Make the most of your next visit to the veterinarian.

When you bring your dog or cat to the vet, chances are both you and your pet, who is likely shaking like a leaf, want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. But in the rush, you may be missing an opportunity to ask important questions that can help improve your furry friend’s health and lifespan.

Not sure where to begin? Here are seven questions that veterinarians would like you to ask the next time you bring in Fido or Fluffy.

1. “How often should I bring in my pet for wellness visits?”

As much as we’d like to not think about it, dogs age faster than people. That means they need checkups more often, notes Joseph Kinnarney, veterinarian and president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Wellness visits — which include a physical exam, such as listening to your pet’s heart and examining its teeth, and administration of any booster shots needed — should happen twice a year. That may sound like a lot, but look at it this way: A trip to the vet every six months is “like going to your physician every three to four years,” Kinnarney says. “They change that fast.”

2. “Why is it important to give once-a-month parasite protection medication?”

Medications that protect your pet from parasites are a year-round essential no matter where you live, points out Kinnarney. Parasites such as heartworm can infect both dogs and cats, and cause health issues, including lung disease, heart failure,  damage to other organs, and even death according to the American Heartworm Society.

Intestinal parasites commonly infect dogs and cats, but can also infect people. Children are more vulnerable since they can come into contact with soil in playgrounds or sandboxes that are contaminated with infected dog or cat feces. If the contaminated soil is ingested, which can easily happen when your kid plays in a sandbox and then puts their hands in their mouth before washing them, the paraites can cause serious problems, including blindness. So by making sure your pet is on parasite medication, you’re not just protecting your dog or cat from disease, but your family and others as well.

3. “Is my pet at a healthy weight? If not, what should I be doing?”

Although it’s tempting to treat Fido to your table scraps each night, those extra bites can really add up. Sometimes it’s not so obvious that your pet is overweight. How can you tell? In dogs you should be able to feel their backbone and ribs, according to the ASPCA. If you can’t feel their ribs without pressing into the skin, your pet is carrying around excess fat. That extra weight puts pressure on joints and increases the risk of joint problems, diabetes and puts an added strain on the organs.

Ask your vet for healthy eating recommendations, including serving smaller portion sizes, introducing a “diet” prescription food,  nixing the table scraps, and upping the amount of exercise your pet gets to help your furry friend trim down.

4. “How important are dental cleanings?”

Just as in humans, regular professional dental cleanings are important to maintain your pet’s health. These cleanings, done under anesthesia, remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth to prevent periodontal disease, and assess the teeth below the gumline with oral x rays. “Addressing dental issues is huge,” says Kinnarney. Although people often joke about dog breath, it’s a sign that your pet’s teeth need attention: “If you have a pet that you don’t want near you because their breath smells, there is infection going on there that needs to be addressed,” he says. These infections can spread to other organs, such as the kidneys and heart and cause bigger problems.

Routine dental exams and cleanings can be quite expensive because of the anesthesia and time involved, but as Kinnarney points out, regular cleanings help your pet stay one step ahead of health problems and save you from even more costly issues down the road.

6. “Should I be vaccinating my pet?”

Some pet owners question whether their furry friends need to receive vaccines. But just like in humans, vaccines prevent several diseases. “Not vaccinating risks leading to a preventable health problem,” says Kinnarney.

In some cases, skipping an important vaccine  such as rabies could lead to losing your beloved pet. “If you don’t follow your state’s rabies vaccination protocol,” notes Kinnarney, “dogs or cats may have to be quarantined or euthanized because they [were exposed to rabies and] weren’t vaccinated.”Parvo virus infections are especially devastating to puppies, and are completely preventable with appropriate immunizations.

Ask your veterinarian to share with you the recommended vaccination schedule for your pet based on their lifestyle.

6. “What are the best foods to feed my pet?”

“Quality in, quality out,” says Kinnarney. Feeding your animal quality food means a healthy and energized pet, but don’t purchase brand-name food just because it’s familiar. “Look at the ingredients,” suggests Kinnarney, “and look at what your dog’s reaction is.” You want real ingredients — chicken, beef, fish — that you can easily identify, and avoid any animal byproducts, preservatives, and additives.  Always get your nutrition advice from your veterinarian, not the pet store employees who don’t have the nutrition expertise your veterinarian does. 

7. “Do I need pet insurance?”

As anyone with a pet knows, taking care of your animal can be a costly endeavor. Although it can feel like a waste of money, pet insurance can come in handy if your cat or dog ever needs major surgery or hospitalization, according to Kinnarney. “If you were put in [a] predicament where you could not come up with $3,000 or $4,000 for emergency services, then insurance would be a good idea,” he advises.  There are many companies now offering pet insurance, and some time exploring your options is recommended.