Call me a softy, but there is not much more fun at the vet clinic than when a family brings in a new puppy or kitten. A month ago one of my clients lost the battle with their regal 17 year old hound dog.

It was a joy to see them show up last week with a new addition to the family: a little pip squeak Jack Russell Terrier puppy. She is adorable! I was quite happy that she was my last appointment of the afternoon so that I could spend lots of time holding her and discussing potty training, vaccines, behavioral issues, chew toys, brushing teeth and so on. This week I thought I’d offer some suggestions for a new pet’s first visit to the veterinarian, whether it is a puppy or kitten or an older rescued pet.

If I had my way, all first puppy exams would be 45 – 60 minutes long. There is so much information to relay to a client who hasn’t had a new puppy – or maybe hasn’t had a new puppy in 17 years! First vet exams are important and can affect the pet’s life down the road. I try to discuss breed specific issues that pertain to the new pet and make a plan for vaccinations based on the age of the pet. Additionally, I spend time showing clients how to trim the pet’s nails. I always say there is nothing cuter than a puppy or kitten with short toe nails! First puppy exams typically involve a lot of information about training. First kitten exams aren’t so much about training the cat but training the client!

Bring all the medical information you have, including medical records, vaccination history, and microchip information. I encourage veterinary clients to always keep a file on their pet, and this is a good time to start such a file. If you don’t have the records but know where the pet has been treated, the office staff can call the shelter or prior clinic and ask them to fax the medical records. It’s best to have them ready before the appointment to avoid redundancy. This will also help your vet decide when to give the next round of vaccinations.

Bring a fresh stool sample (about a teaspoon) from that morning or perhaps the night before. One of the first things I recommend when adopting a new pet it to check the pet for internal parasites. If you are unable to collect a sample we can usually retrieve a sample, but your pet would greatly appreciate you bringing one to the clinic instead of having a vet tech collect one from the rectum. We mix it up with solution, spin it down in a centrifuge, add more solution and a cover-slip, then let any worm eggs float up to the cover-slip over another 10 or 20 minutes. If you wonder why you have to pay 20 or 30 bucks for a fecal check it’s because it is a smelly process. Nonetheless, it is important as pets don’t typically shed out adult worms in the stool unless it is an overwhelming infestation. Even if your pet’s fecal test comes up negative, expect your doctor to administer a de-wormer as sometimes parasite eggs can be missed. Veterinarians typically administer a dose of de-wormer to a new pet with each of the vaccination booster appointments.

Kittens or rescued cats will typically be tested for leukemia and feline aids on their first visit. Dogs over 7 months old will likely be tested for heart worm disease on their first visit. Expect your veterinarian to complete a thorough physical exam from nose to tail!

Your veterinarian can discuss appropriate diets for your pet. For example, large breed puppies may need puppy food specifically for large breed dogs to decrease the risk of orthopedic issues. If you have adopted an older rescue pet your vet can assess if weight loss or weight gain is appropriate. If the pet is a senior and has arthritis or skin issues, your veterinarian may suggest supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids.

Bring a list of questions that you and the family have. Ideally, bring the family. If your doctor finds any issues, the whole family can be present to discuss the situation. If it is a small dog or has malocclusion of the teeth (a situation that predisposes to tartar build up), I typically discuss brushing teeth. Yes, the baby teeth will be replaced by adult teeth, but the pet must become accustomed to people brushing the teeth. That is most easily accomplished when the pet is still young. I often show pre-teens and teenagers (if they accompany the parent to the appointment) how to brush the pet’s teeth. I tell them that if they are good about brushing their pet’s teeth there will be more money for their parents to afford to send them to college! See? We vets have a sense of humor about medical costs.

Some veterinary clinics have puppy and kitten kits including samples of chews, diets, heart worm preventatives and pamphlets on pet health insurance and local trainers. One clinic where I worked many years ago gave each new young pet a comprehensive booklet on puppy care or kitten care. For pet lovers, few thrills rival the adoption of a new family pet.


NOTE: Consult your Veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work and is the President and Founder of Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida.
Dr . Joi Sutton