How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet? (Helpful Answers)

Dog in the Clinic

Having a dog is a lot of fun but also a lot of responsibility. You have to worry about being there for them every day, feeding them, playing with them as well as taking them to the veterinarian for regular check-ups and vaccinations.

While giving them food, exercise and attention is the easy part, many owners find themselves wondering, “how often should they go to the vet?”

If you have been asking the same question, then keep reading to find out how often your dog should see a veterinarian!

Rabies Laws

Depending on what state you live in, you may be legally required for your dog or cat (sometimes ferrets too) to be vaccinated against rabies. Unfortunately, rabies laws are not federal, so not all states require it, such as Ohio, Kansas and Utah. With a few other states having somewhat “loose laws” that only recommend the vaccination instead of legally requiring it.

Rabies should be given every 1 or 3 years, depending on the vaccine they received the year previous.

Taking Your Dog to the Vet

There is no real rule that says how often your dog should go to the veterinarian, but once yearly is good practice. There are two key factors that will dictate the number of visits your dog will need: Age and Health conditions.

When dogs are puppies, they go somewhat frequently (every 3-4 weeks) while receiving vaccinations and once they’re an adult, their visits drop to about once or twice a year. As senior dogs, they will probably visit the vet more than they ever did, requiring exams and medications to address conditions as their body ages.

Puppies (8 weeks to 6 months)

Our adorable little fluffy puppies require three rounds of vaccinations about 3-4 weeks apart in order to be fully protected against those diseases. Preventing these potentially life-threatening illnesses is crucial for their safety and ours.

Vaccinations should start at 7-8 weeks, ending around 16 weeks of age.

Puppy Vaccine Schedule

Below is a breakdown of the vaccinations and the order that your puppy should receive them in.

  • 7-8 weeks: DHPP and oral deworming
    – DHPP is vaccinating against distemper, parvo, parainfluenza and hepatitis
  • 11-12 weeks: DHPP with lepto and oral deworming
    – Same vaccination as previous, just with added lepto (a bacterial disease spread through the urine of infected animals, humans can get this from dogs)
  • 16 weeks: DHPP with lepto, rabies and oral deworming
    – The same vaccinations are given but with rabies this time. Puppies can have the rabies vaccination given no earlier than 12 weeks, but it is recommended to wait until 16 weeks with their final round of shots.

*Bordetella for kennel cough can be given at the second round of vaccinations. There are additional vaccinations for canine influenza and Lyme disease as well. These are optional and are not recommended by veterinarians unless they are necessary for the pet or owner’s lifestyle.

Spaying and Neutering Puppies

Your puppy’s spay or neuter can take place anytime between 16-24 weeks of age (4-6 months). Some professionals suggest 6-9 months for small breed dogs.

Many veterinarians recommend bringing them in for their spay or neuter at the same time as their final vaccinations, making it easier for the owner and puppy by condensing the two visits into one.

It is best to microchip your puppy at the time of spaying or neutering as well.

There is a lot of debate on the internet about waiting for dogs (especially large breeds) to be at least 2 years old before spaying or neutering. There is minimal veterinary data to support this, so following your vets’ recommendation is best.

Adult Dog 1-7 Years

The average, healthy adult dog will need to go to the veterinarian about once yearly for an exam and boosters. In theory, this time should be your canine companion’s prime years, where they are active and youthful; running, exploring, and just being a dog. Many of these pups are generally in good shape, except for the occasional health issue, like an ear infection or minor injury.

Not only is it crucial that your dog is checked over for potential health problems that you may not have noticed, but they should be tested for heartworm disease and intestinal parasites yearly. After that, they should remain on heartworm, flea, and tick prevention year-round and not just during the warmer months where owners only think these pests are a problem.

Every year, your dog should receive the following preventative care from your veterinarian.

  • Physical exam, heartworm test, fecal test for intestinal parasites, oral deworming, DHPP with lepto, rabies, and bordetella.
  • Yearly dental cleanings.

Heartworms are contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito and can be potentially deadly over time, so prevention is extremely important because treatment is expensive and taxing on your dog’s body.

Senior Dogs 8-13+ Years

These geriatric fellows are still our precious companions, they’ve just reached their senior years. Owners will notice their dog slowing down, struggling with minor tasks, losing hearing and vision as well as growing some gray hair. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are on their last leg.

As you can imagine, many senior dogs will need to go to the veterinarian more often than a young and healthy dog. This is usually because their body and immune system are slowing down and struggling to keep up, leading to arthritis, decreased cognitive function and more recurring infections.

Assuming that your geriatric doggo is doing pretty well for their age, they should see the vet at least twice a year (about every 6 months) for routine check-ups and blood work should be performed at least once yearly.

Senior dogs can frequently suffer from some decreased internal organ function that isn’t always symptomatically obvious. Running routine blood panels, looking for changes in kidney, liver and thyroid function are extremely beneficial in older canines.

Dental Care in Dogs No Matter the Age

An important subject to bring up is dental care in dogs. Keeping their oral hygiene in good shape is crucial for many aspects of our canine companion’s overall health. When the teeth are neglected and a dog develops periodontal disease, over time, that harmful bacteria in the mouth can have an adverse effect on the way the heart and kidneys function. Potentially leading to an expensive and difficult dental, your dog has no teeth and irreversible damage to the heart and kidneys.

Every dog should receive a dental cleaning once a year.

About 30 years ago, it was almost unheard of to do dental cleanings on dogs and cats. Now, it is recommended by veterinary professionals to start dental cleanings on your dog as early as 2-3 years of age. Thankfully, owners have increased compliance and the number of dogs receiving yearly dental cleanings has significantly gone up. However, there is still plenty that is waiting until it is too late.

Preventative Care is the Best Kind of Care

Taking your dog to the veterinarian at least once a year, even when they’re healthy, is the best way to stay on top of any conditions as well as prevent potential issues. Sometimes the doctor can pinpoint issues before you have even noticed them, like a heart murmur, tumor or dental disease.

While skipping the yearly vet visits may seem like you might save some money, in the long run, you probably aren’t. The truth is, preventative care is what really helps owners to save money by performing routine blood work and exams. You can catch problems early, potentially avoiding big financial procedures and treatments in the future.

Preventative Care Plans and Pet Insurance

There are many state-wide veterinary clinics, like VCA, and other programs that actually offer preventative care plans in the form of monthly payments over a year. This allows for some owners who want more financial freedom to pay a small amount per month and still get all the necessary vaccinations, blood work, fecal exams, and even heartworm and flea prevention!

Insurance is also a nice option for many owners to have more security and peace of mind when it comes to their pets’ health. Many insurance companies now offer add-ons as well, so owners can include preventative care instead of just covering accidents and emergencies.

Staying on Top of Your Dog’s Health with Yearly Vet Visits

While there isn’t a true “rule of thumb” for how often a dog should see the vet, it is recommended by most professionals for them to have a yearly exam. There is always something that your dog will need every year, like vaccine boosters, a new prescription for their heartworm or flea prevention or their annual dental cleaning.

Don’t think that just because your dog seems healthy on the outside, there can’t be something dangerous lurking beneath the surface. Yearly exams will help you and your vet stay on top of your dog’s condition, keeping them healthy and happy for many years to come!

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