What’s the most important thing you can do for your pet in 2017? According to our vet, Dr. Sasha Naugler, it’s to take them to your vet for an annual check-up – or semi-annual if they’re senior pets. Even if they seem healthy, having your vet give your dog or cat a comprehensive physical exam will help them discover any potential illnesses or diseases early on so she can discuss preventative measures you can take, or treatment options if needed.

Here’s what your vet will do during your pet’s exam:

Take a history and check their weight.

Questions she may ask include: What food do you feed your pet? Any recent diet changes? How does their stool look? Have you noticed any changes in behavior or activity level? This is a good time to bring up any concerns you may have so they can be addressed. It’s also a good idea to think of questions for your vet prior to your visit and to write them down to bring to the exam.

Take their temperature.

The normal body temperature for a dog and cat is 100-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Your pet will usually run at a specific temperature. If you have a baseline temperature on your pet during an annual exam, then on your next annual exam it will be compared to the last temperature your pet had. These trends are important when spotting subtle changes in your pet.

Check their skin and coat.

An unhealthy looking coat and skin can be early indicators of illness or disease. Your vet will also be looking for parasites such as fleas and ticks.

Examine their ears, eyes, nose and teeth.

Your vet will be looking for any discharge, swelling, redness, pain and bad odor. If you have a senior pet, they will want to assess whether your pet has cataracts, which can result in blindness. You can help keep your pet’s ears and eyes healthy between vet visits by doing your own check-ups at home. Because good oral hygiene plays an important role in your pet’s overall health, consider cleaning your pet’s teeth every day with a toothpaste such as Vet’s Best Dental Gel Toothpaste for dogs. This toothpaste uses natural ingredients to clean away tartar and plaque and whitens and brightens pets’ teeth at the same time.

Listen to their lungs and heart.

Your vet will use a stethoscope to check if your pet has an abnormal heart rate, rhythm or murmurs and if their lungs sound normal. If you have a dog, your vet may want to test for heartworm infection.

Feel all over their body.

Your vet will be looking for any abnormal lumps or signs of pain.

Review their vaccination/booster shot schedule.

Puppies and kittens will need to be vaccinated in their first few months and then receive booster shots every 1-3 years. For dogs, there are five must-have vaccinations that offer protection against canine distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, kennel cough and rabies. For cats, there are four must-have vaccinations that protect against feline distemper, feline herpes virus, calicivirus and rabies. Your vet will advise if your pet needs any other vaccinations, depending on where you live and your pet’s lifestyle. For cats, it’s a good idea to get them tested for feline leukemia. If they test negative, it’s important to get them vaccinated against this deadly virus, especially if they’re outdoor cats and likely to come in contact with other kitties. For a complete list of pet vaccinations, check out http://pets.webmd.com/pet-vaccines-schedules-cats-dogs.

Additional testing.

Depending on their age and what your vet discovers, she may also want to do additional tests such as bloodwork, fecal parasite check, urinalysis and/or X-rays.

Dr. Naugler says that our pets are very good at hiding signs that they are ill, so early detection and treatment is important. Repeat annual exams, weight checks and blood work help look at long term trends in your pet. This collection of information is invaluable in the early diagnosis of health issues that can be addressed with the best success. And if they get a clean bill of health, you will have peace of mind.