Whether this is your first puppy or your tenth puppy, it is important to know when it is time to take your puppy to the veterinarian. Be sure to understand what behavior is normal for a puppy so that you know when your puppy’s health has deviated from the norm.
Let's start by saying that you should not seek veterinary advice from anyone who does not have the title Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM, VMD) attached to their name. Even very experienced breeders, trainers, groomers or pet sitters are not qualified to give you veterinary medical advice. You are wise to seek your veterinarian’s advice if someone tells you that, in their experience, they do not think something is ‘normal’. The information in this article was provided by Darcy Schofil, DVM and Alison Williams, DVM of Cahaba Mountain Brook Animal Clinic. You can trust their advice!
Here are examples of when to call the veterinarian.
Before Using Human Medicine
Schofil advises you to resist the temptation to reach for human medicine to treat your puppy. She says that the dosage is very different for a puppy than for a human. Common medicines that we take are often toxic for your puppy. Avoid giving your puppy Tylenol, Advil, ibuprofen, and other similar medications as these can be fatal if ingested by dogs. While you need some at-home remedies in your puppy’s first aid kit, check with your veterinarian for the proper doses and safety guidelines before giving anything to your puppy.
Schofil also advises you to refrain from giving your puppy medications that are left over from a previous prescription unless your veterinarian advises you to use them. For example, giving your puppy eye drops prescribed for conjunctivitis might make a different kind of eye injury worse. It is always best to consult your veterinarian before giving your puppy any medication.
Non-Weight Bearing Limping Issues
Your puppy is susceptible to the same injuries that you are. Schofil says that if you notice your puppy limping, determine if she bears any weight on the affected leg. A non-weight-bearing limp is a reason to seek immediate veterinary attention. If your puppy is putting some weight on her leg, restrict her activity for 24 hours. Contact your veterinarian if the limp persists longer than 24 hours.
Coughing, Sneezing or Breathing Issues
Persistent coughing or sneezing is a reason to call the vet. Schofil reminds us to also look for any signs of difficulty breathing which may include wheezing, rapid breathing, a bluish tint to gums and lips, and/or open-mouth breathing not related to strenuous exercise. An allergic reaction can cause swelling around the nose and mouth that can also result in trouble breathing. Brachycephalic or ‘flat-faced’ breeds are often more likely to experience respiratory distress than longer nose breeds. It is important to discuss what is normal for your puppy with your veterinarian when it comes to breathing and know the signs of distress.
Changes in Appearance or Behavior
Take the time to teach your puppy to accept handling and gentle restraint. The puppy that trusts you to examine her makes it easier to discover potential issues. Schofil suggests that, as you practice gentle handling, you be aware of these changes such as:
- Unusual smells
- Excessive scratching
- Lumps or bumps
- Sudden aggression that may indicate pain
- Redness in the eyes, ears, between the paw pads, or around the tail and anus
- Hair loss
- Frequent shaking of her head
The sooner you notice a problem and seek veterinary care, the sooner your puppy can recover.
Changes in Appetite
It is important to feed your puppy on a schedule. This allows you to notice immediately if she stops eating. Keeping the bowl full can prevent you from knowing if your puppy is experiencing a loss of appetite. If a loss of appetite persists for longer than 12 hours, Schofil says it's time to call your veterinarian.
Schofil also advises to pay attention to other signs as combinations of symptoms will require faster veterinary intervention. For example, skipping a meal but remaining energetic and playful is very different from skipping a meal and being lethargic. Schofil says this is particularly true when your puppy is experience vomiting and/or diarrhea. If your puppy is energetic and playful, you can wait 24 hours before taking her to the vet. If she is lethargic, weak, or painful, then you should consider vomiting and diarrhea an emergency.
Changes in Bathroom Habits
Williams advises you to monitor your puppy’s bathroom habits. Call your vet if you notice worms in your pup’s stool or diarrhea. It is important for you to know how many bowel movements your puppy typically has in a day—two to three is typically considered normal. Also be aware of how much water your puppy drinks and how frequently she urinates. Being aware of what is normal for your puppy alerts you to potential issues when the pattern changes.
When in Doubt, Call the Vet
When you are in doubt about your puppy’s health, both Williams and Schofil say to contact your veterinarian. It is far better to overreact than to under-react. They urge you to take out health insurance for your puppy. They also remind you to trust veterinary websites and advice over well-meaning people who are not veterinarians.