When to Call the Vet

Sometimes, the wait-and-see approach is best. Other times treatment just can't wait -- your dog's life may hang in the balance. The important thing then is to stay calm, do what you can to control the situation, apply first aid as needed, and get her to a vet as quickly and safely as possible. There are times when a call to the vet -- or a trip straight to the animal hospital -- are a right-this-minute priority. Emergency situations include:

  • Heavy bleeding, including any open wound or bleeding from nose, mouth, ears, or any other body opening.
  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing, standing, or walking, including prolonged or frequent panting, staggering, or an uncoordinated gait.
  • Fractures or dislocations. If you suspect a broken bone, don't try to find the break or set it yourself. Let a professional handle it.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Temperature over 103 degrees, Fahrenheit (taken with a rectal thermometer).
  • Convulsion, electrocution, paralysis, shock, or persistent sneezing.
  • Blunt trauma, including being hit by a car or getting caught in doors or machinery, even if there is no apparent serious injury. These kind of accidents may cause internal bleeding or injuries only a veterinary exam can detect.

If your dog shows any of these signs, don't wait to take her to the veterinarian. Waiting even for a few hours -- and, in some cases, just a few minutes -- can be fatal.

Choosing a Veterinarian

When you take your new dog home, he ought to be at the peak of health. A pup in this condition has no doubt been living in a healthful environment with good nutrition and all the right vaccinations against disease. Now, it's up to you to ensure he stays that way. You'll need to feed a high-quality food and offer balanced amounts of love and discipline, play and rest. But perhaps most important of all, you will need to develop a close working relationship with your pup's veterinarian. When the two of you work as a team, confident in each other's abilities and observations, you maximize the quality of your dog's health care.

To find just the right veterinarian, ask pet-owning friends for recommendations. If you are new in town or don't know anyone who has a dog, don't worry. Most veterinarians belong to the American Veterinary Medical Association or the American Animal Hospital Association. You can contact one of these national organizations for a referral to a member veterinarian in your area. Once you get some recommendations, make an appointment for a first visit so the three of you can get to know each other.

This visit may include a brief physical exam so the vet can ascertain the pup's general state of health, but pet vaccinations should wait for another time. It's important for your dog's first impression of the clinic, doctors, and staff to be a good one. After all, everyone needs to trust their doctor -- dogs included.

Communication is the foundation of a good client/veterinarian relationship. At this first visit, come prepared with the health records for your pup provided by the breeder, shelter, or previous owner and with any questions you may have about feeding, booster shots, flea and worm control, or anything else on your mind. Before you meet the veterinarian, you'll probably be asked to fill out a questionnaire with information about your dog's age, breed, sex, color or markings, and state of health. This medical history is the backbone of your pup's permanent record and will help the vet measure his growth and future health.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. And don't worry about "dumb" questions -- if you don't know the answer already, it isn't a dumb question. For example, you might ask what food is best for a growing pup, how much and how often to feed, and when to switch to a diet for adult dogs. Use this time to evaluate your veterinarian's responses. Does she explain her answers fully, using terms that are easy to understand? Does she offer advice based on experience with other dogs of your pup's breed?

Consider, too, how comfortable the vet and dog are with each other. Some veterinarians have a better tableside manner than others. Ideally, your veterinarian will handle your pup with confidence and ease, holding him firmly yet gently and talking to him -- and you -- in a manner that is friendly and reassuring.

Every good relationship is also based on trust. In future visits, you should have no qualms about asking your veterinarian why she is recommending a certain course of treatment, medication, or lab test. The better informed you are, the better you will be able to follow through with the necessary care. Likewise, once you and your vet have talked it through, you should be able to feel absolutely confident this doctor will do her best for your dog.

When you leave the veterinarian's office after the initial visit, it should be with confidence that your pooch's health and well-being are in good hands: yours and your veterinarian's.

Now let's consider the wide range of dog maladies. The more you know, the less chance of your pooch suffering from a serious illness. Details are in the next section.