Fortunately, just about every veterinarian in practice treats canine patients. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't put some time and effort into finding a veterinarian with whom you feel comfortable and who you trust. If you're in the market for a new dog doctor, ask friends and family members for recommendations.
At the minimum, dogs should see a veterinarian once a year for a wellness exam. At this time, your dog will receive any necessary vaccines she needs, and receive an overall health check. The vet will listen to her heart and lungs, check her teeth, eyes, and ears, palpate her organs, and check her skin, fur, and overall body condition. Depending on her age and health, your vet may want to conduct additional diagnostic testing, including blood work or fecal samples.
Your veterinarian will also offer advice on at-home care, including grooming, diet, exercise, and the use of parasite preventatives. She will explain to you what your dog's ideal health looks like - including her weight, skin and fur condition, and temperament.
Grooming includes nail trims, fur brushing, tooth brushing, bathing (often on a monthly rather than daily or weekly basis), fur clipping (for some longer-haired dogs), and ear cleaning. For more information on your dog's diet, including feeding guidelines, visit our Pet Diet page.
Another important part of keeping your pet healthy is keeping your pet safe. This includes abiding by local leash laws (keeping your dog tethered or confined whenever in public). Your dog should wear a humane collar with tags, which includes your contact information. And to really safeguard your pet from becoming a stray, consider microchipping. This permanent form of identification can help you reunite with your dog in the event that she is lost and brought to a shelter, animal control kennel, or veterinarian's office (anywhere they would have a chip scanner). To learn more about pet safety, including safe transport and first aid, visit our Pet Safety page.
Your dog should also be seen by a veterinarian anytime you have a concern about her health or wellness. This includes if your dog appears to be injured or in pain, or is experiencing a change in temperament, activity level, or appetite, as these are often indicators of illness or injury. It's better for your dog's health (and your wallet) to catch a problem early on rather than postponing treatment.
The most important vaccines include the DHPP vaccine (often referred to as distemper) and the Rabies vaccine. Depending on your dog's lifestyle - for instance, if she's ever kenneled - your veterinarian may also recommend additional vaccines, including that for Bordetella (kennel cough).
Vaccines are typically administered in the following series. Your veterinarian may alter your pet's schedule based on need or personal recommendation. Always defer to your veterinarian, as she knows your pets best.
DHPP or DHLPP vaccine (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parinfluenza and parvovirus)
This vaccine is first given by 8 weeks of age, in a series of boosters every 4 weeks until 16 weeks, and afterward, once a year. It protects against several highly contagious and some often fatal diseases of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. Some veterinarians recommend less frequent vaccinations, and prefer yearly titers (blood tests that determine immunity).
This vaccine is first given at about 6 months of age, then given 9-12 months later (but not one day late). After two vaccines are administered on time, it's given once every three years for life. Rabies vaccines are required by law for all dogs in Massachusetts. It protects against rabies, a fatal virus that can transmit to any mammal, including humans.
We also highly recommend that you spay or neuter your pet dog as soon as possible (ideally, before 6 months of age, when their adolescent period begins). Spaying and neutering not only helps prevent unwanted litters, thereby curbing the dog overpopulation problem, it also has many health and behavior benefits. Visit our Why Spay-Neuter? page to learn more about the benefits to early spay-neuter.