When you welcome a dog into your home, one of the first tasks you’re faced with is finding a veterinarian. Throughout the years, you’ll turn to and rely on your vet a lot. So, you need to find someone that you like and trust. But, through your pet’s life journey from spry puppy to aging senior, how often do you really need to visit your vet? Are annual exams really worth the money? Let’s take a closer look!
Annual Veterinarian Exams: Are They Necessary?
Before we dive into a dog’s needs during the various life stages, let’s start with the general guidelines. Just like we see our primary care doctors once a year for a physical exam, it’s recommended that our canine companions see their doctors (AKA the veterinarian) once a year for a check-up (or twice a year for seniors, but we’ll talk more about that below).
I know a lot of pet parents question: “But my dog is healthy. Do I really need to waste money on an annual check-up?” If your budget allows, annual exams really are worth it because preventative healthcare can help prolong your dog’s life!
During your dog’s annual exam, your vet will:
- Ask a lot of questions about diet, eating habits, drinking habits, eliminating patterns, exercise, behavior, lifestyle, and general health.
- Check your dog from snout to tail. This includes taking your pup’s temperature, listening to their chest (heart/lungs) with a stethoscope, conducting an eye exam, checking their ears, checking their teeth, and feeling all over the body to make sure there aren’t any abnormalities.
- Blood work – Your vet will likely run a Complete Blood Count (CBC) which is a count and examination of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen. White blood cells play a key role in immunity. Platelets are required for blood clotting. In addition, a series of blood chemistries such as Glucose, Electrolytes, Protein, Cholesterol, Thyroid, Liver, Kidney function, etc., will be done to ensure your dog’s organs and systems are functioning as they should. It’s really very similar to what we humans would have done at our yearly check-up.
- Stool sample – Your vet will likely ask you to bring a fresh stool sample for the labs to microscopically evaluate, ensuring there are no parasites.
- Urine Sample – Your vet may ask you to bring a urine sample to check your pup’s kidneys.
- Your vet may recommend additional testing during the wellness exam, depending on your dog’s unique needs.
By thoroughly checking your dog’s health, and updating these records each year, it gives you and your vet a baseline of your dog’s health status. Knowing what is normal is key to recognizing anything that may change or become abnormal. These regular check-ups can help you uncover a disease or condition before your dog ever shows signs of illness. Early detection can make a huge difference in treatment, recovery, and cost!
Dogs Age Faster Than Humans
Still not convinced your dog needs updated records on a yearly basis? Get this: Dogs age quicker than humans. While a lot of people think 1 dog year = 7 human years, research shows that’s actually not true!
Different breeds age at different rates. Plus, aging happens faster/slower at certain times in a dog’s life. The American Kennel Club (AKC) created this infographic to give you a better look:
When you first bring a new puppy home, it can feel like you live at the vet’s office. That’s because, during puppyhood, experts recommend monthly wellness visits (where the vet monitors your new puppy’s development) and a pretty frequent vaccine schedule.
Your puppy’s vaccination series will begin when he/she is approximately 6 weeks old, and puppy shots should be completed around 16 weeks of age. While your vet may recommend additional, non-core vaccines based on your unique circumstances, here is a basic puppy shot schedule:
- 6–8 weeks: first DHLPPC shot (combined vaccine for Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza, and Corona). IMPORTANT NOTE: I have listed the complete version of a puppy shot, however, your puppy’s may look slightly different. For example, when my dogs were puppies, they didn’t get Leptospirosis. Your vet will help guide you based on your puppy’s lifestyle and risk level. Regardless, puppy shots are given in a series over their first few months of life.
- 10–12 weeks: second DHLPPC shot
- 12–16 weeks: rabies
- 14–16 weeks: third DHLPPC shot
Once the puppy shots are finished, you likely won’t have to visit the vet again until your dog’s spay or neuter surgery. Then, your vet will help you schedule your dog’s booster shots around the one-year mark.
Once your puppy turns 1 and enters into adulthood, you’ll head back to the vet’s office for their first check-up and boosters for parvo, distemper, and rabies. If your dog goes to the groomer, doggy daycare, or is often in boarding then your vet may recommend additional non-core vaccines, like Bordatella. But, I urge all pet parents to really think about their dog’s lifestyle and risk level before pumping unnecessary vaccines into their dog’s body. Find out more about core and non-core vaccines in my guide HERE.
Throughout your years of wellness visits, some will call for vaccine boosters and others will strictly be a check-up. For the years that call for boosters, I encourage all pet parents to talk to their vet about titers. Titers are a blood test that will check the status of your fur baby’s immunity (antibodies). After you get the results, you will know whether or not your pup actually needs a booster shot.
As your dog ages and becomes a senior citizen canine, he’ll become more prone to illness and age-related health issues. That’s why veterinarians usually recommend senior dogs have a semi-annual wellness check, scheduled every six months.
Needs will vary depending on your dog’s unique circumstances.