TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR NEW DOG TO THE VET
WHEN TO TAKE YOUR NEW PUPPY OR DOG TO THE VET
Whether you’re bringing home a new puppy or adopting an adult dog, don’t procrastinate: see the veterinarian as soon as you can. The goal for your first visit to the veterinarian with your new puppy or adult dog should be fostering enthusiasm for the vet instead of instigating fear: your dog should be excited about the interesting smells, new dogs, and that tasty biscuit awaiting her at the end of the visit.
There should be no agenda for your dog or puppy’s first vet visit except a friendly meet-and-greet: no emergency, no serious health issue, not even a routine vaccination. A dog’s first visit to the vet should be a low-key checkup that allows the vet to get a sense of the dog’s personality and condition, and gives the dog a chance for a positive interaction with the doctor. Read on for useful tips to help your puppy or dog develop a positive association with her visits to the vet.
- STAY RELAXED AROUND YOUR DOG AT THE VET’S OFFICE
How you behave at the vet’s office will influence your dog’s experience there. Make it a point to be upbeat and unconcerned from the moment you go into the office until after you leave. Your relaxed attitude will have a positive effect on your dog and set the tone for future vet visits. This is true whether you have a small puppy who doesn’t know enough to be nervous, or you’ve inherited an anxious dog who becomes frantic and salivates at the first whiff of the vet’s office.
Other people in the waiting room may be nervous, too; dog owners may be afraid of getting bad medical news about their pet—or uncomfortable about what other dogs (or their own) may do in the waiting room. And you may be more anxious than you realize. How you interact with your dog communicates to her not just how you’re feeling, but how she should react.
- YOUR TOUCH AND TONE AFFECT YOUR DOG AT THE VET’S
Your hands and voice will influence the outcome of your dog’s first veterinary experience and all the other vet visits to follow. Your tone of voice, how you touch your dog, and how you hold her dog leash —all of these communicate to her your frame of mind.
- ANY APPARENT TENSION YOU MAY HAVE WILL FUEL A DOG’S ANXIETY
Even if you don’t really feel it, talk to the pup in a cheery “Isn’t this fun?” tone of voice at the vet’s office. Reassure her with slow, soothing pats instead of brisk, nervous ones. Give her the impression that everything is fine; handle this as a nice social visit with a treat for her at the end.
- SPEAK TO YOUR DOG SLOWLY AND STEADILY IN A LOW, CALM PITCH
Beware of using a clipped or choppy voice. Think of the way a carriage driver helps to stop his horse by saying “Whoooaaa there.” Say “Gooood dog,” to achieve a similar calming effect. Making this effort can slow you down and make you more mellow, too.
- WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG FREAKS OUT AT THE VET’S
If your dog has a meltdown the minute you open the door to the vet’s office, don’t react: carry on as if it weren’t happening. Dismiss this terrified behavior with a chipper, pleasant response such as, “Oh come on, let’s go on in.”
- DO NOT TRY TO COMFORT AND REASSURE A REACTIVE DOG
Don’t croon, “Oh no, poor doggy is upset, what can I do?” to a whining, cringing dog. Although it may sound counterintuitive, showing sympathy to a dog who is panting and trembling gives her the impression that you’re worried, too. If your dog is anxious or downright terrified, you’ll help her more by ignoring her. Show affection with long, massaging strokes, not the pat-pat-pat kind of touching that can actually agitate a dog rather than calm her.
HOW AND WHEN TO TAKE YOUR PUPPY TO THE VET
Hospitals for humans are dangerous places for the very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Hospitals are where sick people go, and their illnesses can spread, no matter how clean or well-run the hospital. As with human hospitals, veterinarians’ waiting rooms are notorious places for disease to spread, certainly highly contagious ones like kennel cough (also known as Bordetella); keep your puppy protected.
- NEVER PUT A SMALL PUPPY ON THE FLOOR AT THE VET’S
Puppies are physically vulnerable because their immune systems are not yet fully developed, and they still lack protection from immunizations against common dog illnesses. Keep your puppy in your arms in the vet’s waiting room. Do not put her on the floor or allow her to sniff or play with any other puppy or dog there, even if the other dog’s owner assures you the dog is vaccinated and in good health—an adult dog can carry an infectious disease that doesn’t affect his strong constitution, but can still sicken a puppy.
Once inside the examining room, put your puppy on the metal examining table only after the table has been disinfected, and massage her or play a little, using all aspects of this first vet visit to give her the feeling that being here is lots of fun.
- PUPPY INOCULATIONS AND VACCINATIONS
Puppies must have a series of inoculations and vaccinations to protect their health. The first set is given when the puppy is six to seven weeks of age, and she’ll receive additional shots every month for about a year at your vet’s discretion.
- INTESTINAL WORMS IN PUPPIES
Worms in the intestinal tract are normal for dogs, especially puppies. In fact, puppies are normally born with roundworms, which they get from the placenta or directly from their mother’s milk. Intestinal parasites are impossible to avoid completely, so the puppy’s stool should be checked every time you have an appointment for vaccinations. Before each vet visit for puppy shots, prepare a baggie with a stool sample, preferably from that day.
TAKING MULTIPLE DOGS TO THE VET
Depending on your canine crew, you may need a saintly vet and attendants, since multiple dogs will crowd the examining room and require extra focus from the staff. But there is a good reason to take all your dogs to the vet, even if only one is being treated: your sick dog’s “siblings” can reassure her and help her feel better. It’s a good learning experience for everyone and, if nothing else, helps divert attention from the stress of the vet visit. There is not a significant health risk for adult dogs at the vet’s—the danger of getting ill there applies to unvaccinated puppies, or any very ill dog with a compromised immune system.
And if your healthy dog is vet-frightened, then going as a tagalong with her sick sibling can also help desensitize your dog, giving her the chance for a low-stress experience at the vet’s office: she’ll enjoy interesting sights, sounds, and smells, plus a crunchy snack on the way out, without so much as a look in her ear by anyone in a white jacket. If you have only one dog and she is fearful of the vet, take her along on a friend’s vet appointment or stop in at the veterinary clinic at random times for a treat.
A WORD OF CAUTION ABOUT RETURNING HOME FROM THE VET’S
When only one dog from a multiple-dog household returns from a visit to the veterinarian’s, the other dogs may not recognize her right away. This can happen if she has a prolonged stay for a procedure like X-rays or surgery. She will smell different to her buddies back home, whether from the office itself or chemical odors following procedures. Perhaps this makes the dog’s own smell suddenly unfamiliar to her housemates; be prepared for them to treat each other like strangers. If the reintroduction takes place outside or in a larger area, there’s a better chance of a quick resolution. Try to let the homecoming dog out of the car to reorient herself for a minute so she’s better prepared to deal with the possibly tense greeting from dog siblings who seem not to recognize her.
WHEN TO SEEK A SECOND OPINION FROM ANOTHER VET
As with human medicine, there are times when another doctor’s advice is helpful in determining the best treatment plan for your dog—and just as with human doctors, it can feel awkward to look for another professional’s advice. But in both canine and human medicine, the secure and intelligent doctor will always welcome a colleague’s input, because two brains really may be better than one when making a complex diagnosis.
YOUR DOG’S PRIMARY VET MAY ENCOURAGE A SECOND OPINION
It may be your vet who suggests that you seek out another opinion. If s/he stays “in the loop” your vet can run interference, consult with the specialist, and be involved in the ongoing decisions. This is the best scenario, because it saves you from awkwardness when broaching the subject with your vet and initiating that second opinion. Many primary vets believe it is their obligation to notify an owner of the availability of a board-certified specialist, especially if their own diagnosis and treatment have been unsuccessful.
A number of specialized veterinary facilities actually require a referral from a family vet in order for you to make an appointment. This may be good professional politics because the specialized facilities don’t want to be perceived as “stealing” or “poaching” from family vets, on whom they depend for referrals. But this referral system is also used because the specialized facilities rarely offer routine wellness care or perform smaller medical procedures.
There are multiple scenarios for which you may want a second opinion:
- YOU MAY HAVE LOST CONFIDENCE IN YOUR VET
You may be uncomfortable with how your vet is handling your dog’s current medical problem. Personal or scheduling problems, or other problems at the vet clinic may be to blame, but whatever the case, your confidence in your vet was compromised. Or maybe this is the first time you’ve faced a large medical problem with your dog, and now you see your vet in a different light. Perhaps your vet didn’t give you choices about how to deal with your pet’s illness—yet you feel there must be options. Or the choices your vet suggests don’t seem right to you. Your vet may not encourage a dialogue and/or does not seem to listen to your comments or questions about test results and treatments.
- YOUR VET’S TREATMENT PLAN DID NOT HELP YOUR DOG
If your dog is not getting better you may want to get a second medical viewpoint. If your dog has been sick and his regular vet’s plan of action has not been successful, the doctor should be glad for a chance to consult with another doctor to consider alternative treatments.
REASONS TO GET A SECOND OPINION FROM ANOTHER VET
- Your dog has a rare condition.
- You’d like to explore other treatment options for an illness or injury.
- The illness or injury requires special expertise or equipment.
- Diagnosing the dog’s condition presents a challenge or is confusing.
- You’d like further information about tests, surgical procedures, or the newest medications.
- You want another opinion about a treatment plan and the expected outcome.
- A UNIVERSITY CLINIC MAY OFFER SPECIALIZED TREATMENT FOR YOUR DOG
All veterinary colleges have clinics and specialists affiliated with the hospital. Your dog’s condition may require technologically advanced tests that are available only in a teaching hospital. You may want a doctor with a specialty practice to give an opinion and perhaps perform surgery or other treatments.
FULL DISCLOSURE WITH YOUR DOG’S PRIMARY VET IS BEST
People often assume their primary vet will be angry or offended that they’re seeking another opinion. But as noted above, many specialty veterinary facilities will only give appointments based on referrals from regular vets. Your vet will eventually learn that you’re getting a second opinion anyway, because in many cases it’s necessary for any consulting vet to obtain copies of X-rays or other tests or procedures your dog’s primary vet has already performed on the dog. Not disclosing the dog’s records does your dog and the second vet a disservice; the doctor won’t have the full medical picture s/he needs to form an opinion, and repeating tests is often miserable for the dog, as well as impractical and costly. Give your dog the benefit of the best treatment plan: level with your primary vet.
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