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dog parent basics

How often should you take your dog to the vet?

A big part of caring for a dog is taking them to the vet for routine health care. When to go and how often, however, is dependent on your pup’s age and health.

Updated August 24, 2021

Created By

Emily Johnson,

📷 by Priscilla Du Preez

The essentials

  • All dogs should see the vet at least once a year — This visit will include a complete physical wellness check-up .
  • Annual check-ups are a key part of your dog’s preventative care — Just as nutrition and exercise are crucial to your dog’s overall health, visiting the vet is too!
  • The number of vet visits per year depends on age — Puppies and seniors tend to go to the vet more often than healthy adult dogs.

How often you should take your dog to the vet

How often you take your dog to the vet depends on your pup’s life stage and overall health. Puppies and senior dogs (ages 8+) typically need more frequent visits, while healthy adults (ages 1-7) can usually stick to semi-annual wellness check-ups. The cost of vet visits isn’t one of the fun parts of dog ownership, but keeping up with preventative health care will save you money in the long run — and keep your pet healthier for longer!

Puppy phase: 0-1 year

If you adopt a puppy, you’ll be very used to going to the vet. Experts recommend monthly wellness exams during early puppyhood — typically once every 3–4 weeks until they’re 16 weeks old, following a basic vaccine schedule:

  • 6–8 weeks: first DHPP shot (combined vaccine for distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus)
  • 10–12 weeks: second DHPP shot
  • 12–24 weeks: rabies (the age your pup receives this is dependent on your state law)
  • 14–16 weeks: third DHPP shot

During puppy wellness visits, the vet will examine your puppy to make sure they’re developing well and staying healthy. Along with vaccinations, your vet will also start giving your pup heartworm, tick, and flea medications that they’ll need to continue taking for their entire lives. 

Once the vaccine schedule is done, you may not have to come back until your puppy is ready to be spayed or neutered. When your pup should be spayed or neutered is a controversial topic amongst vets – however, evidence suggests that large breeds should wait until one year of age, and owners should spay their females before their first heat cycle to give them a lesser risk of developing mammary cancer.

Your vet may also ask you about microchipping your pup — some vets complete this at the same time your dog is spayed or neutered.

Adult phase: 1-7 years

As mentioned previously, adult dogs will typically only need to go to the vet for annual wellness exams. At the first general health check-up, after your dog turns a year old, many dogs will get a distemper-parvo and rabies booster shot. On subsequent annual visits, your dog may need rabies boosters (the timing can vary by state).

👉 If you plan to ever board your pup, they’ll also need to receive a kennel cough vaccine every six months to a year (depending on the manufacturer)

As your dog ages, the annual exam will continue to include a head-to-tail checkup (including urine and fecal tests), heartworm test, dental exam, and vaccination updates. The vet will also ask about your dog’s behavior, training, and overall wellness. Depending on concerns you bring up, or observations the vet makes during the exam, they may recommend other tests.

Senior phase: 8+ years

Senior dogs should see the vet semi-annually, approximately every six months. Older dogs tend to have particular health needs and are more prone to illness and age-related injury. In addition to the regular wellness-check stuff, your vet may recommend some diagnostic tests for your senior pup to further assess their overall health. These most common diagnostics include blood, urine, and fecal tests, with less common ones including chest radiographs, ultrasounds, or blood pressure tests. You’re more likely to have the latter diagnostics run if your senior pup is sick. 

Another common part of senior dog vet care is dental care — dental disease is nearly epidemic in older dogs. Tartar build-up can lead to inflamed and infected gums or gingivitis. A lot of dog owners don’t realize that the bacteria from gingivitis can affect all your pup’s body systems, especially the major organs like the kidney, liver, and heart. Be sure to work with your vet on a regular dental care routine to help prevent more extensive procedures later in your pet’s life. 

👉 Here’s a list of our favorite dental chews to help clean your pup’s smile. 

When you should go to the vet

Signs your dog needs to see the vet right away 🚨

In an ideal world, annual and semi-annual visits will be the only vet attention your dog needs. But emergencies are bound to come up and knowing the signs can help you make a quick decision to get your pet to the vet as fast as possible.

If your dog shows any of these symptoms, go to the animal ER right away:

  • Has been hit by a car or a blunt object falling more than a few feet
  • Is unconscious and won’t wake up
  • Has stopped breathing or is having trouble breathing
  • Has been vomiting or had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or is vomiting blood
  • You think they may have broken bones
  • Is having a seizure
  • Has pale gums
  • Has ingested something toxic like antifreeze, rat poison, or household cleaners
  • Shows signs of extreme pain (whining, shaking, or refusing to socialize)
  • Suddenly collapses or can’t stand up
  • Is suddenly disoriented
  • Has a swollen, hard abdomen

You know your dog best.  If you think your pup’s behavior has suddenly changed, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to your vet.

Signs your dog should see a vet, but it’s not an emergency 

Change in eating or drinking habits. Skipping a meal isn’t that unusual for a dog, especially on hot summer days or if they’re in a new environment. But more than one missed meal could be a red flag that your dog isn’t feeling right and you should probably reach out to your vet. Same goes if you find yourself filling your dog’s water bowl more than usual, and it’s not due to warmer weather.

Lumps and bumps. As animals get older, it’s not uncommon to find a few small lumps and bumps on their body. And while many of these masses are benign and aren’t any cause for concern, it’s best to ask your vet to make sure they aren’t something more serious.

Vomiting and diarrhea. If your dog throws up once or twice and shows no other signs of illness, they’re probably fine. Same goes with loose stool —  occasional diarrhea isn’t usually anything to worry about (it can actually be common in newly adopted dogs due to a change in diet or stress from being in a new environment). However, if the vomiting or diarrhea continues for longer than 24 hours or they contain blood, then it’s time to call your vet. 

Runny nose. Runny and stuffy noses aren’t entirely uncommon in dogs either. However, anytime you notice your pet has a runny nose or thick, mucoid nasal discharge accompanied by other signs of illness (fever, dehydration, lack of appetite, fatigue), you should contact your vet.

Prepare for your vet visit

During your pup’s first visit, the vet will likely ask you a plethora of questions to learn about their history, typical behavior, and exercise and nutritional habits. It’s also a great time to bring up your own questions and concerns on topics like: 

  • Dietary concerns (type of food, feeding schedule, amount, your dog’s weight, etc.)
  • Bumps, itches, or rashes 
  • Snack or treat recommendations  
  • Boarding/doggie daycare recommendations
  • Any behavioral concerns 
  • Grooming concerns 

It’s common for a dog to be nervous or anxious about going to the vet. Here are a few ways you can help alleviate some of their stress:

Reward good behavior — Keep yummy treats in your pocket to reward them in the waiting room or during the exam.

Bring a toy — Keep them distracted or occupied by bringing their favorite toy with you.

Get them familiar with new surroundings — Do a prior “meet-and-greet” with your vet to make an introduction outside of the clinic. Some clinics even do “happy visits” where dogs can come to the clinic, get treats, and leave to help prevent negative associations with the vet.

Ease their anxiety — Give your pup a calming treat or supplement before the visit.

Pet insurance

Pet insurance is a great way to ensure your pup is properly cared for, especially in the case of an emergency visit. There are even online pet insurance alternatives, like Pawp, that offer 24/7 access to a team of certified veterinarians who can answer behavior, nutrition, and condition questions via text or video chat. This can help save pet owners the trouble of visiting the vet for a simple question and can also help advise when your pup should see an actual vet.

Frequently asked questions

When should I take my senior dog to the vet? 

Senior dogs need more frequent vet visits than younger adult dogs. They have more particular health needs and are more prone to illness and age-related injury. For that reason, senior dogs should see the vet approximately every six months. 

How often should I take my dog to the vet for checkups? 

Puppies need to see the vet about once a month up until about 4-5 months old, adult dogs (1-7 years) usually only need to go once for annual visits, and senior dogs (8+ years) should be seen twice a year.

How much is a routine vet visit for a dog?

The cost of routine vet check-ups varies based on the area you’re in (typically anywhere from $50-$100) and can also vary depending on your pup’s age and health history. You can check our article about the cost of vet visits to get a more outline idea of what your next visit may cost.

Can a dog get kennel cough from a vet visit?

Kennel cough is an extremely contagious upper respiratory virus. It’s named “kennel cough” because it can easily and quickly spread through a kennel with dogs being in such close quarters. It can be transmitted through the air, but can also be transmitted by coming into direct contact with an infected animal or by sharing a contaminated object (greeting an infected dog on a walk or drinking from a contaminated water bowl at the park). 

That being said, it’s very unusual to get it just from an exam visit. Time in the room is brief, and the rooms are always cleaned in between uses. For pets with suspected contagious diseases (coughing, skin issues, parvo, etc), most hospitals have a dedicated room for this so it can be deep cleaned after a visit from a sick pet.