Many pet guardians wonder how often or when it is appropriate to take their dog or cat to the veterinarian. The frequency of visits to the vet will vary depending upon the various age and life stages of the pet.
Puppies and kittens
For puppies or kittens, I will usually recommend veterinary exams and evaluations every 3 to 4 weeks starting at 6 to 8 weeks of age, up through 16-20 weeks of age. At each of these exams it is important to ensure that these youngsters are growing well, as well as not being afflicted with or developing any sort of genetic issues such as cleft palates, skull, bone and joint problems, as well as any hernias that may develop at this young age.
During the puppy and kitten visits, it is important to microscopically check stool samples for intestinal parasites, which are common in pets this age. Many veterinarians will routinely worm young puppies and kittens during these first few visits, as well as start pets on monthly heartworm and/or a flea and tick prevention program. It is during these visits that appropriate vaccinations are discussed based on the lifestyle of the animal and the risk of certain infectious diseases in the area. By 4 to 5 months of age most pets are required by state law to have their first rabies vaccination, which is usually good for one year from administration.
During these early veterinary evaluations, it is important to do thorough oral exams to ensure that deciduous (“baby”) teeth are developing properly and being replaced by permanent adult teeth at the appropriate ages.
After the puppy- or kittenhood series of evaluations, pets are next seen for spaying or neutering, which are typically done anywhere between 6 and 12 months in most veterinary practices. Following this visit, young adult pets are typically seen once yearly for wellness evaluations, stool checks, heartworm blood tests, and discussion of which, if any, vaccinations might be appropriate.
Middle age and older
Once pets reach middle age, it is important to have semiannual exams, so that aging diseases may be detected early through thorough physical exams and appropriate diagnostic laboratory testing and/or x-rays.
Non-routine veterinary care
Between these routine evaluations and exams, there are several symptoms for animal guardians to be aware of, that may necessitate veterinary attention and evaluation. Amongst these various symptoms include such examples as: significant changes in thirst and/or appetite; digestive symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, urinary symptom changes, such as increased urgency and/or blood in the urine; coughing, sneezing and/or difficulty breathing; changes in gait or limping; as well as the development of any lumps or tumors.
Emergency veterinary care
There are certain circumstances where pets may need emergency veterinary care and attention. Symptoms which warrant immediate veterinary care include the sudden development of abdominal pain and swelling, which may indicate bloating or intestinal obstruction, as well as the possibility of pancreatitis, especially if symptoms are accompanied by diarrhea and/or vomiting which contain blood. If there is concern whether or not a pet is passing urine and/or feces, that would also constitute a veterinary emergency exam. Difficulty breathing and/or pale gums are also two clues that may indicate an emergency situation. Traumatic situations such as pet fights, snake bites, or pets being hit by a car, are also common crises that often present to the emergency veterinary clinician. Poisoning and/or toxin exposure, including inadvertent consumption of inappropriate items, including garbage, human prescription items, antifreeze, rat poison, as well as toxins such as chocolate, grapes, onions, etc. also should point to a veterinary emergency evaluation.