It is very important that you take your puppy to the veterinarian within the first week of purchasing him/her. Even if the place where you purchased the puppy says he/she is up to date with vaccinations for the time being, there is generally a certain time period that the facility or breeder will be responsible for any medical conditions your puppy may have.
There are several ways to choose your veterinarian (if you don't already have one). If you purchased your puppy from a pet store, they may recommend a veterinarian, and sometimes this veterinarian will offer a free exam and vaccination.
While this may sound like a good idea, keep in mind that this veterinarian may have an arrangement with the pet store, which may be good or bad. If your puppy has a medical issue, this veterinarian may treat it free of charge; but on the other hand, because of the relationship this vet has with the pet store, he or she might not want to write a "not fit for sale" certificate for a condition that another veterinarian would, and you may be stuck with a sickly puppy.
That being said, the pet store obviously has faith in this veterinarian, and after having spent a lot of money on a puppy, that free exam and vaccination may be helpful financially.
Another way to find a good veterinarian is by word of mouth. Asking your friends or neighbors who have pets is a very good resource. I find that this is the best resource, especially if you respect this person's opinions.
The Internet sometimes has reviews of veterinary hospitals in the area, which may also be helpful. There may be a hospital that is convenient to your home or perhaps you have driven by a hospital that appeals to you: It is well taken care of, has a nice sign, has nice landscaping, etc. You can also go in and talk to the reception staff and inquire about the hospital--their hours, the doctors, what services they offer. Additionally, by going in, you can get the general vibe of the hospital: Is it clean, does it smell clean, does the staff seem nice and helpful. You can ask for a tour of the facility as well.
So, now that you picked your veterinary hospital, what should you expect? Initially, you will generally be seen by the veterinarian two to three times, three to four weeks apart and you will incur a cost of approximately $400-$600 in that time (this depends on the age of the puppy and what vaccinations it has received).
Usually when making the appointment, the receptionist will remind you to bring in a stool/fecal sample in order to test your puppy for intestinal parasites. At your initial exam, the veterinarian will review the puppy's record and figure out which vaccinations and parasitic treatments it has received. The doctor will do a thorough physical exam, looking for congenital or other medical conditions.
Hopefully he/she will review with you your puppy's exposure to the various diseases that vets vaccinate for. As I have written in a , there are several optional vaccinations that not all puppies need...so be sure to ask your veterinarian which vaccinations are being administered.
The core vaccinations are distemper/parvovirus/adenovirus/parainfluenza, also called "5 in 1" or DA2PP, and rabies vaccinations. Your puppy will receive the "5 in 1" every 3-4 weeks until it is 14 to 16 weeks old. Why? Because the puppy received maternal antibodies from its mother's milk, which wear off at some point during this time period, and a vet will want to vaccinate just after this happens to be sure the puppy has continued immunity against these diseases.
The rabies vaccination is generally given after 12 weeks old, but I generally do it when they are a little older, so as not to overwhelm their immune system. The other optional vaccines are leptospirosis, lyme, kennel cough, and influenza virus. Again, review my or review these diseases online before receiving these vaccinations.
There are veterinarians out there who routinely vaccinate for these diseases when your puppy is not even going to be exposed, which overwhelms its immune system and can make your puppy ill. If your dog needs those optional vaccinations, I generally try to break them up, and do one at a time, a week or so apart. Again, these are small puppies and breaking up vaccinations allows your puppy's immune system to better handle them; if there is an adverse reaction, we are able to determine which vaccination caused the problem.
As far as parasites are concerned, I generally will deworm (with medication) a puppy at least once despite a negative stool sample, as this test can yield false negative results. This is especially important in households with small children where some of these parasites could potentially be transmitted (not likely with good hygiene, but possible). Also, heartworm, flea and tick prevention should be explained to you.
The veterinarian and their staff are a useful resource for things like housebreaking, some behavioral issues, diet, general care of your puppy such as ear cleaning, tooth brushing and nail trimming. They will also discuss spaying and neutering your puppy. You will see the doctor a few times with your puppy, so some of these things may be done at another visit.
You should feel comfortable with your veterinarian. Most veterinarians have a good bedside manner; we became veterinarians for a reason: we love animals! And what's cuter than a puppy?? If you aren't happy with the veterinarian that you saw, perhaps there is another one at the hospital that you could try next time.
The veterinarian and their staff will be a big part of the life of your dog and your family, so you need to feel that the facility feels right to you and that they are thorough, caring and attentive.
Remember love your pets as much as they love you!