15 Questions Everyone Should Ask Their Veterinarian

Bringing pets to a veterinarian for a wellness exam can be nerve-wracking and frustrating for some people. Often it isn't even the vet's fault — we just don't know the right questions to ask. Here are 10 things everyone should ask their veterinarian.
Questions Everyone Should Ask Their Veterinarian

1. “COULD MY PUPPY HAVE ANY DISEASES?”

While you always want to do your due diligence in selecting a puppy — and I do not recommend acquiring any pet on impulse — there is always the possibility that your seemingly healthy puppy could be harboring an illness. I wouldn’t imagine that puppy providers knowingly supply sick dogs, but puppies often come from the shelter, pet store or even breeder infested with one or more types of gastrointestinal parasites that may not immediately be evident in terms of causing digestive tract upset (decreased appetite, vomitting, diarrhea, etc.).

Along with a thorough external exam for fleas and other ectoparasites (skin parasites), performing a complete fecal evaluation for common parasites is a crucial part of a new puppy’s first consultation with a veterinarian. Your puppy may also come with other gastrointestinal tract, skin or respiratory issues, so that initial exam is very important to properly and thoroughly evaluate your pup. The sooner a problem is recognized, the quicker treatment can begin. If a problem is found, you’ll want to notify the supplier of the puppy as siblings or other puppies may be affected, too. And some pooches may come with a limited guarantee.

Sometimes, when there is no prior history of deworming, we may suggest at least a short course of a broad-spectrum dewormer to kill parasites that may not yet be causing clinical signs or are not plentiful enough in feces to be found on diagnostic testing.

2. “HOW OFTEN SHOULD MY PUPPY BE EXAMINED BY A VETERINARIAN?”

We veterinarians are trained to identify the many subtle signs of illness, which may not be apparent to the average dog owner. So, it is very important that the more experienced hands and eyes of a veterinarian evaluate your puppy on a frequent basis.

The puppy wellness plan at my practice typically involves examinations with a veterinarian every three to four weeks during the puppy’s first 6 months of life so that vaccinations can be given and other needed diagnostic testing (fecal evaluation, etc.) and treatments (deworming, etc.) can be performed. We also discuss all other aspects of puppy wellness, including behavior and nutrition, during these visits.

As puppies mature, we recommend they come in for wellness exams twice per year. During a wellness visit, your dog will be examined physically, which includes listening to his heart and lungs, physically evaluating him via palpation (touching) and examining his eyes, ears and teeth. This may also include the administration of vaccinations.

Two times per year may sound like more than you are used to, but considering that dogs age faster, it is like you going to your physician every three to four years. Significant changes can occur during that time, and that is why we recommend the twice-a-year wellness exams. By scheduling more frequent physical examinations, wellness plans can be more readily tailored to your dog’s needs as they mature, and illnesses can be diagnosed and treated before they become severe.

3. “HOW CAN I PREVENT MY PUPPY FROM GETTING INJURED OR SICK?”

Just as with children, consistency and discipline are necessary to ensure puppies develop into well-behaved adults who are pleasant to be around and can acclimate to the stressors of everyday life. I believe that training should begin as soon as you get your puppy, regardless of age. Basic guidance, like getting your dog’s attention with a treat, can start on Day 1. Once you have your puppy’s attention, you can work up to having him sit, stay, come, lie down, walk on a leash and perform other necessary actions by using positive reinforcement.

The best way to avoid trauma and illness is by having your dog stay under close observation and within the confines of a short lead (i.e. non-retractable leash) or demarcated space (crate, gated room, etc.) so that dietary indiscretion (eating something one should not), escaping, or less-than-friendly interactions with other animals (including wildlife) do not have the potential to occur. For tips on training your puppy to walk on a leash, click here.

I recommend all dog owners — and especially new puppy parents — seek the guidance of a reputable dog trainer to ensure that the most appropriate training techniques are being implemented. Good behavior exhibited by a well-trained dog fortifies the owner-companion animal bond and will have positive ramifications for life.

4. “WHEN WILL MY PUPPY BE HOUSEBROKEN?”

That depends on the puppy and consistency of training. We find that most puppies will be housebroken before 6 months. If by the time the puppy is 4 months old there is little progress in the housetraining, it may be time to seek professional advice — ideally from your veterinarian or a credentialed dog behavior professional. For more tips on housetraining a puppy, click here.

5. “WHEN WILL THE BARKING AND HOWLING AT NIGHT STOP?”

Typically, the nighttime crying, barking and howling puppies do almost always subsides within a few days of arriving in their new home. There are several things that can be done to help ease this transition from being with littermates to being alone. For example, you can provide him with soft blankets or stuffed animal toys.

Some puppies may continue to whine during housetraining as they still need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. However, if your puppy is just vocalizing to get you up to play, then it is time to stop indulging him and teach them to sleep through the night. Click here for help on getting your puppy to stop whining.

6. IS MY PET AT A HEALTHY WEIGHT?


More than half of the dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight, according to a recent survey by the Association for Pet Obesity and Prevention. Even worse, many pet owners with overweight dogs or cats deny there is even a problem with their pet. Ask your veterinarian if your pet is within the appropriate weight range for her breed, size and stature. Then, if there is a problem, you can work in tandem on how to solve the issue. This also applies if you suspect your pet is underweight, though it's less typical.

7. COULD I BE PROVIDING A MORE APPROPRIATE FOOD?


Good health begins with proper nutrition, and who best to ask what is appropriate for your pet than your veterinarian. Once they evaluate your pet they can recommend diets that are appropriate for your pet's life stage, lifestyle and any other factors or underlying health conditions that apply.

8. IS THAT [INSERT ODD BEHAVIOR HERE] NORMAL?


Don’t automatically assume that your pet wheezing after a bout of exercise is normal, or that it’s common for pets to itch every time they go outside. An annual pet wellness exam is a great time to ask your vet about any peculiarities you’ve noticed in your animal over the past year. Keep a running list as these things happen so you can note to your doctor exactly what the issue was, when it first occurred and how often it has occurred since.


9. IS MY PET UP TO DATE ON SHOTS?


It never hurts to make sure your furry friend is totally up-to-date on all his or her vaccinations and immunizations—it’s something that can easily be overlooked.

10. DOES MY PET NEED A DENTAL CLEANING?


Dental disease is a common problem among pets. In fact, it's estimated that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 years suffer from some degree of periodontal disease. If left untreated, this can lead to other more serious health complications such as issues with the kidney, liver, even the heart. Ask your veterinarian if Fido or Fluffy is due for a dental cleaning. "Rather than wait for a problem to develop," says Dr. Ashley Gallagher, a veterinarian at Friendship Hospital for Animals, "it is best to perform a teeth cleaning when only mild gingivitis and/or tartar are present. This will maintain good dental health and prevent disease before it becomes a problem … which in turn helps you save money and keep your pet healthy!"


11. DOES MY PET NEED A BLOOD TEST?


Blood tests screen for a variety of issues, including kidney and liver disease, diabetes, cancer and a variety of other issues that can be treated if caught early. Regular blood tests will also give your veterinarian a baseline to compare against over time.

12. WHAT FLEA/TICK MEDS DO YOU RECOMMEND FOR MY PET?


Fleas and ticks are not only a nuisance; they can also transmit deadly diseases to you and your pet. Fortunately, there are many options when it comes to killing and preventing fleas and ticks. Ask your veterinarian about the differences between popular medications on the market (for example, topical versus oral medications) and which suits you and your pet's lifestyle the best. There are even some oral medications which protect against both fleas and ticks for up to 12 weeks with just a single dose.

13. WHAT ARE THESE LUMPS AND BUMPS?


It's not unusual for lumps and bumps to develop as pets age. However, unusual skin changes can also be an indication of cancer. Point out any new lumps, bumps or strange moles that have appeared since your last visit. The veterinarian can then determine if a biopsy is warranted.


14. DOES MY PET NEED A RECTAL EXAM?


Every veterinarian has a different way of doing things, but he or she may not perform a full rectal exam on your pet if you don't ask for one. Rectal exams screen for prostate and rectal cancer, which can be treatable if caught early enough.

15. CAN YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN MY BILL?


If you ask nicely your veterinarian will be much more likely to explain why a short visit and routine procedures cost what they do. It may seem like a lot of money, but these line item expenses are probably keeping your pet healthy and happy for many years to come.

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