One of the best parts about working at a veterinarian’s office is the opportunity to see all the puppies and kittens that come in – the snuggles, the baby noses, the pink toe beans, little whiskers, and sleepy puppy eyes. The cuteness overload is enough to make anyone melt into a puddle of mush. Getting your puppy or kitten started off on the right foot – or shall I say paw? – you must ascertain what a puppy or kitten needs, which can be very different considerations. So for this post, let’s explore the canine side of things and what happens in a typical first puppy exam at AHR.
It’s crucial for a dog’s first impression of their vet’s office to be very positive, and the only thing they should remember from that initial visit should be the cuddles, adoring attention, and all the treats. We want the dog to only have positive associations. Of course that isn’t always the case, we cannot forgo much-needed vaccines or bloodwork, but we can distract your canine cuddle bug with all the spray cheese, cookies, and ear rubs we can muster. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Besides the reception staff, the first point of contact with a puppy during their visit to our office will be the nurse. She will guide puppy and pet parent to an exam room and offer treats and maybe even a toy if we have our toy box supplied as she asks the initial pertinent questions: How long has the puppy been in the home, what is he being fed (and what are the ingredients, is it formulated for puppies, is it formulated for a large breed puppy if the puppy is a large breed), how is potty training going, which vaccines has the puppy had (and when and given by who), have they already started a heartworm prevention, is the pet parent having any concerns at home? Then it’s time for the puppy’s photo session! You may have seen some of our young patients on the clinic’s Facebook page (either Heath’s or Rowlett’s). We do our best to post everybody so if we missed your fur baby, please send us a cute picture to our texting number 972-805-1451 so a member of our staff can brag about them on Facebook! During this time, the nurse may also talk about the necessity of weighing the puppy each month for an appropriate dose of heartworm prevention – and the necessity of being on monthly heartworm prevention year-round. Mosquitoes are sneaky little buggers who transmit the microfilaria to the pet and show up inside the home even during winter months, that’s a terrible parasite! And speaking of parasites, the nurse will get a kit together to send home with the pet parent after the puppy visit. This is for a stool sample for an Intestinal Parasite Exam. Even if they have been given deworming, we still commonly see puppies who test positive for intestinal parasites like tapeworms (they look like grains of white rice) or microscopic nuisances like giardia or coccidia. But not to worry! Most of these the doctor can treat. The nurse may then take the puppy to our treatment area to trim his nails and show him off – and believe me, everyone wants a chance to snuggle him. This gives him exposure to other people, socializing him with the staff that will see him each step of the way of his life journey. Massaging his face, ears, muzzle, belly, and toes will help get him used to examinations and frequent nail trims (with spray cheese distraction) will desensitize him to the initial fear of having his toenails cut. At last, the nurse will bring the puppy back and mark this sweet occasion by getting a paw print made. His feet won’t necessarily be that little forever, and they grow up so fast, so we like to send his pet parent home with a memento of when he was a baby, when he has so many adventures ahead of him. And all this generally happens before the doctor steps into the exam room. Although what happens most of the time is that his doctor saw him in our treatment area and carried him off in her arms, followed by the nurse prodding the doctor with “okay, I have to take him back to his mom now.” As you may have guessed, none of us can resist fawning over the new addition to your family.
Next comes the doctor. She is the pet parent’s ultimate guide for their puppy’s life journey. Her first exam with the puppy will establish that needed doctor-client-patient relationship, and will be the first indicator if anything is amiss. Things like open fontanelles, retained baby teeth, umbilical hernias, early patellar abnormalities, closed nostrils, or cryptorchidism are better known early on when we can make a plan to fix them. This part of the visit will be the pet parent’s chance to ask any questions and delve into any concerns they may have. Which food to feed their puppy, when to get them spayed or neutered, which chew treats are best, how to stop them from pottying in the house or chewing socks and underwear, do they really need to have a Leptospirosis vaccine? And the answer to that last question is typically a resounding YES. I say typically because I do not have the right to say what your fur baby needs, and there may be exceptions when it comes to vaccines, but this should come from your vet and only the vet. I can only relate what I’ve learned from the wonderful knowledgeable doctors I work for. Rabies is needed because this is required by the state and it is a zoonotic disease, our pets can give it to us. Rabies can be given once the puppy is 12 weeks old. Bordetella (a puppy needs two, the first booster, and the second booster in two to four weeks after) is not only for “kennel cough” or dogs who go to boarding, grooming or dog parks. It’s for upper respiratory infections which are airborne. Distemper-Hepatitis-Parvo-Parainfluenza (or DHPP) is necessary. A dog needs boosters of this vaccine every two to three weeks until he is past 16 weeks of age. Parvo is such a nasty disease, and we’ve had our hearts torn out at the tragic results. And Lepto, which follows the same boostering guideline as Bordetella, is a zoonotic disease that they can get from any surface area and effect their liver and kidneys. But the point being, let the doctor be your guide. She is helping to pave the way for you and your puppy to have a happy life together. The doctor will explain the basics of puppy-rearing, start puppy vaccines if the timing is appropriate, and create an action plan for the next few months of booster visits, all the way up to the point where the puppy is spayed or neutered, and then yearly visits are needed from then on, unless he’s sick. Then of course come see us sooner.
A large part of what these first puppy visits do if not only to get your fur baby started on the right track, is to also to prepare you for everything to expect. Arm yourself with knowledge and enjoy this time of your puppy’s first explorations of the world around him – your world. We are truly blessed if we get a chance to be there for these wonderful animals. It is truly worth the time and effort. And of course, that initial vet visit is the very first step.
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