Most people stick to an annual check-up for their pets. But is that enough?
How often you take your dog to the vet depends on your dog’s life stage and general health. For example, puppies and senior dogs need more frequent visits, while healthy adults can stick to annual check-ups. If you’re nervous about the cost of vet visits, keep in mind that preventative health care can keep your pet healthier longer, and may even save you money in the long run.
Read on to learn why annual vet visits are important, when to schedule additional appointments, and what common treatments, tests, and vaccinations your dog may need.
Annual wellness exam
In general, all dogs should have a complete physical check-up at least once per year. Think of it as routine maintenance for your dog. These “wellness exams” give you a chance to track your dog’s growth and development, and discuss any concerns with your vet. Most importantly, annual examinations are a key part of preventative care.
Preventative care is an umbrella term for all the stuff you do to take care of your dog: good nutrition, appropriate exercise, and regular vet care. The idea is that by taking your dog for routine wellness exams, you can make informed choices that benefit their health. You’ll also find out about illnesses or issues early, which can be key in successful treatment.
What Is the Annual Vet Exam?
During annual wellness exams, the vet will give your dog an all-over check-up. They’ll listen to their heart and lungs, look at their eyes and ears, check for fleas and other common afflictions. They’ll also update any vaccinations needed. After the exam, the vet may make suggestions for your dog’s nutrition and dental care, or recommendations for activities and medications specific to your pup’s health status. Over time, you’ll have a complete record of your pet’s health.
According to the American Association of Animal Hospitals, “pets are more likely to get sick if they don’t visit a veterinarian at least annually.” Being proactive about your dog’s health can keep them healthier longer, and save you money in the long run!
For a convenient option that’s often quite affordable, you can even have a vet come to your house. Services like Vetted help make it easy to bring the vet to you. They’e offering Rover readers $50 off, in fact!
Some local vet offices also offer in-home visits; be sure to ask if you think your pet would benefit.
Birth to one year: vaccinations and more
When you get a puppy, you become well acquainted with the vet! Experts recommend monthly wellness exams during early puppyhood (source). That’s once every 3–4 weeks until they’re 16 weeks old, following a basic vaccine schedule.
Here’s a basic vaccination schedule for young puppies.
- 6–8 weeks: first DHLPPC shot (combined vaccine for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvo and corona). This one is given in a series over your puppy’s first year.
- 10–12 weeks: second DHLPPC shot
- 12–24 weeks: rabies
- 14–16 weeks: third DHLPPC shot
Keep in mind, your puppy’s vaccination needs and schedule may vary depending on your location and your puppy’s particular health profile. Work with your vet to establish an appropriate course for your pup.
During puppy wellness visits, the vet will examine your puppy to make sure they’re developing well and staying healthy. Once the vaccine schedule is done, you may not come back until your puppy is spayed or neutered at around six months old.
Puppy vet schedules can seem like a big investment of time and money. But vaccines protect your puppy from dangerous diseases. What’s more, by getting your puppy used to the vet early on, you’ll help ensure a positive relationship with the vet for life!
Adulthood (1–7 years)
As mentioned previously, adult dogs typically need annual wellness exams. At the first yearly checkup, when your dog is a year old, many dogs get a distemper-parvo and rabies booster shot. If your dog goes to doggy daycare, they’ll probably get a kennel cough vaccine, as well. On subsequent annual visits, your dog may need rabies boosters (the timing can vary by state).
As your dog ages, the annual exam will continue to include a head-to-tail checkup, heartworm test, dental exam, and often, vaccination updates. Note that there is some controversy about whether adult dogs need annual vaccination boosters. Dr. T.J. Dunn, DVM, explains that many veterinarians err on the side of caution when it comes to giving the booster shots, but this is changing. The American Association of Animal Hospitals has released new guidelines about pet vaccines that suggest only giving certain boosters every few years, for example; it’s worth bringing this up with your vet for discussion if you have an adult dog.
At an annual exam, the vet will also ask about your dog’s behavior, training, and overall wellness. Depending on concerns you bring up, or observations the vet makes during the exam, they may recommend other tests.
Ideally, you’ll form a friendly and productive relationship with the veterinarian over time. And if your dog’s not a fan of these vet visits? At least you only have to go once a year!
Senior years (8+ years)
Older dogs have more particular health needs and are more prone to illness and age-related injury. For that reason, senior dogs should see the vet semi-annually, approximately every six months.
In addition to the regular wellness-check stuff, your vet may recommend a variety of diagnostic tests for your senior dog. These can include annual blood tests and fecal tests, and perhaps chest radiographs, ultrasounds, and a blood pressure test.
Diagnostic tests help your vet assess your dog’s health, and also provide a baseline against which future tests can be compared (source). The results can be super-helpful later on if your dog develops an illness, because the vet can go back and see what “normal” looks like for your dog.
As your dog gets older, your vet may recommend more frequent visits depending on their health. More frequent vet visits will catch changes more quickly and can give your vet more time to treat issues as they arise.
When to go to the vet right away
Ideally, annual and semi-annual visits will be the only veterinary attention your dog needs. But emergencies do come up, and knowing the signs can help you make a quick decision during those crucial first moments.
If your dog shows any of these symptoms, go to the animal ER right away:
- Has been hit by a car or a blunt object falling more than a few feet
- Is unconscious and won’t wake up
- Has stopped breathing, or is having trouble breathing
- Has been vomiting or had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or is vomiting blood
- You think they may have broken bones
- Is having a seizure
- Has pale gums
- Has ingested something toxic like antifreeze, rat poison, or household cleaners
- Shows signs of extreme pain (whining, shaking, or refusing to socialize)
- Suddenly collapses or can’t stand up
- Is suddenly disoriented
- Has a swollen, hard abdomen
Keep in mind, you know your dog best. Trust your instincts! If your pup’s behavior suddenly changes, a vet visit is in order. And don’t worry about contacting the vet too often. They’re medical professionals, and they want to help.
The Bottom Line
Preventative healthcare at all ages can prolong your dog’s life. And once you find a vet you love, it will be a pleasure to visit them at least once per year.