How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?
If you want your dog to live a long and happy life, you have to take care of their health.
They can’t do that by themselves, so it’s up to us, dog owners, to be informed well and monitor our pets for any sign of an illness.
However, prevention is always better than cure. This means regular vet visits are a must for your furry best friend.
But what exactly is considered a ‘regular’ visit to the vet?
If you’re asking yourself ‘How often should I take my dog to the vet?’, then we will discuss that in this article.
The Short Answer
Taking your pet to the vet regularly means being there at least once a year. Most serious illnesses can be dealt with better if they are caught on time.
And that’s only possible if you pay attention to your dog’s health and have a regular vet check as well.
However, depending on your dog’s age and their genetics, or any other conditions they may have, you may need to take them more often than this.
But don’t worry, your vet will tell you if more frequent visits are necessary. All you need to do is listen to them.
Before we take a look at how frequently you need to go to the vet with your dog depending on their age, let’s talk about what this annual checkup actually is.
What to Expect in the Annual Checkup
The yearly checkup for a dog doesn’t differ much from your annual checkup.
It’s basically when a doctor examines you from head to toe. Or tail, in your dog's case.
While people usually go into checkups with a specialist (if necessary), a single vet will be enough for your dog.
No need to go to specialists unless there is a problem.
The exam consists of the vet checking your dog’s eyes, ears, mouth (teeth), limbs and any other parts that may need special attention.
You can expect the vet to ask you questions about your pet’s diet, habits, activity levels and general behavior.
The vet then uses the information you gave, to give you recommendations and suggestions for improvement, and tell you when you should come next time.
How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet - a Year by Year Schedule
Now that we know how the yearly exam looks like, let’s talk about the needs of your dog during their life.
It goes something like this - when they are little, they need more attention.
During adulthood, the vet visits become rarer. Once they get old, you may need to increase the number of vet visits again.
But let’s go into a bit more detail.
The First Year of Life
As we said, for the first several months of your dog's life, you’ll get to know your vet well. And you should, as should your dog.
Now is the time to find a great vet you have excellent communication and a relationship with, and ideally stick with them for good.
Your dog also needs to get to know the vet and realize that nothing horrible is going to happen.
Although the first couple of visits are a bit more stressful because of the vaccines your dog will get.
You can expect to have at least 5 vet visits in the first 16 weeks.
Puppies usually get dewormed first, and after this treatment is successfully finished, they get their shots. This is what you can expect:
- Week 2: The puppy gets dewormed for the first time
- Week 4: The deworming treatment is repeated
- Week 6: If necessary, the treatment is repeated again, but this is not always the case
- Week 8: Your puppy gets the first round of shots. They get a combined vaccine for parvo, distemper, corona, hepatitis, and parainfluenza. It’s called the DA2PP vaccine
- Week 10-12: The second DA2PP shot is administered together with a leptospirosis shot
- Week 12-16: The previous two shots are repeated and the rabies vaccine is also administered now, or at a later date
This is what you can expect if you have a completely healthy puppy.
If by any chance you find a puppy in the street, or it gets sick when it’s little, vaccinations are postponed.
In this case, you don’t visit the vet until your dog gets healthy, and then you can be put on the schedule above.
During the first year, you also need to come back to get your dog spayed or neutered.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, when to spay or neuter your dog depends on the professional assessment of your vet.
Many things influence this decision, such as age, breed, sex, weight etc. In general, you can expect this to happen between 6 and 15 months of age.
The Adult Years
The adult years are less dynamic when it comes to going to the vet. If your dog is generally healthy, years 1 to 7 should be peaceful with only 1 vet visit per year.
This is when the vet checks your dog's general health and you work on the prevention of conditions according to their recommendations.
You can also expect your dog to receive another rabies shot every year.
This is a general practice and is the reason why rabies is almost gone in places where animals get their shots regularly.
Use the annual checkup to bring up any concerns or questions you may have.
Instead of Googling problems (although that’s not bad either), use the opportunity to consult with a professional who knows your dog and is in the same room with it.
They can give you recommendations based on your unique situation.
If it happens that your vet discovers something alarming during the annual checkup, don’t be worried right away.
If you come once a year, chances are that something can be done about it. In this case, further analysis may be required.
Another thing that may require you to take your dog to the vet more often during adult years is grooming.
Of course, you can just take your dog to the groomer, but some vet offices offer this service too.
Some pet owners also prefer this service done at the vets. So, remember to take this into account.
If your dog needs grooming every month or every 3 months, you may end up going to the vets much more often.
The Senior Years
Once your dog turns 8, you’re entering the ’old dog club’. As with people, your dog will start to experience old age in various different ways.
Some dogs have incredible genetics, and their health doesn’t change much. But some are not that lucky and they start developing certain conditions.
This is why it’s smart to start visiting your vet every six months.
Not only will this help detect any illnesses earlier, but you’ll be able to act faster which is crucial for an older dog.
At this point, the yearly exam may start to include some more thorough analysis, including blood work.
It's useful to have these results to compare to, if your dog develops any conditions later on.
When Should You Take Your Dog to the Vet Right Away?
When we talk about yearly vet visits, we of course talk about completely healthy dogs.
However, there are several situations which call for an urgent visit to the vet. If you notice some of the following things, don’t wait for the yearly checkup.
Go to the vet right now if your dog:
- Refuses to eat after more than 24 hours, even his favorite foods
- Vomits or has diarrhea for more than 24 hours
- Vomits blood or has blood in the stool
- Rapidly loses weight
- Has any physical injury, such as broken bones, open wounds etc.
- Has a seizure
- Loses consciousness or stops breathing
- Has eaten something sharp, toxic or anything that could cause bowel obstruction
- Has pale or seriously inflamed gums
- Shows that they’re in pain
- Has a hard or a swollen abdomen
- Shows a dramatic change in behavior seemingly without a cause
- Becomes lethargic, unwilling to move or get up at all
All of these are very real reasons to get worried.
Sometimes, you won’t be able to get an appointment with your vet right away. In this case, don’t wait a couple of days, since it may be too late.
Either contact other vet offices, or take your pet to the pet ER.
Depending on where you’re located, you will probably have an emergency vet within driving distance.
If you know you live in an area where you can’t get emergency help, make sure you are prepared to help your dog on your own.
You’ll need some basic supplies and someone to teach you what to do. The best thing you can do is get advice and training from your vet.
What Are the Benefits of Prevention?
Now that we answered your question of ‘How often should I take my dog to the vet?’, let’s answer another question you may have - why?
Why take your dog at all if they don’t show any signs of discomfort?
Well, as we mentioned in a couple of places in this article, it’s all about prevention. But what are the exact benefits of prevention for you and your dog?
Let’s start with your dog. You’re probably aware that animals tend to hide the fact that they are sick.
This is a survival mechanism developed thousands of years ago. A weak animal will not survive in the wild.
Therefore, they don’t show their enemy they are weak. Cats are a master of this, but dogs are not far from it as well.
Lucky for you, their instinct to hide their pain weakened as they grew closer to humans, so there are signs you can pick up.
Getting back to the benefits of prevention - if you take your dog to the vet, a professional will pick up these signs even faster and you’ll be able to stop your dog from suffering.
How’s that for a benefit? But what about you? What do you get from taking your dog to the vet’s office sooner rather than later?
The obvious answer – cost.
A vet can prevent some conditions from appearing in the first place. But let’s give you specific examples. Let’s talk about some average vet costs.
For starters, an annual vet visit will cost you between $45 and $55. This can prevent diabetes for example, which will cost you almost $3000 to treat for a year.
Same goes for dental disease where yearly treatment costs are $519 on average.
As you can see, prevention pays off more than paying for treatments in the long run.
Things That May Stop You From Taking Your Dog to the Vet
Finally, let’s tackle some common issues that people run into, which prevents them from going for regular checkups with their dog.
The first common issue is the attitude of the owner. You may think that regular checkups are not that important.
However, it’s better to be safe than sorry. We explained the financial benefits. But maybe that’s not important to you.
But we’re sure your dog's comfort is. As a responsible and loving owner, you don’t want your pet to suffer.
They can’t say ’Hey! I’m not feeling well!”, so you have to take the responsibility of noticing that and acting on it.
The next common problem is the anxiety that both you and your pet may have when you go to the vet.
This anxiety can be so severe that you just want to avoid the vet as long as you can, until it’s no longer possible.
And we completely understand that. We’ve all been there.
Nobody likes going to the doctors, but it’s just one of those things you have to go through for your own good.
One thing you can do to overcome this problem is finding a great vet. Having good communication with them and your dog getting to know them can help a lot.
Another thing to do is tell your vet that you’re feeling anxious for your dog and you think it’s really stressful for them to visit a vet.
Your vet may have some words of wisdom for you and will try to accommodate your dog's needs as best as they can, so that the anxiety you’re both feeling is reduced.
No Vet Nearby
If you’re living in a more rural area, you may not have a vet nearby, or they don’t work with small animals.
This is a really tricky obstacle to overcome.
If this is the case, use every possible chance to bring your dog to a vet when you go somewhere where there is one.
Even if that’s once every 2 years, it’s better than never.
Get in contact with your neighbors, who may travel more often than you, and ask them to take your dog with them if possible.
You can also get in contact with a vet online and see if they can do a tele-checkup.
This is a bit unconventional, but it’s a standard practice in human medicine as well, so why not try.
Lack of Time
Work, family, home, travel – all of this is taking up so much of your time. You simply cannot prioritize going for a checkup with your dog if it's not absolutely necessary.
Or maybe the issue is not prioritizing, but simply you can’t take free time off work.
This is also a common problem. In that case, try reaching out to your friends and family, and see if they can help you.
If you don’t have anyone to reach out to, try connecting with people within your community that are dog lovers and have pets of their own.
Maybe you know them from Facebook, or you met them in the dog park.
In any case, some of them will have time and be willing to help you with taking your dog to the vet.
Lack of Money
Last, but not least is the problem of paying for the vet.
As you saw above, vet costs are notoriously expensive in the US, but the average cost of the annual checkup is not so huge.
If you save up $5 every month for a year, you’ll be able to afford it. However, our best recommendation is to get pet insurance.
You can choose your monthly premium, and it’s not so high even if you choose a plan with very good coverage.
This will help pay for annual checkups, as well as any other costs you might need to cover.
Every new pet owner asks themselves ’How often should I take my dog to the vet?’ and the answer is really not that complex.
You can compare this to your situation.
You know that you should also be going to health and wellness exams once a year. The same goes for your dog.
If you get sick, then you go to the doctor more often. Again, your dog should too. There’s no need to avoid going to the vet.
If you have any issues or reasons not to go, we proposed some solutions to the most common reasons.
Get advice from other pet owners if you have problems that we didn’t mention.
At the end of the day, you’ll do everything to secure a happy and a healthy life for your pet. A vet visit is an essential part of that.
So go on, call your vet, get an appointment and be your dog's best friend!