By Jennifer Coates, DVM
Bringing a new dog home for the first time is certainly exciting, but it’s also a time for level-headed thinking and preparation. You’ve purchased the essentials (bowls, food, leash, collar, bed, crate, and toys) and you’ve figured out how to best introduce the newcomer to your current pets, but have you made the earliest possible appointment with your veterinarian?
Health issues can easily slip under the radar when a new pet is not immediately examined by a vet, and some conditions can affect other pets or even people in the home. Let’s take a look at seven reasons why your vet needs to examine your new dog as quickly as possible.
Birth defects are relatively common in puppies. Some are benign and simple to fix (like small umbilical hernias) while others can have a significant impact on a dog’s longevity and/or quality of life (like structural defects in the heart that produce audible murmurs). Your veterinarian can identify these and many other congenital problems with a physical exam. And don’t think you’re off the hook if your new dog is an adult. Most congenital abnormalities do not resolve on their own as dogs age.
Whether you’ve purchased your dog from a breeder or adopted him from a shelter, you want to know as quickly as possible if he has a birth defect. Reputable breeders and shelters will allow you to return pets if a veterinarian finds that they have a significant health issue. The longer you’ve had your dog and the more attached you and your family have become, the harder it is to make use of this option. Even if returning your new dog is off the table, a veterinary exam is still vital. You should be able to negotiate a full or partial refund of your dog’s purchase price or adoption fee if he or she has an undisclosed a birth defect.
Puppies with their immature immune systems and any dog who has been housed in a group setting like a shelter are at higher than average risk for infectious diseases, and many of these viruses, bacteria and fungi are contagious to other dogs and even to people. Here’s a short list some of the most common and/or dangerous contagious diseases a new dog could bring into your home:
- Canine parvovirus – a sometimes fatal viral infection of the gastrointestinal tract and bone marrow that causes vomiting, diarrhea and immunosuppression in dogs, especially if they are not properly vaccinated.
- Ringworm – a fungal infection of the skin that is highly contagious to people and pets.
- Canine distemper – a viral infection of the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system that is often fatal in poorly vaccinated dogs.
- Canine infectious tracheobronchitis – also called kennel cough, this is a highly-contagious respiratory disease of dogs that is caused by a number of viruses and/or bacteria.
- Rabies – a fatal disease of all mammals, including people, which is transmitted via exposure to infected saliva.
Veterinarians commonly diagnose newly-acquired dogs with internal and/or external parasites, no matter where the dogs have come from. Fleas and intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms can be extremely debilitating to young puppies. Severe infestations may prove fatal if not dealt with quickly. Adult dogs tend to be a little more resistant to some types of parasites, but they can still become quite sick if they don’t receive timely treatment.
Roundworms and hookworms are of special concern because the larval forms of these parasites can infect people. Roundworm larvae can damage a person’s eyes or internal organs as they migrate through the body. Children are at highest risk because they are more likely to eat dirt that contains roundworm eggs than are adults. Hookworm larvae can penetrate through any person’s skin and cause a lot of inflammation as they move around.
Fleas are worrisome because they reproduce so quickly. Bring a dog with fleas into your home and before you know it, flea eggs have contaminated the whole environment. Now you’ll have to institute a long-term parasite management program to completely eradicate them.
It’s difficult to recognize when something is changing (either for the better or for the worse) when you don’t have a baseline for comparison. Therefore, getting your new dog in to see the veterinarian ASAP for a weight check and physical examination is vital. Some veterinarians even recommend running basic lab work, particularly in dogs who are at higher than average risk for particular diseases because of their breed, history, etc., so there is something to compare to in the future.
A local veterinarian who is familiar with what diseases are prevalent in your area is in the best position to recommend the preventive care that your dog needs to stay healthy. Bring any records that you might have concerning your dog’s previous health care with you to your dog’s first visit. Together, you and your vet can discuss what your dog’s lifestyle will be like and determine the ideal schedule for vaccination, deworming, flea and tick prevention, tooth brushing, nail trimming, heartworm prevention, microchipping, spay/neuter, etc.
Good nutrition and exercise are also vital to maintaining your new dog’s health. Talk to your veterinarian about what diet, feeding schedule and activity level would serve your dog best.
Behavioral problems are the primary reasons why pets are relinquished to animal shelters. Proper socialization and basic obedience training can go a long way towards making sure that the bond that you are just starting to develop with your new dog blossoms into a fulfilling partnership.
Your veterinarian can recommend appropriate socialization techniques and opportunities based on your dog’s age and personality. If needed, your veterinarian should also be able to point you toward a reputable dog trainer who can help with basic training or a behavioral specialist who can address any problems that do arise.
Veterinary visits can be stressful for dogs. It is extremely helpful if your new dog’s first visit with his veterinarian is associated with a positive experience (a physical exam disguised as playtime and petting) rather than negative ones. First impressions do matter, even for dogs.
Finally, building a good, working relationship with a veterinarian takes time. You want that process to be well underway before the inevitable crisis hits.