Best Practices: Veterinary Care

Today’s post on working with vets is by Shereen Raucci of Mile High Weimaraner Rescue. The post covers

1.       Veterinary care

a.       Becoming an advocate for your dogs

b.      Understanding common medical issues

We look forward to your comments, feedback, and ideas about how your rescues works with vets, too.

Shereen’s Take:


Rescue groups receive dogs from a variety of shelters across the country, unsanitary backyard breeders/puppy mills & other environments where they may have been exposed to viruses, parasites, or other disease. We all know vetting can be expensive but if you’ve come so far as to start a rescue group, because you love these companion dogs, you need to do right and provide the care they need. You are their voice so don’t let them down!

Many arrive intact & in need of vaccinations. Some may have been exposed to kennel cough, have ear infections, canine flu, parasites, fleas, ticks, or even heartworm. Some have untreated wounds or even past trauma to joints or fractured bones. Puppies may have been exposed to parvo/distemper, older dogs may have arthritis or dental issues. Hip dysplasia is common in larger breed dogs, back problems in some of the smaller breeds. Cancer is always a concern no matter what the breed, although some breeds are more prone to certain cancers. A few will arrive spayed/neutered, up to date on shots, and having had good prior vet care but that is certainly not the norm in rescue. It is our duty, as dog rescuers, to be advocates for our dogs!

To find reasonable, yet quality vet care contact local vets. Ask if they offer rescue groups discounts. What percentage discount will they offer? Many offer 10-20% discount. Others offer no charge office visits and a discount on labs, tests and medication. Check with your local humane society – do they offer low cost spay/neuters or vaccinations? Is there a mobile vet clinic in your area that offers discounts? Don’t be afraid to negotiate!


The most common vet issues you will encounter are:

Routine vaccinations: while this is not a health “problem’ per se, if dogs are not vaccinated we run the risk of dogs getting sick and disease being spread. Be sure foster dogs have or receive rabies, parvo/distemper, bordatella, etc. *Dogs must have their rabies before crossing state lines for transport.

Spay/neuter: many dogs arrive intact. All of us in rescue know the importance of spay/neutering our pets so get these dogs spayed and neutered! Not only does it prevent unwanted litters, it also lessens the chance of other health issues. For discounted spay/neuters, ask local vets for a discount, contact your local humane society, check with area businesses that might sponsor a dog, or mobile vets that offer discounts. While you want discounted price, never sacrifice quality!


Kennel Cough – just like kids in school that share colds, dogs in kennels/boarding/shelters can share Kennel Cough. It’s a virus that is spread through air, when a dog is coughing. There is typically a 10 day incubation period when dogs may not show symptoms. Once they show symptoms, the course is about another 2 weeks of being contagious(although the timeframe varies among vets). Symptoms include a hacking/gagging cough, sometimes accompanied by a runny nose or runny eyes.

– kennel cough is treated with antibiotics. To ease the cough you can use children’s cough syrup(children’s Robitussen or other alcohol-free cough syrup-check with your vet for dosage). Warm honey has also been known to ease the cough at night. Use a humidifier or let your foster dog relax in a steamy bathroom. Limit the dogs activity.

– kennel cough is contagious. To reduce the risk, do not share water or food bowls; do not let them share chew toys or balls – sanitize after use.

– canine flu can be serious, especially in a puppy, ill dog, or senior with low immunity, so be sure to contact a vet if the kennel cough is not getting better, it could be canine flu instead.

Diarrhea – this is very common and can be due to stress of being in a new environment or change in diet. Usually it will resolve itself in a few days but to help, foster homes can feed the dogs boiled chicken, mixed with canned pumpkin, cottage cheese or cooked rice as it is easy on their tummies. You can also give them Pepto-Bismal or Kaopectate but be sure to check with your vet for the correct dosage. IMPORTANT: be sure the dog is drinking enough water so they do not become dehydrated. Dehydration can occur quickly especially if a dog is malnourished, has underlying health issues, or is a small breed dog. If the dog shows signs of dehydration, has bloody stools or continues 3 days or more be sure to contact a vet.

Fleas/ticks – check your fosters for fleas and ticks. They are more common in dogs from certain regions of the country than others. They can carry serious illness, or in most cases, simply be an annoyance & fairly easy to rid the dog of them.

Ear infections – while ear infections are common in some breeds, if untreated, they can cause hearing loss. When you get a new foster check their ears. If goopy, smelly or dirty, clean them with a gauze pad and ear cleaning solution, then contact a vet as an antibiotic will likely be needed.

Allergies: some breeds are more prone to allergies than others. Symptoms include excessive itching, licking, scratching and hair loss. Some with food allergies will develop diarrhea, severe skin conditions, vomiting. Try a grain-free, limited ingredient diet and contact a vet to determine the allergies if needed. Supplementing diet with fish oils has also proven effective for skin allergies.

Worms/parasites: most common are roundworms and whipworms, depending on the geographic region the dog comes from. Worms/parasites can be treated with appropriate dewormer, most needing at least 3 rounds, some more. If your foster has worms be sure to pick up after them as they potty. Most worms live in the soil and are transmitted when another dog steps in it and then grooms themselves. Some parasites are more difficult to treat but it important to treat as they can cause gastro-intestinal issues, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, etc.

Parvo/Distemper: this is dangerous! It is a potentially deadly virus, more prevalent when puppies are born in unsanitary conditions or placed in shelters. Most common in puppies 8 weeks and younger. If a puppy has diarrhea, loss of appetite or is lethargic get them to a vet immediately!

Arthritis: common in older dogs. If untreated can cause debilitating pain. Disease cannot be reversed but it can be treated with Rx’s like Rimadyl, Tramadol, etc. Glucosamine supplements can also help lessen or slow the progression of arthritis. Many vets recommend adding Tumeric to the diet as well, as this herb is known to lessen inflammation. Daily, easy exercise is important for a dog with arthritis because it keeps the blood flowing and muscles strong.

Heartworm: although easily prevented with a monthly pill, many dogs come to rescue HW positive. Heartworm is transmitted by an infected mosquito and is most common in the Midwest and Southern states but becoming more widespread. Prevention is reasonable but treatment of a heartworm positive dog is very costly. Most shelters do not have the funds to treat as it is easily $1000-$3000 so that cost falls on the rescue groups. Some vets offer discounts so check around. During treatment the dog is injected with the poison to kill the worms. It is extremely important that the dog remain calm for 3 months following treatment(ie: crated and slow, controlled leash-walks). 5-6 months following treatment the HW test is redone. In most cases the HW is negative, if not, successive treatment is needed.

Other common health issues include malnourishment, obesity, untreated wounds & fractures. Sadly, most come into rescue in need of treatment, often invasive, expensive vet care.

Only you, as a dog rescuer, can be the advocates for these dogs.

They need you, they need all of us!

Post to Twitter

This entry was posted in rescue best practices manual and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Best Practices: Veterinary Care

  1. Vicky Mazyn says:

    Great post. Very thorough.

  2. Very good post.
    I found that by respecting our vet and working with them we get a lot of perks. Our vet has turned away several rescue groups because they expected to be given free services. By respecting them we have earned free service. We have developed a relationship with the vets, receptionist and vet techs in the clinic we use. AS a result they will work us in for an appointment even when they are very busy, give us free office visits, free meds. We also get a nice discount on services.

  3. Very good points made, Karen! My own vet office gives the rescue good discounts, often donated medication, sometimes don’t charge us for all services in a visit, and squeezes us in even if busy. And yes, like you, we’ve earned this by respecting them! They’ve even set us up with local pet supply stores that offer us discount, quality food. And like I mentioned, don’t settle for less than quality vet care. There are some area vets that offer huge discounts but I wouldnt trust them to treat a flea! I found referrals from trusted friends are a great way to find good vets.

  4. Great post. One way we acknowledge our vets is by thanking them publicly on our website, and we’ve done stories about them in our newsletter. Also, one of our vets offers a free check up within two weeks of adoption in hopes of generating new clients. It only applies to foster dogs he has seen when in rescue, but it’s a nice perk we can offer as a rescue, too.

  5. LBR also lists all of our vets that offer us discounts on our website and we not only respect them for working with us, but we do our best to respect their time as well. Our foster parents are not allowed to call the vet clinics. We have a vet committee that handles all correspondence. Of course the fosters are able to speak with the vets during the appt times, but appts are made directly through the vet committee. It helps cut down on call volume to the clinic and any confusion that might ensue.

    To thank our vets, each Holiday season we deliver holiday treats to every clinic, t-shirts are often included as well.

    During the Holidays we also deliver gift baskets to approximately 70 area shelters to thank them for their hard work throughout the year as well. It also helps keep LBR in their minds should a boxer come along needing help.

  6. Very good post. What disappoints me is that I’ve found many groups don’t treat for heartworm – acting like it’s no big deal – regardless of how sick the dog is.

Comments are closed.