Even if you keep a close eye on your dog's health it’s important you book an annual appointment with your vet for a thorough check-up. This will give your vet the chance to spot any potential dog health problems and, hopefully, nip them in the bud before they become serious.
Regular health assessments will also help you keep your dog's vaccinations up-to-date, provide an opportunity for you to accurately weigh your dog and help put your mind at ease about any issues.
General dog health assessment
You already take your four-legged friend to the vet when they’re sick or injured but those appointments tend to focus mainly on one particular issue. ‘Check up’ visits, on the other hand, are more holistic, giving your vet the opportunity to detect subtle changes in your pet's overall physical health.
Ideally, your vet should see your dog at least once a year, and more frequently as they get older or if they have special medical needs. These regular visits play a huge part in the 'prevention is better than cure' approach; so don't hold off making the appointment just because your dog seems fit and healthy to you. Your vet will check your dog over, including listening to their heart and lungs, running their hands over their abdomen to check for any unusual signs, checking for skin/coat, eye and ear problems and scanning their microchip to see if it’s all in working order.
Making vet visits less stressful
Another advantage of these annual check-ups is to get your dog used to visiting the vet surgery when they’re well. If they only visit when they’re hurt or ill they can become nervous about seeing the vet, associating their trips with bad times or stressful experiences. It’s a good idea to pop into the vet practice every so often, even if you don’t have an appointment. The receptionists and vet nurses will always appreciate a cuddle and it will create a positive memory for your furry friend.
Microchipping your dog is really important and, from 2016, is compulsory in the UK. Ideally you should get it done when your pet is still a puppy, before you start taking them out for walks, but if you haven’t had your dog microchipped yet, it’s never too late.
The procedure is virtually pain-free and it will give you peace of mind that if your dog does decide to wander off, they can be safely returned to you by whoever finds them.
Your vet should send you a reminder when your dog’s vaccinations are due or provide you with a puppy vaccination schedule to help you keep up-to-date. The timing will depend on which vaccination is needed but could include: distemper, leptospirosis, adenovirus, parvovirus as well as parainfluenza and Bordetella (kennel cough). If you’re planning to take your dog abroad, you will also need a rabies vaccination as part of the ‘Pet Passport’ scheme. For more information on taking your dog overseas read our article on travelling with your dog.
Fleas, ticks and worms
Another situation where prevention is better than cure is the control of fleas, ticks and worms. Remember that fleas, or at least their larvae, can live year-round in your home and garden and ticks can transmit nasty diseases. Your vet can advise you on flea and tick prevention as well as how you can avoid tape and roundworm and, if necessary, lungworm. Our articles on treating ticks, fleas and other parasites on your dog can give you more in-depth information.
Behaviour treatment and prevention
Use your dog's annual assessment as an opportunity to discuss any unusual or unsociable behaviour your dog’s displaying like excessive barking, biting or chewing your shoes the minute your back is turned. These can usually be managed if they’re caught in the early stages. Your vet may be able to offer you some useful tips or refer you to a trained behaviourist. If your dog is still a puppy, your vet may also be able to tell you about reputable puppy training classes in the area that you can join.
When you’re thinking about how to look after your dog, one of the main things you need to consider is puppy neutering. If you’ve taken on an adult dog there’s a good chance that they will have been neutered already but if you’ve got a puppy or an un-neutered older dog your vet can tell you about the health benefits of neutering and give you all the information you need on aftercare (including diet) to keep your dog as healthy and happy as possible.
Your vet will also have a good look at your dog's teeth to decide whether or not they need cleaning and, if so, when. Dental care is particularly important in older dogs as dental disease can not only cause pain but could also lead to problems with their internal organs thanks to the nasty bacteria the diseases can create.
This dental check is also a good time to discuss your home teeth cleaning routine with your vet. Yet another example of prevention being better than cure! For more detailed information on looking after your pet’s pearly whites, read our page on caring for your dog’s teeth.
Weight and body condition
Sadly obesity is an all-too common problem in dogs, so take the opportunity to weigh your dog on the vet’s scales as often as you can, and keep a close eye on your furry friend’s body condition by assessing them at home. If your dog is overweight, there’s plenty you can do to help. For example, talk to your vet about a diet and exercise plan or find out if your veterinary practice runs a weight loss scheme. Equally you don’t want your dog to be underweight so, if your dog has lost weight since they were last weighed, discuss this with your vet as it could be a sign of a health problem.
As with all of us, dogs tend to get a few more aches and pains as they get older, so your vet might recommend more frequent check-ups. This is nothing to worry about; in fact it just means your vet is keeping a good close eye on your beloved pet. You can use these check-ups to get valuable vet advice for your dog.
Mention any problems you’ve noticed, however small, or any lumps and bumps you’d like a second opinion on. If your vet is concerned they might suggest taking a blood or urine sample to see if there are any underlying issues. It’s the perfect chance to discuss your dog’s food and water intake, their activity levels and any concerns you have. Just like people, senior dogs can suffer from various organ system problems, osteoarthritis, loss of vision or hearing, and even memory loss or dementia. Luckily, many problems can be successfully managed with medication or simple changes to their lifestyle.
With regular check-ups and their usual does of TLC from you, your dog should live a fulfilling long life with you. Next, check out our list of unusual dog symptoms and what they may mean.