Valley Fever

Valley Fever, properly called Coccidioidomycosis, is a disease caused by the  fungus Coccidioides immitis, which lives in the soil in the desert areas of the southwestern United States.  The disease occurs in humans and domestic animals as a result of inhaling the fungal spores, and is not considered contagious.  Hot, dry conditions and events that stir up the soil (such as earthquakes or construction) increase the likelihood of getting the disease.

Once inside the body the spores progress into spherules which can multiply.  It can stay within the lungs and cause progressive lung disease, or may cross into the blood stream where it goes to other organs such as bones, skin, or even the brain.  Not every person or animal develops disease after exposure to the fungus.  The disease cannot be transmitted from animal to animal (or to human), with the possible exception of skin lesions that release more spores. The symptoms of Valley Fever depend on which organs are affected.  Cough, fever, weight loss, limping, and seizures are all common signs.

Diagnosis of Valley Fever is based upon history, clinical signs, x-rays, and screening blood work, including a blood test for antibodies that the body produces against the disease.

Treatment for Valley Fever involves long term (generally 6 months or more) therapy with Fluconazole or another drug in the ‘azole’ class.  These drugs inhibit growth of the fungus, and then rely on the animal’s immune system to resolve the disease.  If the animal has a compromised immune system, it may be difficult or impossible to cure the disease.  Some animals are on medication for their lifetime. When to discontinue medication should be determined by the veterinarian, based on response, physical assessment, and blood work.  Do not discontinue medication without veterinary evaluation.  Possible side effects of medication may include decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or liver toxicity.  Animals on long term therapy should have blood work to evaluate their liver on a regular basis.

To learn more, please visit the website for the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence at

Caring for Your Senior Cat

If your cat is 7 or better, they are a senior cat!  These special kitties require more care than younger cats.  Paying special attention to your cat’s weight, eating habits, activity levels and more can help you pick up on small changes that may signal big problems.  With early detection, your veterinarian can care for your cat and help give you MANY more years together!

Here are some of the common questions we hear when it comes to senior cats:

Why should we treat old cats differently than young cats?

Reduction in exercise may result in reduced muscle tone, which may further reduce the cat’s ability to jump, climb or exercise. This may also lead to a stiffening of the joints and arthritis.

When coupled with reduced activity, common in older individuals, this lack of exercise can result in a fall in energy requirements of up to 40%. If a cat maintains a good appetite, its daily food intake must be reduced to prevent excessive weight gain.

Inappetance or lack of desire to eat may develop in some senior cats since the senses of smell and taste become dull with age and periodontal disease is common.

Gut function and the ability of the intestines to absorb nutrients are reduced in many older animals.

Thirst is also decreased, causing an increased risk of dehydration, especially when combined with concurrent renal insufficiency, a type of kidney disease common in older cats.

Does my senior cat still need to have regular booster vaccinations?

Although little is known about the feline immune system, it is generally assumed that with age immune function may deteriorate. This may in turn result in a reduced ability to fight infection or destroy neoplastic (cancer) cells. Most cats that have a low risk of contracting many of the common preventable diseases are vaccinated on a three-year rotating schedule. Our veterinarians will determine the appropriate vaccination program for your cat based on its physical condition and lifestyle.

What diseases do senior cats commonly get?

The major health risks seen in older cats are:

  • Obesity
  • Hormonal disorders such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Neoplasia or cancer
  • Infections such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Periodontal disease
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis

It is important to remember that while young cats usually have only one disorder at a time, this is often not the case in older patients, where diagnosis and treatment may be complicated by the concurrence of multiple interacting disease processes.

While it is true to say that “old age is not a disease”, it does merit special attention. This is important so that if your cat develops disease, we can recognize and treat it as early as possible, thereby maintaining its quality of life for as long as possible.

What can I do to make my senior cat as happy as possible?

Most cats age gracefully and require few changes to their general regimen. Since older cats do not generally respond well to change, it is important that any changes are introduced slowly.

Elderly cats should have easy access to a warm bed, situated where the cat can sleep safely without fear of disturbance.

It is strongly recommended that you feed your older cat a premium brand senior diet. They should always have easy access to fresh drinking water.

As cats age, some will experience a reduced ability to control urination and defecation. To reduce the risk of “accidents”, it may be necessary to allow access to multiple litter boxes.

Senior cats should have regular health checks with their veterinarian every six months.

  This client information sheet is based on material written by Ernest Ward, DVM

© Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. February 19, 2013

What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Chocolate?!

Valentine’s Day is upon us, and that means there is probably more chocolate in your home than usual!  Dogs enjoy sweet tastes, which is why they are drawn to candies, chocolates — even anti-freeze!  If your dog ingests chocolate, it is important to act quickly!

Rita Ranch Pet Hospital can be reached at (520) 624-6100… if we are not open, call or go directly to the veterinary emergency room!  Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center is located at 7474 E. Broadway Blvd., at the intersection of Broadway and Prudence.  They are open 24-hours a day, no appointment needed.  Their phone number is (520) 888-3177 option 2.

I’ve heard that chocolate is toxic to dogs? Is this true?

Yes, chocolate is toxic to dogs. While rarely fatal, chocolate ingestion often results in significant illness. Chocolate is toxic because it contains the alkaloid theobromine. Theobromine is similar to caffeine and is used medicinally as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator, and a smooth muscle relaxant. Theobromine can be poisonous in large amounts.

How much chocolate is poisonous to a dog?

Toxic doses of theobromine are reported to be about 100 mg/kg (approximately 50 mg/lb) and fatalities occur at around 200 mg/kg (approximately 100 mg/lb).

The amount of toxic theobromine varies based on the type of chocolate.

Cooking or baking chocolate and high quality dark chocolate contains between 15-20 mg of theobromine per gram while common milk chocolate only contains about 1.5 mg/gm of theobromine.  This means that a small dog, weighing five pounds, would only have to eat as two ounces of baking chocolate or as little as fifteen ounces of milk chocolate to potentially show signs of poisoning.  A larger dog, weighing fifty pounds, would have to eat as twenty ounces of baking or dark chocolate to become ill.

What are the clinical signs of chocolate poisoning?

Clinical signs are based on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. In older pets that eat a large amount of high quality or baking chocolate, sudden death from cardiac arrest may occur. This is especially common in older dogs with preexisting heart disease. For many dogs, the most common clinical signs are vomiting and diarrhea, increased thirst, panting or restlessness, excessive urination, muscle spasms and occasionally seizures. Increased heart rate and abnormal behavior are also common.

Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning can take up to twelve hours to develop. Once theobromine is absorbed into the body, it may remain there for up to twenty-fours causing damage. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as you suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate.

What should I do if my dog eats chocolate?

Since chocolate is potentially toxic to dogs, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian immediately.  If you dog is seen by the veterinarian in a timely manner, your doctor may recommend inducing emesis.  This means the doctor will give your pet a medication to make them vomit, hoping to recover most of the chocolate before it is absorbed.  We do not recommend inducing vomiting at home — it is safest under a veterinarian’s supervision!  The sooner the theobromine is removed from the body or the pet is stabilized, the better your dog’s prognosis.

What is the treatment for chocolate poisoning?

Treatment is based on the amount and type of chocolate eaten. If treated early, removal of the chocolate from the stomach by administering medications to induce vomiting may be all that is necessary. In cases where the chocolate was ingested several hours earlier, activated charcoal may be administered to block the absorption of theobromine in the stomach and small intestine.

It is very common to provide supportive treatments such as intravenous fluid therapy, to help dilute and promote excretion of the toxin. All dogs ingesting chocolate should be closely monitored for the first twenty-four hours for any signs of irregular heart rhythm.

I saw a treat made for dogs that contained chocolate. Isn’t that dangerous?

Many gourmet dog treats use carob as a chocolate substitute. Carob looks similar to chocolate and the two are often confused. Some specialty dog bakeries will use a small amount of milk chocolate in their treats. Since the amount of theobromine is so low, this may be safe for most dogs. However, most veterinarians recommend that you avoid giving your dog chocolate in any form.

This client information is based on material written by Ernest Ward, DVM.                       © Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license.

Inappropriate Elimination in Cats

Inappropriate bathroom habits are the number one reason cats are surrendered to animal shelters. One of the most common complaints veterinarians hear from cat owners is about “inappropriate elimination.” Inappropriate elimination is different from “territory marking” or spraying. Spraying is depositing a small amount of urine onto a vertical surface, such as a wall. Elimination is done in a squatting position and is release of a larger amount of urine.

First you MUST rule out a medical cause for your cat’s inappropriate elimination, and then you can consider behavioral problems.  Bring your cat in for the veterinarian to do a physical exam.  She may recommend collecting a sterile urine sample (through cystocentesis, much like a blood draw).  Then, the doctor will examine the urine sediment under the microscope for any abnormalities — bacteria, blood cells, urinary crystals, etc. 


Each of these small findings can indicate a larger issue that could be causing the litter box woes; such as a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, kidney disease, diabetes, and more.  BE SURE THAT FRESH WATER IS AVAILABLE FOR YOUR CAT AT ALL TIMES! If your kitty gets a clean bill of health, the veterinarian will provide behavioral counsel — possibly even giving you a referral to an animal behaviorist for additional help!

The litter box should be in a quiet, secluded area that’s easily accessible. For litter, most cats prefer a clumping clay litter so the wastes can be removed. Scoop the litter daily, optimally as often as possible, and making sure there are an adequate number of cat boxes available.  Our rule: 1 litter box for each cat in the home + 1. If your home is more than one story, you may consider providing even more litter boxes so that they are easily accessible at all times.  These simple measures can decrease inappropriate bathroom behaviors.

Some cats refuse to use their litter box altogether and instead leave a “deposit” next to it. This behavior seems to say, “You’re close to what I want, but not quite.” So what does a cat really want for kitty litter?

The kitty litter market is akin to the cold cereal market: all the boxes are brightly colored and cute, you read all the labels and don’t understand half the information, and in the end you base your decision on which has the best toy offer on the back of the box.


Just a few litter types include:

  • clumping (usually clay) litters
  • non-clumping clay litters
  • pelleted litters (e.g. pine sawdust compressed into pellets)
  • absorbent beads
  • absorbent pads

Litter boxes themselves come in many varieties as well…

  • covered
  • uncovered
  • corner
  • round
  • large or small
  • self-cleaning
  • mechanical
  • hidden

If you’re unsure of which product your cat would prefer, set up several boxes with different litter types. This “litter box smorgasbord” allows the cat to choose and they’re clearly stating their preference so you can oblige them in the future.

Making sure your cat is healthy and then working with them to find the correct kitty litter will make both your lives easier. The cat will like its litter box and use that preferentially to your carpets or walls. After all, cats are wonderful pets, but they sure aren’t highly endorsed as decorators!

Source: Sarah Hoggan, Washington State University