issue now that you have a dog in the house. Rest easy because your vet can walk you through all the dos and don’ts you can think of, and then some. If you still find yourself mentally scanning through all your cupboards after the appointment, there are plenty of online resources like the Pet Poison Helpline that can support in the moment.
9. When is it safe to travel with my dog?
Traveling with your dog is a ton of fun, and watching their ears flap in the wind when they stick their head out of the car window is just the beginning. Before you hit the trails, double-check with your vet what precautions you might need to take, i.e. adding a tick collar or Lyme vaccine to the preventative game plan if you’ll be in an area where deer ticks are common.
10. How can I reach you if (ahem, when) I have more questions?
The odds of you getting all your questions answered during that first appointment are pretty slim, admittedly, but this is your first of many vet visits. Your vet is going to be an ally throughout your pet parenthood and they care about your dog’s wellbeing. Go ahead and ask them what the best way to reach them is when you have a question, but also locate the nearest 24/7 clinic in case of an emergency after hours.
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Oneal Bogan, DVM
Oneal Bogan, DVM, is a mixed animal veterinarian from Colorado. Dr. Bogan loves the variety of animals she gets to work with. She owns her own mobile practice which provides at-home care to large and small animals. Dr. Bogan also works at a local small animal clinic. In her free time, Dr. Bogan loves to hike, ride horses, and read. She also loves writing and hopes her advice helps all pets live a happy, healthy life.