The First Exam: What to Ask and Why It’s So Important

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It’s impulse to run out to the pet store and buy leashes and collars, toys and treats. That’s one of the best parts of getting a new puppy. But there’s one thing that should supercede that in priority—it’s that all important puppy exam. The initial advice and instructions you receive from your vet are invaluable, not to mention it builds a relationship between you, your puppy and his new doctor. It can mean the difference remaining healthy or becoming ill during these cautious first months.

In addition to a general health exam these are a few things, in particular, the veterinarian will be looking for and advising you on.


This upper respiratory disease is especially prevalent in young dogs. It’s characterized by deep coughing and hacking and people frequently mistakenly report their dog is trying to vomit or has something stuck in his throat. This is due to the fact the bacteria responsible for the illness, Bordetella, camps out in the throat and irritates the lining. It rarely becomes serious, but may require antibiotics for treatment and a cough suppressant. Getting a Bordetella vaccine and limiting your puppy’s exposure to other dogs is the best prevention.


Worms are extremely common in puppies. You’re almost surprised as a vet when you don’t see them in a young puppy. Intestinal parasites can be acquired from the outdoors or, surprisingly, from the mother in the womb. Although there are a number of over-the-counter dewormers, it is much better to get prescription strength medications tailored to your puppy’s exact weight.


Your puppy has deciduous (baby) teeth just like a baby. They typically begin to fall out around four months of age and continue through eight months. It’s not uncommon, however, especially in smaller breeds, for the canine baby teeth to never fall out. This can lead to overcrowding of the mouth and problems in the future. If you’re puppy is older than eight months, there’s any easy way to check: flip the lip and look for the (permanent) upper canine tooth, on the left or right. The canine tooth is the long “vampire” tooth. If you see a really sharp, shark-like tooth sitting right next to the canine then this would be an example. It’s generally recommended that these teeth are extracted under anesthesia, possibly in conjunction with a spay or neuter.


Additionally, your vet will make recommendations on feeding schedules and type of food. And maybe most important of all is getting educated on vaccines and the dangers of Parvo. I personally insist that new owners never take their puppy away from the home (especially parks and walks) until they are completely vaccinated. A couple things you should be sure to ask before your visit is over:

1. Do you have any suggestions or referrals for training?
2. What is the best type of food for the breed and age?
3. What is the best age to spay or neuter?
4. What is your position on vaccinating every year and is it necessary?

And lastly, don’t be afraid to screen you vet…

5. How long have you been practicing small animal medicine and where did you
go to school?