Q: My 5-year-old cat is in good health and up-to-date on her vaccinations. She's never had any health problems. Does she really need to see the veterinarian every year?

A: If your pet is healthy and in good condition, you may think it's OK to skip annual veterinary exams, but a yearly look-see from the vet is an essential part of keeping her healthy. Annual exams help ensure that disease doesn't adversely affect your cat's health before you realize a problem has developed.

Annual examinations (or twice-yearly for senior pets) are the foundation of preventive care. They can prolong your cat's life if your vet discovers a problem early so that it can be treated before it becomes serious — and expensive to deal with.

You may even save money if you and your vet team up to prevent health problems by ensuring that your cat (or dog) gets the right amount of food and exercise to prevent or reverse obesity, for instance.

Young or adult pets need at least one wellness check annually. Seniors benefit from twice-yearly checkups. Because pets age at different rates (large dogs age most rapidly; cats and small dogs, more slowly), exactly when those twice-yearly exams begin depends on the individual animal.

I've been a vet for close to four decades now, and I don't know how many times I've had to give someone the worst news possible about a pet, knowing that if I'd had a chance to catch and treat a medical issue earlier, I could have saved the pet.

The bottom line? Don't skip that yearly visit. You'll be doing your cat — and your wallet — a big favor.

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.