Preparing for Your Dog's First Veterinary Visit

By Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Care & Wellness, Pet Services

You are the most important person in your dog’s world. Next to you, the second most important person in a dog’s life is the veterinarian. These animal doctors have two major goals: to keep animals healthy for as long as they can and to care for them when they become ill.

picture of a puppy on a leashKeeping your dog healthy requires exercise, good diet, and consistent medical care. Your veterinarian can help you with all three components of your pet’s healthy lifestyle. Since you and your dog will make many trips to the veterinary hospital over the years, it’s best to start preparing your dog for these visits as a pup.

What can I do before the first visit?

Unless you are walking distance from the veterinary hospital, you should accustom your dog to car travel. For safety, properly restrain your dog in the car by placing him in a crate or use an approved canine harness restraint. Before actually going to the veterinary hospital, take practice car rides making short trips to a pleasant location, such as a nearby dog park, and provide a treat when you reach the destination. If your dog enjoys traveling in a vehicle, going to the veterinarian is much easier.

What can I do to make the first visit a good experience?

The very first visit to the veterinary clinic shouldn’t be clinical at all, but rather a fun introduction to a new place. When scheduling your first visit, tell the receptionist that you want to introduce your dog to the veterinary clinic before his medical appointment. Ask if you can drop in when the clinic is least busy so that your dog is not overwhelmed by a multitude of strange dogs and cats, and so the receptionist has time to chat with you.

While in the veterinary clinic, have your dog on a short leash to keep him close to you. Small dogs can be held in the arms, but should still be on a leash in case they manage to jump out of your embrace. You may want to place a nervous dog inside a crate to limit his interaction with other animals and to make him feel secure. You can improve the “homey atmosphere” of the crate by lining it with a familiar smelling towel or blanket.

With your dog safely under your control, you can focus on making this first hospital experience a fun one. Veterinary staff members should be happy to give you a tour of the hospital, make friends with your dog, and offer a treat to make the first visit pleasant. You will not see the veterinarian on this drop in so it should only take a few minutes, giving you an opportunity to get a head start on the real visit by setting up your dog’s medical chart. Bring along all medical records including previous immunizations, de-worming, heartworm prevention, and medical problems.

What should I do for my dog’s first medical appointment?

Now for the real thing. Before the actual veterinary visit, take your dog for a walk to expend a little excess energy. Gather a stool sample in a plastic bag if he has a bowel movement on your walk. Your dog will be grateful not to have to provide a sample at the clinic!

After checking in with the receptionist, sit in a quiet area of the waiting room (if there is one) and speak to your pet in a calm reassuring voice. Keep close to him since your presence is comforting. Try to position him so that other animals are not in his direct line of vision.

A veterinary technician will accompany you into the exam room and ask questions about your dog’s appetite, brand of dog food, feeding schedule and quantity fed. Be precise. One “scoop” can be one cup or 10 cups! The technician will ask about elimination habits (are his stools normal? How many times a day does he urinate? ), exercise regimen, and general health condition (does he scratch, limp, sneeze, cough, have a runny nose?).

To check for intestinal parasites, the technician will retrieve a stool sample if you didn’t bring one, and may also take a small blood sample to check for heartworms. She will take your dog’s temperature, too.  With all these strange things happening, your dog will need to hear your comforting voice.

"With all these strange things happening, your dog will need to hear your comforting voice."

When the technician is done gathering vital information, the veterinarian will see you and your new pup. Your veterinarian will befriend your pup before starting the actual exam, making you both feel more comfortable! A complete physical exam will include scanning the coat for any dryness, bald spots, irritated areas, or pustules. The veterinarian will look at the eyes from cornea to retina with an opthalmoscope, examine the ear canals with an otoscope, and open the mouth to assess teeth and gums. The doctor will listen to your pup’s heart and lungs and palpate his abdomen. She will check the pup for hernias and soft spots on the skull. She will also examine the legs and watch the pup walk to detect any gait abnormalities.

After the physical exam, the veterinarian will administer necessary immunizations and give you a schedule of follow-up boosters. She will provide medication for intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks if needed. She will prescribe or administer medication to prevent heartworms as well.

What happens for future veterinary visits?

The veterinary staff will remind you when to return for follow-up visits. Expect to bring your dog to the veterinarian twice a year for well-health visits. These check-ups will help keep your dog healthy by preventing illnesses through immunizations and parasite control and by diagnosing problems early through lab testing.

Going to the veterinarian will be a breeze if you start preparing your dog early. Of course, it also helps to give a reward such as a yummy treat or visit the dog park after each visit so he will always associate the veterinary hospital with fun!

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