How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?

How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?

According to a recent American Veterinary Medical Association survey, about 24 percent of pet owners don’t bring their pets into a veterinarian’s office at least once per year (1). That is about 20 million pets that are not getting regular preventative care. It might make one wonder: how often should I take my dog to the vet?

Many people who love and cherish their pets simply don’t know the answer to that question. Some people are unaware of how crucial preventative care is to the long-term health of their dog. Others may have a difficult time bringing their pup into the veterinary office for various reasons, from transportation difficulties to owning a fearful dog. 

Let’s discuss how often you should take your dog to the vet and ways to make it easier on yourself and your dog.

How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?

So, let’s get down to it: how often should you take a dog to the vet? The answer really depends on several factors, including the age of your dog, if they have any pre-existing medical conditions, and if they are currently sick.


Veterinarians typically want to see puppies shortly after adoption to perform an exam and check for any early problems like a heart murmur or hernia. The veterinarian will get a stool sample, deworm them, start them on heartworm prevention and get them their first round of shots. You should bring any paperwork to your appointment from the shelter or breeder so that your veterinarian knows what has already been done. 

Puppies should return for vaccine boosters every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks of age, or until your veterinarian deems them fully vaccinated and protected. Not returning or skipping boosters can put your puppy at risk for many life-threatening infectious diseases. It can also necessitate restarting the entire vaccine series, which would cost more money.

Adult Dogs 

Healthy adult dogs can go see the veterinarian once a year for annual vaccines, a preventative exam, and deworming. 

Senior Dogs and Dogs With Medical Conditions

Senior dogs and dogs with chronic medical conditions, like heart disease or kidney dysfunction, should see the vet at least every six months. Dogs are considered senior at different ages depending on their breed. Large and giant breed dogs are considered seniors at 6 to 7 years of age. Medium-sized dogs reach senior status at 8 to 9 years, while small breed dogs are considered seniors at 10 to 12 years old.

Signs That Your Dog Should Go to the Vet

While age and certain conditions do factor into when to take your dog to the vet, it really boils down to this: anytime you are concerned about your dog’s health, you should make an appointment. 

Listen to your gut. If you feel that something is off, take them into the veterinary clinic. If you’re unsure if a problem is urgent or can wait, call the veterinary hospital and speak with one of the receptionists. They will guide you and tell you what the appropriate next steps are for your pet. You (the pet parent) are the front line of monitoring your dog’s health.

Some signs that your dog needs to go to the vet sooner rather than later include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Blood in stool
  • Change in eating habits
  • Increased drinking
  • Lethargy or exercise intolerance
  • Difficulty walking
  • Red, watery or painful eye +/- excessive blinking
  • Change in coat or hairless/red patches of skin
  • Crying/whining
  • Aggressive or unusual behavior

Why It’s Important to Take Your Dog to the Vet

Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is just as true today as it was back then. There are many benefits to taking your dog in for annual preventative exams. 

Preventative care is less expensive than treating an advanced disease. Plus, catching a problem early can increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. The veterinarian can advise you additionally on a proper diet for your pet’s age and weight, needed dental care, current vaccine protocols, risks of any emerging disease in your area (like canine flu), and bloodwork to catch potential problems early. They can also supply you with heartworm and flea/tick prevention for the following year. All of these are necessary things to optimize your dog’s health.

In addition to the health benefits of preventative care, it is important to maintain a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR), so that when you do have questions or concerns, you can easily get the necessary answers. A VCPR is basically an agreement between a veterinarian and client to take care of an animal or group of animals. This relationship needs to be maintained on a regular basis for the veterinarian to provide care and support to you and your pet.  

How Often Do Dogs Get Shots?

Vaccines are another integral part of preventative care. The rabies vaccine is required by law in most states. Rabies vaccines are available in one-year and three-year shots. The first time a dog gets a rabies vaccine, they must receive a one-year shot. 

After the initial puppy vaccines, dogs should receive additional vaccines every one to three years, depending on the type. For instance, a Lyme or leptospirosis vaccine needs to be boostered yearly, whereas a distemper or parvo vaccine could potentially be given every three years, taking your dog’s risk into consideration, of course.

Tips for Bringing Your Dog to the Vet

We know that it can be difficult to drag your dog into the vet every year. However, you don’t have to dread this annual trip to the clinic. Here are some tips you to make it easier for you and your pet:

Burn off that energy. Take your dog for a walk, or play with them to get some extra energy out before the appointment.

Try a carrier. Consider taking small dogs in a carrier to keep them contained.

Make sure they’re comfortable. Bring a favorite toy or blanket for a familiar smell and emotional support.

Exit the waiting room. If your dog is having a hard time in the lobby, ask to wait outside or in the car until the doctor is ready.

Shorten the leash. Use a short, non-retractable leash while in the clinic for the safety of your dog and the other dogs at the clinic.

Practice, practice, practice. Make “practice runs” to the clinic. Drive your dog to the vet, have the staff give him lots of love and treats, and then leave on a positive note.

Check in early. If you have a reactive dog, call ahead and let the staff know that you are on your way; they may be able to get a private room ready for your arrival.

Consider medication. Talk to your veterinarian before the appointment to see if your pet would benefit from a calming medication.

Schedule in advance. Make your next appointment before you leave the clinic. That way you won’t forget to call and schedule in a year.

Plan ahead. The veterinary community is making strides to increase access to care. For those with transportation or financial difficulties, more low-cost clinics and mobile veterinarians are available than ever before. Research pet-friendly taxi services or know which family members that you can call to help your pet get to the hospital. It also may help to set aside a little money each month in a “rainy day pet fund” for unexpected illnesses or injuries. 

Most of all, be patient. The veterinarian team is doing their best to get your dog taken care of in a timely manner. Emergencies and unforeseen circumstances occur on a daily basis, making it easy to get behind. The busiest times at a veterinary hospital are early mornings and early evenings. If possible, try to make an appointment in the middle of the day.

Remember, your veterinarian is there for the good times and bad. Find a vet that is knowledgeable, compassionate and provides a high level of care, and you will have a relationship that will be beneficial for all.


  1. American Veterinary Medical Association Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook (2022). Retrieved from:

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