by Tracey Warncke

You've waited and waited and the time to bring your new puppy home is rapidly approaching. CALL YOUR VETERINARIAN, don't wait until you pick your puppy up!

Your veterinarian is your first line of defense for your puppys good health. If your vet knows you are getting a puppy they can offer invaluable pre-puppy advice such as how to puppy proof your home, flea and tick control, various forms of heartworm preventative and vaccination and worming schedules. He will also tell you what information you need to get from your breeder, in addition to the vaccination and worming medication already given, to help keep your puppy on the track to good health.

Since many breeders give you a time limit to take your puppy to the vet for that first exam, read your contract carefully and make sure you schedule your first appointment accordingly. Give your pup a day or so to settle in then take him in for the all important first exam. Make sure you take all your puppys papers with you so your vet can record all vaccinations and wormings already given. After a thorough exam (eyes, ears, teeth, coat, weight, heart, gastrointestinal to name a few!) your vet will let you know when and what the next appoint will entail. A puppy usually sees the doctor 3-4 times from the time you take him home until age 6 months. This ensures that he is growing properly (appropriate weight), is parasite free (no intestinal worms) and is up-to-date on his inoculations.

To make this experience enjoyable for your pup, take lots of tiny little treats. Give them to all members of the veterinary team to give to the pup. Let them make a big deal over him and tell him what a good pup he is (who can resist a 9-10 week old Newfoundland pup!). Ask them if you can stop by from time to time for a quick visit so your pup will begin to love going to the doctor! In between doctor's visits, keep a list of questions you would like to ask with your pups health records. This way, you wont get home and say "I forgot to ask...."

Try to keep your pup away from other dogs for a few weeks. Your pup's immunities are still developing and you don't know what ailment another dog might have. Proper socialization need not be interrupted if you are careful about where you go and what dogs you meet. Most puppy kindergarten classes require that you bring your puppy's shot record with you so that they are assured your puppy is getting his shots and that the spread of disease is minimized. In other words, don't take your 2 month old puppy to a dog show!

Once your pup has received his permanent shots (usually around 6 months of age), your vet will want to see him at least once a year. This yearly exam is essential. All booster shots will be given along with a thorough exam. Don't think that you can wait a month or two past the due date to get that parvo, rabies or distemper booster. These diseases still appear and are life-threatening! Here in the northeast rabies is on the rise and we still have outbreaks of parvo. Yearly examinations also detect any changes that may need treatment as your dog gets older.

Don't be afraid to call you vet should you feel something isn't right. That's what he's there for! When you do call, don't simply say "Puppy doesn't feel good." The more specific you are the more it will help your vet diagnose the problem. If your pup has gotten into something he shouldn't (he dragged the old turkey carcass out of the trash or he drank out of the bucket that had some old motor oil in it) call the vet immediately. Many substance are harmful to animals and immediate treatment is necessary.

Remember the old adages - An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Better safe than sorry! They certainly do apply to appointments for yearly checkups.