Your assistance dog does plenty to help take care of you, and naturally, you reciprocate. Regular veterinary care—in most instances, that’s one or two wellness checkups every year—is a crucial part of keeping your guide, hearing, or service dog happy, healthy, and reliably performing her tasks. Of course, if you notice a possible sign or symptom of illness or something behavioral out of the ordinary, schedule an extra appointment.
While it’s nice to think that all vets cover all the necessary ground at every visit, remember, they’re only human. They’re sometimes rushed, stressed, forgetful, or distracted just like everyone else. And they certainly don’t know your dog like you do. So, it’s up to you to be a proactive advocate for your assistance dog’s health.
Here are 15 important questions to ask your veterinarian. Some topics should come up at every visit, while you may need to only ask others periodically; others still are dependent on circumstances. Regardless, these questions represent ground that should be covered whenever applicable.
- Am I feeding my dog a healthy diet? The quality of the food you feed your assistance dog—and ensuring she gets all the necessary nutrients in the right amounts—makes a big difference in her health, ability to focus on her responsibilities, and longevity.
- Would you recommend any different food? It never hurts to have your vet elaborate, even if they answer the previous question affirmatively. Your vet may suggest a different product, different protein sources, or another possible improvement.
- Am I feeding my dog appropriate food quantities? Feeding your dog high-quality food is only part of the health equation. The right amount of food helps keep her energized and at a healthy body weight. Speaking of…
- Is my dog at a healthy body weight? Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to your dog’s health, longevity, energy, comfort, and ability to perform tasks. If your vet says your assistance dog is under or overweight, ask how to safely go about remedying this.
- Does my dog get enough exercise? While many service, hearing, and guide dogs get out and about more often than pets, that’s not always the case. Plus, all dogs need active play in addition to walking around. Enough exercise is important to a dog’s physical and mental health.
- Would my dog benefit from any supplements? Dietary supplements aren’t usually necessary for healthy dogs, but they can help with various minor conditions. For example, if your assistance dog has dry skin, dandruff, gas, or digestive upset, supplements may help.
- Are my dog’s vaccinations up to date? Dogs have an established vaccination schedule which includes occasional boosters. It’s important to keep current on all of these, especially for assistance dogs that are frequently exposed to a variety of environments.
- Does my dog need to be on a heartworm preventive? Heartworms are dangerous parasites spread by mosquitoes. Depending on your location, the time of year, and other factors, your vet will recommend an appropriate heartworm prevention schedule.
- Should my dog have a fecal exam? These tests are used to detect intestinal parasites like tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. Your dog should be checked for infections periodically.
- Should my dog have bloodwork done? Occasional blood tests are a key way of screening for abnormalities and disease, making them a great tool for early detection. If it’s been a while, ask if it’s time for routine bloodwork.
- Is it time for a rectal exam? These too are an important method of screening and being proactive about your assistance dog’s healthcare. They don’t typically need to be done at every wellness checkup, but they do need to be done from time to time.
- Is it normal for my dog to [insert behavior]? If you’re newly partnered with your dog, you might not yet know everything about her, so don’t be shy about asking about her behaviors. If your dog’s suddenly doing something new, inquire about it.
- How do my dog’s teeth and gums look? All dogs should have professional dental checkups and cleanings at least once annually. It doesn’t hurt to remind your vet to have a thorough look in your dog’s mouth and give it a cleaning if they haven’t done it in a visit or two.
- Can you examine this lump or bump? Lumps or bumps on your dog can be benign, but they can also be warning signs of various problems, including cancer. If you notice any on your dog, bring it to your veterinarian’s attention as soon as possible.
- What’s the plan in the case of an emergency? This is something to discuss with your vet when you’re newly partnered with your assistance dog. Make sure you know the days and hours your vet is available, where you should go outside that availability, etc.