As pet parents, we are tasked with keeping our furry family members happy and healthy. This involves providing your pup with a loving home, a healthy and balanced diet, meeting their mental and physical needs, and taking them to the vet if they get sick or injured. But a big part of keeping your dog healthy also involves preventative and wellness veterinary care, including vaccines, parasite prevention, and routine physical exams and diagnostics.
So how often should you take your dog to the vet? The minimum is once a year, however, a lot will depend on their stage of life and any underlying conditions that they may have.
How Often Should You Take a Puppy to the Vet?
Just like babies, puppies (birth to one year) need to see the vet more frequently. This is mainly due to their vaccine schedule, which usually involves shots every three to four weeks until they are at least 16 weeks of age.
Why Do Puppies Need so Many Shots?
Puppies get some immunity from their mom by drinking colostrum (the very first milk that she produces after giving birth), however by around 14-20 weeks of age these maternal antibodies are gone. If vaccines are given while maternal antibodies are still present they will be inactivated, however if they are given too late then a puppy is left vulnerable to disease. Therefore vaccines are often given every two to four weeks to ensure that a puppy is well protected during this period.
A sample schedule of core vaccines (those recommended for all dogs) is provided below.
- Rabies – A single dose at 16 weeks of age with a booster one year later. Thereafter this vaccine can be given every three years.
- Parvovirus, Distemper Virus, and Adenovirus-2 (plus or minus Parainfluenza) – One dose given every three to four weeks beginning at six to eight weeks of age, with the last dose given after 16 weeks of age. This means that most puppies will receive three or four doses of this combination vaccine before they are considered fully vaccinated. In puppies over 16 weeks of age, only two shots are required three to four weeks apart. A booster is required one year later, then this vaccine can be given every three years.
Non-core vaccines are recommended based on lifestyle and exposure risk, and include Leptospirosis, Lyme, Bordetella, Influenza, among others. Your vet can discuss which of these vaccines are recommended for your dog and when is the best time to give them.
Other Key Components of Puppy Visits
Frequent veterinary visits for puppies also have other benefits. They give your vet a chance to examine your puppy and monitor for any congenital defects such as cleft palate, heart murmur, hernias, dental issues, undescended testicles, etc. They will also check in about key issues like house training, puppy training classes, socialization, and when to get them spayed or neutered (usually around six months of age).
Intestinal parasites are extremely common in puppies, so it is important for your vet to check a fecal sample and begin deworming and monthly flea, heartworm, and parasite prevention for your pup.
Puppies go through a developmental period known as the socialization period, between approximately three and 14 weeks of age. This is the best time to expose them to many new people, experiences, and environments. After eight weeks of age your puppy may be more fearful of new situations. Repetitive positive experiences at the vet clinic during this time go a long way in leading to an adult dog who is well-adapted and easy to handle when medical situations arise. Be sure your pet’s care team uses fear free techniques, to make the visits as pleasant as possible.
How Often Should You Take an Adult Dog to the Vet?
Adult dogs (one to seven years of age) should see the vet once a year, even if they are not due for vaccines. For adult dogs many vaccines are due every three years, however some are due yearly. If your adult dog has never been vaccinated before they will need some additional booster shots to ensure an appropriate immune response. Your vet will likely recommend a heartworm and fecal test, and refill your flea, heartworm, and parasite prevention at your pup’s annual exam.
A physical exam every year is a critical part of your dog’s wellness care. Since our dogs can’t speak, your vet will rely on a thorough history from you, a nose-to-tail physical exam, data (like their weight, temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate), and any indicated diagnostic tests to assess your pet’s health. They will discuss any questions or concerns that you may have.
There are several health conditions that often affect middle age dogs including dental disease, allergies, lumps and bumps on or under the skin, and systemic diseases such as diabetes. It is important to catch these conditions early when they may be easier to treat. Even if your dog appears healthy at home, it is important not to skip these yearly checkups.
How Often Should You Take a Senior Dog to the Vet?
For a healthy senior pet (generally 7+ years of age), twice-yearly vet visits are recommended. In addition to the wellness care mentioned above, your vet may recommend bloodwork plus or minus x-rays, to help evaluate their overall systemic health and determine the baseline blood values for your dog. Dogs with medical conditions or those taking long-term medication will need to be seen more frequently. Additional focus during a senior pet exam may include discussion of pain management for arthritis, changes to hearing, vision, and cognitive decline, dental disease, and other conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, and cancer that can commonly affect our senior pets.
When is Additional Veterinary Care Indicated?
The above recommendations apply only to wellness care in healthy dogs. Of course, if your dog is sick or if you are concerned that they may be having an emergency, you should seek veterinary care immediately. More frequent veterinary visits may be needed if:
- Your dog is sick or injured
- Your dog has been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition
- Your dog is recovering from a recent surgery or procedure
- Your dog is on long-term medication
- Your dog is unvaccinated or overdue for certain vaccines
- You plan to breed your dog