Written by: Dr. Chip Coombs
Going to visit a veterinarian for the first time can be both an exciting and daunting time. It is exciting, as it is the first time the family gets to show off their brand-new kitten or puppy. However, for first time owners, this is a huge emotional and physical responsibility for the next 12+ years and there is a lot to learn in those initial veterinary visits.
Most families know well in advance when the new family member is arriving and, with this in mind, it is important to pre-book that first veterinary visit to take place immediately after the kitten or puppy’s pick-up. If it cannot be arranged for the same day, then try to have it take place the very next day. The reasoning behind this is that a first one-on-one thorough physical exam is very important. If your puppy or kitten came from a breeder, then there is a possibility they may already have had an examination by the breeder’s own veterinarian. However, it is far easier to be thorough when examining one individual, rather than to have a group of vocal litter mates all vying for attention at the same time. The human-animal bond that forms between you and the new arrival will start to form within hours and if you wait more than a day, it becomes very difficult to return a puppy or kitten to the breeder if your veterinarian finds a physical problem of significance.
On that first visit, it is important to take all the papers, especially the vaccine and other medical records with you, so that your veterinarian will know what was found on any previous physical exam, what vaccines were given or what de-worming or medications have already been administered. This allows them to avoid any duplication of vaccines that have already been provided and knowing when to check a fecal sample for internal parasites.
Although your veterinarian may not want it on this first visit, if you are presented with a fresh poop sample within an hour of heading off to the veterinary practice, it would be worthwhile to bring it and have it checked for any parasites. The de-worming medications that a veterinarian uses are very effective and broad spectrum. However, there is no single medication that eliminates all types of intestinal parasites, especially protozoans like coccidia and giardia. These latter two need specific drugs to treat them.
The two most important things to accomplish in this first visit, from a veterinarian’s perspective, is to give your new family member a thorough physical examination and, secondly, to answer all of your questions. Don’t be surprised if your puppy or kitten receives a more extensive exam than you do for your own annual check-up. A veterinarian will examine the eyes, ears, nose and throat, skin and coat; listen to the heart and lungs; palpate the abdomen; manipulate the legs and joints looking for a range of motion, position of the kneecaps in small dogs, as well as any discomfort. This is also an ideal time to assess a puppy or kitten’s personality. How they respond to a complete stranger gently manipulating them will be very informative in terms of how their overall personality will develop over the weeks and months ahead. If it is determined that this little bundle of fluff will likely end up being very headstrong or aggressive, now would be the time to rethink whether or not you, and your family, are up for the challenge; as it will be a lifelong commitment.
In the same vein, if it is determined that there is a significant physical problem present, you may prefer to return the puppy or kitten to the breeder for an alternative choice. It is not uncommon for first-time owners to assume that getting a new pet is the same as a new TV and, because they are “brand new”, there won’t be any problems for years to come. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. So, that first exam, as well as the follow up exams in the months ahead, are very important.
Most veterinary practices allow extra time for that first visit, because they are anticipating a lot of questions, and there are a lot of topics they want to discuss with you. It might sound silly, but it is very helpful to bring a notepad to make notes of the important topics covered. It is also a good idea to make a list of your questions ahead of time. Otherwise, it is very possible you will forget to ask about something important to you. Studies have shown that owners only retain about 25-30% of what they are told on the first visit, largely because there is a lot of ground covered. Having those notes afterward will prove very useful.
In some respects, this first visit is also your first opportunity to get to know your veterinarian. We are dealing with a family member and for most owners, the care and compassion demonstrated towards your pet are just as important, if not more so, than that shown toward you by your own doctor. It is important that you like and trust your veterinarian. If you don’t, then take the time to find one you do.
At some point in your pet’s life, hopefully not until the very end of a long life, you will find yourself in the position of having to rely on and trust your veterinarian’s opinion and guidance in making some very important decisions. It might be the best treatment option for your pet to have a medical or surgical procedure, or your veterinarian might even suggest that the time has come to let your best friend go. You want to feel confident and trust in this advice and the best time for this to start is when your puppy or kitten is very young. For this reason, you may well prefer to go to a veterinary practice at which you are able to see the same veterinarian each time. This used to be the norm in veterinary practice but is no longer the case with the influx of corporate practices. If this is important to you, a phone call to the practice in advance would easily determine what your options are going forward.
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