a puppy stands on an examination table with a vet nurse standing behind him.

Your puppy's first vet visit

Your puppy’s first appointments at the vets will likely be for vaccines and possibly a microchip. While most puppies react very well to these, it can make some worried about future vet visits. 

Training

Most puppies enjoy being touched, handled and stroked by those that they know well. However, when your puppy visits the vet for the first time, they will have to be handled by a stranger in a new environment. All this has the potential to be a bit overwhelming as it will be quite different from how you usually handle your puppy, but it doesn’t have to be scary. 

What you will need

  • A piece of vet bed, or a thick towel - this way your puppy will quickly learn what sort of things you’ll be doing together, and it will also help manage their expectations. In addition, it lets them know when the training begins and when it ends as it is something you can easily get out and put away. You’ll also be able to take it with you to the appointment and ask your vet to use it. This will all help prepare them mentally for the type of handling they need to expect.
  • Prepare some tasty treats such as small pieces of ham, chicken or even bits of their kibble, and make sure you can access them easily
  • A metal spoon and some earphones to replicate a stethoscope (or a toy stethoscope if you have one)

Vet handling

  1. Encourage your puppy over to the mat and begin offering them treats for just standing on it - this teaches your pet that being on the mat is a pleasant experience
  2. Start by gently stroking areas of your puppy that you know they’re comfortable with (usually their shoulders, under their chin, along their back etc). Try to keep your movements slow and steady to avoid exciting your puppy, and give them a treat after each stroke.
  3. Once they're comfortable with the above, slowly and gently touch your puppy’s legs, tummy, feet, tail, head, eyes and ears. Then move onto lifting up the lips to examine the teeth too – many dogs find this difficult, so take it slowly, rewarding and taking plenty of breaks.
  4. Keep these initial sessions short (remember puppies have a short attention span), a couple of minutes will be enough, but try to do this a couple of times a day
Tip: If at any point your puppy looks worried or begins to panic, then go back to the stage your puppy was comfortable at and begin again.

Being lifted onto a surface

Once comfortable with being handled on the mat at floor level, you can then begin doing some of this training on a surface so your puppy gets used to being examined on the vet's table. This is quite different to being picked up in your arms and it can be quite alarming for them, so the right preparation is important. 

  1. Place your towel or vet bed on a table surface with your treats easily to hand
  2. Say ‘lift’ (or choose another word) and gently scoop your puppy up
  3. Place them on the surface and immediately begin feeding them, either by hand or directly in front of them. Avoid scattering food as this encourages your puppy to wander around.
  4. If you have a wriggler or you are worried your puppy might fall, pop a harness on them so you can easily keep hold of them
  5. When they have finished the food, pop them on the floor and repeat the exercise a few more times. 

Do this a couple of times a day and your puppy will soon get used to being lifted and placed on a surface. Make sure you always say the cue word ‘lift’ just before you pick them up to help prepare them for what is about to happen.

Being held by your vet

This training will help prepare your puppy for being held still which will be necessary for procedures like injections.

  1. Hold your puppy gently in a hug, close to your body, and give them a treat. If they wriggle, wait for them to stop, praise and give a treat
  2. If your puppy fidgets a great deal, becomes worried or very frustrated, don’t hug at first – instead place a hand around their body, praise and treat and build it up slowly from there
  3. Once your puppy has got used to being held for a few seconds at a time, carry on building the time that you can restrain your puppy for
Tip: Keep sessions short (no longer than a few minutes at first). Remember, puppies tire easily and have short attention spans.

Preparing your puppy for injections

This part of the training will introduce your puppy to the sensation of pressure they will experience when being injected. 

  1. Once your puppy is comfortable with being handled and kept still, gently hold the loose skin between your thumb and finger at the back of their neck
  2. Immediately reward heavily with treats popped on the mat in front of them, which will keep them in the right position for a few seconds
  3. When your puppy is really comfortable with this, you can then use your finger on the other hand to gently touch the bit of skin in between the scooped skin. Remember to reward lots for this, too.

Veterinary equipment

Although you are unlikely to have stethoscopes, syringes or bandages lying around, you can improvise at home and help your puppy get used to novel items while they are on their pretend vet station.

Once they are happy being handled and used to being relatively still, you can:

  • show and let them investigate a metal spoon
  • after allowing your puppy to investigate it, place it gently on their chest
  • leave it there for a second and reward generously

Repeat this and gradually build up the time – this will really help prepare them for the unusual experience of having someone listen to their chest. 

You could even buy a toy stethoscope or pop some old earphones in before doing this to make the experience more authentic for your puppy, or get creative and make your own stethoscope.

It's a good idea to get your puppy used to seeing people with stuff dangling from around their necks too.

On the day

When the day has come for you to take your puppy to the vet, be sure to go prepared. 

Before you leave

It is best not to try out a new harness or collar on a puppy at their first visit to the vets. Some puppies need to get used to wearing them and it is important to try and keep them as calm and comfortable as possible on these first visits.

You will need to bring with you:

  • the towel or blanket you have been using for training, or a familiar blanket that will help your puppy feel more at ease in an unusual place
  • a favourite toy for them to play with while you wait for your appointment
  • treats - they may not like the ones at the vets

Arriving at the vet

If your puppy is unvaccinated, make sure they do not sit on the floor with other dogs. You'll need to be prepared to carry your puppy into the vets, and have them on your lap while you wait.

Alternatively, you can wait in the car with your dog. Just be sure to let the vet know that you'll be waiting there.

In the consultation room

Use your towel or blanket on the table top in the clinic and allow your puppy to sit on it. They may want to walk around the table and sniff and explore or sit and listen quietly. If your puppy comes to you for reassurance, this is fine, but try not to pick them up.

Staying overnight

Accidents can happen. And, occasionally, your puppy or dog may need stay at the vets for close monitoring or for recovery.

Naturally, you may be worried about your puppy or adult dog being at the vets overnight. But there are some things you can do to help them feel reassured.

You will need:

  • a towel or blanket that smells of home - having something that smells familiar will help your puppy feel more at ease. Remember that this blanket may get soiled or sometimes lost, so it’s probably best not to choose their favourite one. 
  • to potentially bring their food in with them if they are on a special type of food that may not be available at the vets. Always let them know what your pet would normally eat. They may advise something else if it's not appropriate for your pet's condition.

A great way to combine a positive vet experience with a health benefit, is to bring your puppy into the vets regularly during their first year of life (perhaps every two months) for them to be weighed and have a gentle check over with plenty of treat rewards. That way, they become familiar with the sounds and smells of the vets, and their experience is a fun and rewarding one. Plus they get a quick health check and their weight is accurately updated for their flea and worming treatment.

— Page last updated 30/11/2021