A reader named Jeannine recently sent me this question through Facebook:
I will be bringing home a puppy soon. She will be 8 weeks old and will have had her initial vaccinations/vet visits. When should I next take her to the vet?
It is very exciting and inevitably challenging (but very worth it) to have a new puppy in the house. Jeannine’s question is a very common one. The answer is simple: as soon as possible.
First, let’s set something straight. I work at an emergency hospital. I do not perform routine puppy exams, so don’t get the idea that my recommendation is based on my desire to generate revenue through unnecessary puppy exams. In fact, I make much more money from people who don’t take their puppies to the vet and then have to shell out a wad of cash to treat for parvovirus or other sad and preventable maladies.
There are several medical treatments and consultations that puppies need at regular intervals. They include vaccines, deworming, additional anti-parasite medications, and behavioral and training consultations.
Vaccines, despite what some fervent and misinformed activists claim, are among the greatest advances in the history of medicine. There is no cheaper, more effective, or more elegant way to prevent disease. Vaccines have saved unimaginable numbers of dogs from misery, suffering, and death.
Although no informed person can argue that vaccines aren’t good, there is room for debate about the frequency with which vaccines should be administered — in mature dogs. In puppies, the matter is much more clear. Puppies should be vaccinated every three to four weeks, starting at 6 to 8 weeks of age and ending at around 16 weeks of age.
There are two super important, so-called “core” vaccines in dogs. The DHPP, also known as the DA2PP, protects against distemper virus (which has been largely eradicated in the United States, thanks to the vaccine) and parvovirus. Parvovirus has not been eradicated, and we’re not even close. Puppies who are properly vaccinated are at minimal risk of parvovirus. Puppies who aren’t are at severe risk. Parvovirus causes vomiting, diarrhea, and blood cell problems. If an unvaccinated puppy becomes infected (I never have seen a properly vaccinated puppy become infected), she likely (but not certainly) will survive with treatment that typically costs thousands of dollars. Most untreated puppies die.
At 8 weeks of age, Jeannine’s puppy should have received her first DHPP. The next one should be due in two to four weeks depending upon when it was administered. However, a veterinarian will be able to review previous medical records to confirm the date and type of vaccine to ensure she doesn’t need a booster shot sooner.
The second core vaccine in dogs protects against the most horrific communicable disease on the planet, a disease that makes Ebola look like a vacation in a tropical paradise. I’m talking about rabies. Puppies typically receive a single rabies vaccine at 12 or 16 weeks of age. Jeannine’s puppy will not be due for a rabies vaccine at her first checkup.
Deworming is also crucial in puppies. An amazing quirk of the roundworm lifecycle means that almost all puppies are born with worms. Roundworms have the potential to spread from dogs to humans; children are at especial risk and they can suffer very serious consequences. The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends that puppies be dewormed every two weeks, starting at two weeks of age. Regular fecal testing also is recommended.
Jeannine’s vet will be able to assess her new puppy’s deworming history and prescribe medications to protect her puppy as well as any children in the house.
Puppies also fall victim to other parasites such as fleas, heartworm, and other types of intestinal worms. The best time to discuss additional parasite preventatives for puppies is as soon as possible.
There is a final reason to meet a vet right away after adopting a puppy. It is not well known that behavioral problems are a leading cause of death in dogs. Dogs who are fearful, neurotic, or reactive may develop behavior patterns that become intolerable for their owners. Worse, they may lead the dog to cause injury to a human, which places the dog at extreme risk of euthanasia.
Dogs are most malleable and socializable when they are young puppies. Eight weeks of age is in the prime socialization window. Vets aren’t always certified behaviorists, but they should know quite a bit about dogs. Discussions about socialization (and also training) are perhaps the most important component of the first vet visit. You can also read more about puppy socialization in Dogster resident trainer Annie Phenix’s recent column, “It’s OK to Get a Puppy for Christmas If You Agree to Do These 30 Things.”
Jeannine, enjoy your new puppy! I have no doubt that she will bring great joy and love to your life.
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