A great majority of pets in T&T have never been to the veterinarian because many of us are of the opinion that we can treat our animals with homemade remedies Granny told us about or we go on the advice of a pet shop owner. This is not only risky, it is also unethical. Acquiring a pet should be comparable to acquiring a new member of the family; and just as you would not place trust for the health of your new son or daughter in the hands of a pharmacist or a quack, in the same way your new pet deserves proper medical attention by a qualified veterinarian.
The first visit to your veterinarian should be as soon as you get your puppy. Puppies should ideally not be taken from their mother and litter-mates until they are at least seven to eight weeks old. Removal too early can adversely affect their canine socialisation period. A first vaccination should be given at six weeks old, so this first visit should be a check-up. If your puppy has not yet received any vaccinations, this first visit will also include his first vaccination. The normal course
of vaccinations is one shot every three weeks from six weeks old until 18 weeks old. Rottweilers may require one additional shot.
After this period of vaccination, many dogs never see the inside of a vet's office again until they become very ill. This should not be so. Your dog requires an annual booster vaccination and should be regularly de-wormed—at least every three months—and receive a preventive course of treatment against external parasites such as ticks and fleas. For many owners, visits to the vet are fraught with anxiety and stress. Dogs learn by association, and if all visits to the vet are accompanied by pain, frustration, unaccustomed poking and prodding, the dog will become unmanageable in a vet's office. This will increase the cost of your visit because the dog may need to suffer the indignity of being muzzled, restrained, even sedated or anaesthetised.
Your veterinarian should go out of his way to make your puppy's first visit a happy occasion because it is not in his interest to have an uncooperative patient, but he needs your help in achieving this. Your puppy needs to learn to be a model patient from a young age, and it only takes a few seconds a day to accustom him to being examined. This time does not have to be specially put aside, it can be incorporated into the time you spend playing with your puppy. He needs to get used to you touching his feet and his tail, his mouth and his ears, and to stand still while you run your hands over him. His feet are usually the most sensitive, so while you are fussing with him, handle his feet and nails and examine between the toes and the pads underneath the foot. Hold on to his foot quite firmly and do not let go if he tries to pull away, but you can move your hand with his foot as he moves it. Talk to him and praise him. Once he learns that you are not going to let go and that you are not going to hurt him, you will be able to examine his feet without any struggling on his part.
Get him used to his mouth being handled and examined by gently lifting the skin around his mouth, then examine his teeth. You should start brushing his teeth from an early age using canine toothpaste (available at local pet stores or your vet clinic) and a small toothbrush. A baby's toothbrush is soft enough, or you can use a finger-brush. Do not use human toothpaste on your dog—this is toxic to pets. Ears often require veterinary attention because they can get dirty and certain breeds are prone to inner ear infections. If you have cropped your dog's ears he may become sensitive about them being handled due to remembered pain. Handle your dog's ears and clean the inside of the pinna (the pink flap) with a piece of gauze or cotton moistened with water or with a Q-tip. Do not push any object inside of the dog's ears.
Your dog's eyes are easy to clean because they are prominent on the face. Look out for signs of abnormal discharge (excessive or coloured rather than clear); and keep clean using a piece of cotton or tissue moistened with sterile water. Ensure that you use a separate piece of tissue for each eye. If one eye has an infection, you risk transferring the infection to the other eye by using the same piece of material. The temperature of your dog is taken by inserting a thermometer into the rectum. Get your puppy comfortable with having his tail raised and being manipulated. You should also purchase a digital thermometer to keep at home so you can monitor your dog's temperature. If you have one at home you can get your dog accustomed with having his temperature taken.
Throughout all of these procedures, keep talking gently and comfortingly to your pet, keep praising and petting and offer treats and tidbits once he is calm and cooperative. When it is time for a real examination by his registered veterinarian, he should submit to this type of handling with no problem, and both you and your pet will have aced this examination with flying colours. It is also a good idea to take your pet to the vet just to have him played with and given treats by the veterinary staff. That way you will avoid him forming a solely negative association with vet visits, which is inevitable if he is only taken to the clinic when he is ill.
This article is copyright to Best Pets Animal Behaviour Service. For further information contact Kristel-Marie Ramnath at 689-8113 or bestpetsbehave@ hotmail.com