Regular Veterinary Checkups
Your veterinarian is your number-one partner in caring for your dog. If you're looking for one, get recommendations from shelter staff, breeders, and friends with dogs. If possible, go and check out the clinic and staff yourself. You want a clean facility that provides emergency coverage, with friendly staff who welcome your questions, and a reputation for good medical care.
An annual veterinary exam (plus visits as needed for illness or injury) is the best way to keep your dog healthy from nose to tail. Although you know your dog best, your veterinarian will often see or feel things that you might miss. Your veterinarian also has specialized instruments to fully examine your dog.
During the annual exam, you and your veterinarian should discuss the following aspects of your dog's health:
If you've been keeping a diary of your dog's health and behavior, bring it with you. If your dog has been showing any signs of problems, such as discharge, redness or itching affecting the eyes and ears, skin problems, or changes in exercise tolerance, the dates and specifics can help the veterinarian figure out what's going on. She may ask what you feed your dog, how often he eats, whether you give any supplements, and how much and what kind of exercise he receives. Be prepared to answer any and all questions about your dog's habits. The better your veterinarian knows you and your dog, the better she can take care of him.
Behavior problems, especially house training issues or unusual aggression, sometimes indicate that something is physically wrong with your dog. Always be sure to mention them to your veterinarian, just in case.
During the exam, the veterinarian will listen to your dog's heart and respiration rate; examine the eyes and ears; palpate (examine by touch) the body to check the condition of the internal organs and make sure there are no unusual lumps or bumps; and test your dog's joint and muscle condition by moving his legs to check his range of motion. You will also want to bring in a stool sample so the veterinarian can examine it for the presence of parasites. (See more about parasites and their prevention in Chapter 12.)
Once the physical exam is complete, you and the veterinarian can discuss how your dog is doing and whether any changes should be made in his care. This is also a good time to mention any behavioral problems you might be having with your dog. If your veterinarian doesn't find an underlying medical cause for the behavior, she should be able to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist or experienced trainer who can help.