Becoming a dog owner is one of the most fun and exciting things you’ll ever do, but you should be prepared to invest a lot of time and care into the new member of your family. If you’ve never had a dog before, it can be confusing to know how to care for one, including how to manage your dog’s health care. Most experienced pet owners recommend getting insurance as quickly as possible, so you can stay on top of your puppy’s vet appointments. And so you can get a cheaper rate before any “preexisting conditions” are found at an unexpected medical visit.
One of the first things that happens at your puppy’s first few vet appointments is getting vaccinated. "Your veterinarian will recommend the appropriate schedule and vaccines for your puppy based on their risk for various infectious diseases," says Laura Pletz, DVM and scientific services manager at Royal Canin. To find out more of how to care for your new puppy or older dog throughout their life, Dr. Pletz makes it easy with the pointers below:
As soon as your new puppy is born or adopted, you should take them to the vet immediately — even if they've come with a clean bill of health. A dog is generally considered a puppy from 0 to 1 years of age. Your vet will perform a full physical on your puppy, alerting you to anything that looks amiss (or putting your mind at ease that nothing is). Your vet will then determine your dog's vaccine schedule (if your puppy isn't already up to date.) You’ll likely need to visit the vet every three to four weeks until they complete their vaccines.
For dogs who have moved out of the puppy stage, visiting the vet once a year should be enough, barring any health concerns that pop up, says Dr. Pletz. Puppies are considered adult dogs when they pass 1 year of age; depending on a dog's size, they'll be considered an adult when they're anywhere from 7 to 11 years old. Based on where you live, your dog may have different vaccination requirements, so make sure you're keeping up to date.
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“Veterinarians will often recommend geriatric dogs come in for a wellness check more than once a year to monitor health concerns that are more prevalent in older pets,” says Dr. Pletz. A dog is considered senior when it reaches 7 to 11 years old, depending on size. (Giant breeds are considered senior at around 7 and miniature breeds around 11.) Your vet can give you more details considering any health conditions your dog may develop as they move into old age.
At wellness visits, or annual or bi-annual vet visits, you’ll experience a thorough consultation with your veterinarian. Your doctor will also conduct a "physical exam, screenings for parasites and other infectious diseases when appropriate, routine lab work, and appropriate vaccines," says Dr. Pletz. This way you and your vet can stay on top of any health conditions that may arise throughout the course of your dog’s life.
Puppy vaccinations: $75-100
Flea & tick prevention: $40-200
Heartworm prevention: $24-120
Spay or neuter surgery: $200-800
Annual exam: $240-600
Teeth cleaning: $200-500
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One of the hardest parts of having a dog is trying to guess what they need, but if a trip to the emergency room is warranted, you can always talk to a vet and explain your dog’s symptoms before bringing the dog in. "Severe vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, or serious wounds/injuries, and ingesting something toxic are common reasons for a visit to the ER,” explains Dr. Pletz.
General consultation/exam: $100-$150
General bloodwork: $80-200
1-2 day hospitalization: $600-$1,700
3-5 day hospitalization: $1,500-$3,500
Wound treatment & repair: $800-$1,500
Emergency surgery: $800-$2,500
Oxygen therapy: $500
If you’re not sure if your dog’s condition warrants a trip to the ER, using telehealth is a great option. "There are many telehealth triage services now available to help owners determine if something is an emergency when their veterinarian is not open," says Dr. Pletz. "Also, telehealth visits can be beneficial for monitoring certain long-term issues."
You should try to avoid emergency room visits if necessary. You don’t want to take up the time of emergency doctors if your dog’s condition is not serious, and medical bills to the ER can quickly add up and become overwhelming. If you closely monitor your dog’s habits as you get to know them, you can easily tell if something’s off with your dog. Starting with a telehealth call is a great first step if you suspect your dog could be ill.