Like humans, some elements of a dog’s medical care will remain constant throughout a dog’s lifetime. For example, most veterinary clinics recommend that dogs have annual checkups to prevent or intercept any health issues that could arise. However, other aspects of the medical care needed by a dog can change as the dog matures. For example, puppies and senior dogs need more frequent checkups than active adult dogs. Here are some ways medical care can change during a dog’s life:
Generally, puppies need more frequent checkups and more immunizations to begin building up the puppy’s immune system. For the first four months of life, vet clinics generally recommend that puppies visit the vet about once a month for checkups and shots. During this time, puppies are vaccinated for rabies, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and parvovirus, and maybe vaccinated for coronavirus, leptospirosis, bordetella, and Lyme disease. Additionally, puppies are fairly accident-prone while they get used to their environment and may suffer sprains or other physical injuries that may call for a visit to the veterinarian. Puppies can chew and swallow objects, like electrical cords, cleaning products, and trash, that can cause health problems if not treated at a veterinary hospital.
From about 6 months to 2 years of age, dogs go through adolescence. Like any adolescents, the dog’s behavior may become unruly and rambunctious as they gain the confidence to stray further from the comforts of home. During this time, the most pressing medical need is typically the need to be neutered or spayed if the dog is not to be bred. Rather than dealing with early dog pregnancy symptoms, male and female dogs may be neutered or spayed, respectively, to prevent the dog from reproducing. Beginning around 6 months of age, the adolescent dog will be able to tolerate anesthesia and the surgery can be scheduled for the dog. After being spayed, female dogs will not go into heat. Likewise, after being neutered, male dogs’ behavior will become more moderate.
If a female dog is not spayed, she will go into heat 2 to 4 times per year beginning around 6 months to 2 years of age, depending on the breed. During this time, the dog is receptive to mating and may become pregnant. Early dog pregnancy symptoms include decreased activity, vomiting (similar to morning sickness), and eating more than usual. Early dog pregnancy symptoms may also include behavioral changes due to changes in hormone levels in preparation for the impending birth of the puppies. After these early dog pregnancy symptoms subside, the dog’s abdomen and nipples will begin to grow as the puppies grow.
As dogs age, they begin to slow down. Obesity can be a problem as they exercise less. Physical problems, such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, can also contribute to reduced levels of activity and obesity in senior dogs. As with humans, obesity can cause many health problems in dogs including heart problems, liver problems, and joint problems. Other problems that can arise as dogs age include cancer, kidney and urinary tract problems, and dementia.
As dogs enter this stage of life, many veterinary clinics recommend checkups every 6 months. These checkups allow the dog to be checked for physical ailments like arthritis. As dogs age, their immune systems become less capable of fighting off illness and parasites, so blood and fecal samples may be collected to catch any problems early on. Senior dogs may also exhibit signs of mental decline that may be monitored by a veterinarian during these semi-annual visits.
Medical needs of a dog will change and evolve as the dog grows from a puppy to a senior. As a puppy and as a senior, the dog’s medical needs will be high. Puppies need to see a veterinarian about once a month for the first few months of life. Likewise, seniors need to see a veterinarian about every 6 months after about the age of 7 for small and medium size dogs and the age of 5 for large dogs. During their adulthood beginning about age 2, veterinary clinics recommend annual checkups to keep current on vaccinations and monitor for any potential medical problems that may arise.