One thing all dogs have in common is this: They can’t tell the veterinarian what’s wrong. That’s when pet owners have to step up and ask the right questions. “If you are coming in for your annual wellness visit or a sick visit, write down your questions ahead of time, just like I do when I go to my doctor,” says Dr. Elizabeth A. Dole, who practices at Stack Veterinary Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. “When I get there, I typically can’t remember everything.”
Questions to Ask
Most veterinarians start your dog’s exam by asking you questions to rule out any serious canine diseases. They may ask whether your dog has been losing hair, had diarrhea or shown any change in thirst, urination or appetite. After fielding those queries, it’s your turn to do the questioning. Here is a list of the top 10 questions to ask.
1. Is my dog at the appropriate weight?
Obesity is a growing concern in pets, as it is in people. One extra pound for a 25-pound dog is the equivalent of about 6 or 7 pounds for an adult human. “It has all sorts of health implications for the heart, joints, liver and kidneys,” says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and a veterinary professor at Texas A&M University.
2. How are my dog’s teeth and gums?
Tooth deterioration, tartar buildup and gum disease get worse as an animal gets older. “Infections of the gums can spread to other areas of the body,” explains Beaver. It’s important that puppies get used to having their mouths cleaned to allow you to brush their teeth and remove tartar buildup.
3. When should my dog have blood work done?
Blood tests can pick up certain congenital ailments, such as kidney disease or hormonal imbalances. Some vets take a baseline screening on a pet’s first visit, but it’s a good idea to have a screening done for a large dog after age 6 and for smaller dogs after age 8.
4. What should I feed my dog and/or puppy?
Feed your dog food that carries the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) seal for complete and balanced nutrition. You should also have conversations with your vet on the types of foods to feed your pet.
5. Does my dog need exercise?
Dogs need regular walks and exercise to keep them fit. Ask your veterinarian if there are certain places you should not go to — such as local dog parks where there may have been a disease outbreak, advises Beaver.
6. How often should I bring my dog in?
Pet owners usually get in the habit of bringing dogs in for an annual checkup, although sometimes that stretches to 16 months between visits. Senior dogs require biannual visits. “It’s best if we can catch things early so we can intervene and help prolong and improve the quality of a pet’s life,” says Dole.
7. What are the latest recommendations on vaccines?
The latest recommendation is that the last round of dog vaccines should be administered after a puppy is 16 weeks old, according to Dole. It’s also critical to have your pet get any follow-up booster shots.
8.How can I administer my dog’s medication properly?
“You should always ask for clarification on the directions,” says Beaver. “If you give your pet medication the wrong way, it doesn’t help and can potentially have serious consequences.”
9. Is generic medication available?
Prescription medications for dogs can be as expensive as those for humans. Ask your vet if generics are available. If they are, find out the difference — if any — compared to brand-name products.
10. How much does it cost?
Don’t be afraid to question your veterinarian’s recommendation, particularly if it calls for an expensive surgical procedure. “You should also ask whether there are alternatives,” says Dole. And don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion.
Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.