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Healthy From Head to Tail: What You Need to Know About Check Ups, Vaccinations and More

By JanetTCrosby on Jan. 16, 2017

healthy from head to tail-primary image.pngVeterinary check-ups aren’t just for those scary times when your pet is sick or injured. Learn at what age your dog or cat should make their first visit to a veterinarian and why establishing a relationship with your pet’s veterinarian is important for lifelong physical health. Plus, learn what you can do to maintain and improve your pet’s social and emotional health.

Vaccination Check-Ups
This is where the journey starts for most puppies and kittens. Young animals are born with immature immune systems and need help surviving in the newborn world.

Why Vaccinate?
Protection against some diseases is passed from a mother to their young. This is called passive immunity and refers to the transfer of antibodies through the blood (via the placenta) and colostrum (the first milk consumed from the mother 24 hours after birth). Antibodies are proteins made by the body to remove and neutralize disease agents, such as viruses and bacteria. These antibodies last several weeks in the newborn, and the level of protection varies between litters and individual puppies and kittens.

If the mother was vaccinated before she became pregnant, she has better protective immunity against common diseases. For pets whose moms were not vaccinated, or it is unclear whether or not she was vaccinated, the maternal protection is less as puppy and kitten immune systems mature.

Vaccines stimulate the body to produce its own antibodies. This is called active immunity. Vaccination against potentially fatal diseases is key to ensure a healthy start. 

When to Start Vaccinations
For both puppies and kittens, vaccinations typically start when pets are between six and nine weeks old. While it is important to start vaccines this young to get the puppy or kitten’s own immune system making antibodies, vaccinations must be repeated since maternal immunity could still interfere.

The vaccination schedule is every three to four weeks until pets reach 16 weeks old, when the maternal protection has declined and the young are able to produce their own antibodies against disease. Rabies vaccine (required by law in most states) is typically administered between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Learn more about Rabies.

Petco requires pets to meet certain vaccination requirements based on age and type of animal before using Petco services such as dog grooming or dog training. You can get vaccines at Vetco locations nationwide.

For dogs:

  • Under 16 weeks
    • Puppy Starter (parvovirus, hepatitis, distemper)
    • Puppies must have completed at least two sets of shots before being admitted into the Petco Grooming Salon.
  • 16 weeks and older
    • Rabies
    • All dogs must wait 24 hours after receiving any vaccination before being admitted into the Grooming Salon.
  • New York City requires that every dog sheltered, maintained, harbored, fed, watered or groomed be vaccinated for rabies, distemper, hepatitis, para-influenza and parvovirus within the past three years and for Bordetella within the past six months.

For cats:

  • Under 16 weeks
    • Parvovirus (panleukopenia)
    • Herpesvirus-1 (Viral Rhinotracheitis)
    • Calicivirus
    • Vaccines should be administered every 3-4 weeks from first set until 16 weeks of age
  • 16 weeks and older
    • Rabies


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What Else Happens During a Vaccination Appointment?

At each check-up, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination, which includes eye, ear and oral health. Like humans, puppies and kittens lose their baby teeth. Your veterinarian will make sure your pet’s baby teeth are falling out and the adult teeth are erupting as they should be. 

As needed, your veterinarian will perform a fecal examination to check for intestinal parasites. If your pet tests positive, a dewormer is administered usually via pill or liquid form. Each visit will include a weigh-in to make sure your puppy or kitten is growing as expected for their age and breed.

These appointments are a great opportunity for pet parents to ask any questions about behavior, home care, exercise, socialization and more.

Other Benefits of Early Age Appointments
In addition to starting your pet off on the right track for disease prevention and parasite control, visits to the veterinary clinic help introduce your pet to new environments and people.

Your kitten or puppy may be ready to take on the world, or it may be afraid of its own shadow. They may love everyone or not be so sure about new people. The first veterinary visits are a useful tool for early socialization. Your pet will learn about riding in the car, meeting the staff and how to handle lots of new sights and smells.

Non-toxic, pheromone-based sprays with Feliway (for cats) or Adaptil (for dogs) can help create a sense of comfort and calm for pets in new situations. These sprays let your pet know that everything will be okay—and that in itself is a great training tool. These products are also available as room diffusers and collars for dogs.

Your veterinarian and staff are there to help you address common health and behavior issues before they become problematic. Most often, they are able to provide you with basic training tips for safe car travel, walking on a leash, grooming and handling. They may also recommend a local trainer or groomer to help you work with your pet.

Well Pet Annual Examinations
Annual examinations are important, even if your pet is up-to-date on vaccinations. Just as when they were young, a complete examination with weigh-in is important to check for parasites (intestinal and blood), weight loss or gain, dental health and any new lumps or growths. These changes can be very subtle and easily missed when you see your pet daily. That said, noticing your pet’s daily behavior, appetite and elimination habits is the best tool for detecting that something isn’t normal. Being able to provide information about your pet’s daily life may someday be the key to a diagnosis.

Addressing weight concerns, lumps and bumps and dental health early—by way of annual examinations—not only saves on veterinary bills, but also helps foster a healthier, longer life for your pet.

During an annual examination, your veterinarian will also review any changes in your pet’s daily routine to determine the risk of exposure to illness and disease. This helps your veterinarian recommend the right vaccination schedule for your dog or cat based on lifestyle, age, breed, exposure to other pets, overall health and other factors.

Senior Pet Examinations
Older dogs and cats require a closer look to ensure they can be pain free and healthy in their senior years. Most veterinarians recommend a health check-up every six to 12 months for seniors. Exactly when a pet becomes a senior varies by species and breed, but a rough guideline is seven years for dogs and cats. The exception is large and giant breed dogs (such as Great Danes) who are considered seniors at five to six years.

As pets age, they slow down and sleep more. Other changes may include an increase or decrease in appetite, change in bowel or bladder habits or a change in thirst. You may notice gradual changes or very rapid changes, especially after an injury or illness. Behavior and health changes can be difficult to notice on a day-to-day basis and are often attributed to old age, but may indeed be signs of health problems. Even subtle changes should be checked out by a veterinarian to make sure there isn’t a larger underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Like kitten and puppy examinations, senior pet veterinary visits will assess weight, dental health and a physical health. An annual urinalysis and blood work check (complete blood count, chemistry profile and thyroid) are part of a complete senior care profile. Your veterinarian may take radiographs or other imaging tests based on your pet’s risk and clinic protocol.

Senior pet visits are also a chance to discuss any new or unusual behaviors with your veterinarian. Confusion, barking or meowing at odd times, inability to hear the doorbell and other changes attributed to dementia or hearing or vision loss can be addressed early.

Examinations Prior to Traveling, Boarding and Grooming
Sometimes, despite regular veterinary visits, a quick examination and/or vaccination is required for certain situations such as prior to travel (especially air travel, but also interstate and international travel) or boarding at your veterinarian or a boarding facility.

Kennel cough, for example, is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can be caused by a number of bacterial and viral diseases. The vaccine for kennel cough (bordatella) is not usually included in dogs’ core vaccines, but is required by most boarding and grooming facilities. In the case of travel, a veterinarian-signed health certificate is usually required prior to travel to ensure that the animal is healthy and up-to-date on their rabies vaccination.

In these instances, a current vaccination status not only protects your pet but also other pets they may come in contact with. It is important to note that for optimal protection, the vaccine should be administered at least two weeks before your pet’s boarding or grooming appointment.

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Working as a Team With Your Veterinarian
Your veterinarian is a great resource, not only when your pet is ill or injured, but also for preventative health. Your veterinarian can help guide you through practices you should keep up at home. For instance, ask your veterinarian to show you how to properly trim your pet’s nails. This helps prevent broken or overgrown toenails, and properly trimmed nails are more comfortable for your pet. Learn more about how to trim your dog's nails.

Your veterinarian can also teach you the best methods and products to keep your pet’s teeth clean. There are a number of products—from oral rinses and toothbrushes to dental chews and treats for dogs or cats—to promote healthy teeth and gums. Your veterinarian can help determine which will work best for your pet.

If your pet is overweight, your veterinarian can help you devise a food and exercise plan that is safe and fits your particular pet’s needs and lifestyle. Ask your veterinarian about scheduling a regular weigh-in to monitor progress. There is typically no charge for this and it is a great way to schedule veterinary visits for your pet that are painless and fun.

Regular check ups help your pet stay in the best physical shape to exercise safely and enjoy an active lifestyle.

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In Summary
Daily observations and knowing what is normal for your pet is your best health advantage. Paying attention to times that your dog or cat seems a little off will help your veterinarian diagnose and address any problems early. 

Having a veterinarian who you visit regularly—one that you can ask questions of and who will listen to your concerns—is the best way to build a health care team for your pets and promote great physical, mental, emotional and social health.

Find a Vetco clinic near you or see all vaccine packages offered.

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About the Author
  • Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, has been writing about veterinary medicine topics since 1998. She was the Guide to Veterinary Medicine at About.com from 1999 to 2015. Dr. Tobiassen specializes in small animals and has practiced on both the east and west coasts. She is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association. Trained at Oregon State University, Washington State University, and the Animal Medical Center in New York City, Dr. Tobiassen graduated with a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University in 1990.
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