Puppy and Kitten Wellness Visits
You’ve just adopted a new puppy or kitten – congratulations! Your most important next step will be to set an appointment with a veterinarian to start your Puppy/Kitten Wellness visits. This will be a series of 2 to 4 visits with your vet over the next few months. The exact number and timing of visits will be specific to your pet’s age and any previous wellness care they may have received prior to adoption; your veterinarian will review your pet’s records and recommend a schedule tailored for your pet’s needs.
Today, I’ll present the major medical topics you’re likely to encounter during these first wellness visits. By starting to think about these things ahead of time, you’ll be one “paw” ahead of the game when you meet with your veterinarian.
Vaccines are probably what comes to mind first when you think of Puppy or Kitten Wellness visits, and there’s a good reason for that – they are very important! Vaccines provide a good defense against the most common infectious diseases your pet might encounter. While some vaccines are considered “core” and thus recommended for all puppies/kittens, others are considered “lifestyle” vaccines and their recommendation will depend on things like where you live, whether your puppy will go to dog parks/boarding/grooming, whether your kitten will have any access to the outdoors, etc. You can view the most up-to-date AAHA recommendations for Core vaccines for dogs and cats, and lifestyle vaccines are best discussed with your veterinarian to determine how best to keep your new pet safe and protected.
Surprisingly, the majority of puppies and kittens are infected with some type of parasite at the time of adoption, be it intestinal parasites, fleas, skin mites (“mange”), and/or ear mites. They are exposed to these parasites in the environment while their immune systems are not yet developed, and it’s our responsibility as their doctors and caretakers to ensure they are properly tested, treated, and protected once they come into our homes. This usually means a series of 2 fecal parasite tests for all puppies and kittens, regardless of whether clinical symptoms are present. Empiric deworming is also commonly performed to begin eliminating common parasites while awaiting results of a lab-run fecal parasite test for more in-depth testing. Skin or ear swab testing for external parasites may also be recommended, depending on your veterinarian’s observations.
You’ve treated your new puppy or kitten for any parasites that might have been diagnosed – aren’t we done? Not quite! Now we have to ensure they have good protection in the future against the common things they’ll be exposed to in the environment. Heartworm (spread by mosquitos), flea, and GI worm prevention are generally recommended for the vast majority of pets. Even my indoor-only cats receive monthly parasite prevention – read this article to find out why! You will likely start your pet’s monthly parasite prevention at your first Puppy or Kitten Wellness visit, and continue throughout their life.
There’s no time like the present to start this discussion with your veterinarian! Before you invest in a large supply of puppy or kitten food, get your vet’s recommendations specific for your new pet. Ask them why they recommend a particular product, and be sure to discuss any training treats or other ancillary snacks you might be considering for your new little buddy. You can read more about dog and cat nutrition in these articles, and also make sure to have this discussion with YOUR veterinarian.
TRAINING, BEHAVIOR CONCERNS
Puppies and kittens are cute and playful, and it’s so tempting to let them nibble on our fingers or jump up on our legs. Often these behaviors become not-so-cute when the pet matures, and now you’ve got a 60-lb German Shepherd jumping up on your chest or a 13-lb cat attacking your hand as you try to tie your shoelaces. Behavior training should start on Day 1 – be clear and consistent with which behaviors are encouraged and which behaviors are not acceptable. This book by Sophia Yin is a great place to start. You can also ask your veterinarian for recommendations of local trainers, Puppy classes, and feline behavior resources.
During your first Wellness visit, discuss plans to spay or neuter your new pet. Many veterinarians recommend doing this around 6 months of age, but recommendations may differ based on factors like dog breed/size, whether your dog will be a hunting or working dog, plans to breed, etc. I encourage you to bring these things up early so you and your veterinarian can reach an agreement on when is the best time for your pet to have this common surgical procedure. Benefits of spay/neuter have been shown time and time again, so even if you do plan to breed your pet, I urge you to plan on having them spayed/neutered at some point down the line.
There are a few other procedures that are commonly combined with a spay/neuter procedure if indicated. These procedures include:
- Removal to deciduous or “puppy” teeth: These teeth should fall out on their own, but if any remain by 6-8 months of age or older, it is strongly recommended to have them extracted in order to reduce premature plaque and periodontal disease, and to improve the health of the adult teeth.
- Dew claw removal: If your dog’s dew claws are not attached but rather are “dangly” or “floppy”, it’s often recommended to remove them surgically to prevent injury in the future. However, if your dog’s dew claws are firmly attached, this is normal and they should not be removed except in cases of severe injury or disease.
- Hernia repair: Some puppies or kittens have an umbilical hernia, where the abdominal wall has not completely closed around the umbilicus. Depending on the size of the hernia, this may pose a health risk for your pet. In those cases, surgical closure of the hernia at the time of spay/neuter is usually recommended.
- Gastropexy: This is a surgical procedure where the stomach is internally sutured to the body wall to reduce the risk of Gastric Volvulus (“bloat”) later on. This remains somewhat of a controversial procedure – some veterinarians recommend this for all large-breed dogs, others take it on a case-by-case basis. Either way, this is an important topic to discuss with your veterinarian and decide whether this may be worthwhile for your dog.
Puppy and Kitten Wellness visits are an important way to set your new pet up for a lifetime of good health. Call your vet’s office and schedule yours today!