Cold Weather Means Achey Joints


Arthritis is a degenerative and painful condition that affects millions of people in the US. It is even more prevalent in dogs: 1 in 5 adult dogs have it and that number doubles once the dog is older than 7.  Up to 90% of all cats aged 12 years and older have radiographic (x-ray) evidence of arthritis!  What pet owners should realize is that arthritis in dogs and cats is just as painful as it is in humans.

Arthritis can affect any age, size, or breed of dog and cat. However those most at risk are senior pets (age 7 year and older), large breed dogs, overweight pets, and those with inherited joint abnormalities such as elbow or hip dysplasia.

Because dogs and cats by nature hide their pain, it is often difficult to tell when they  have arthritis. Frequently, dog owners overlook the signs of arthritis, calling it simply “old age” or “slowing down.”  Signs of arthritis in dogs can include tiring easily on walks, limping, appearing stiff after activity, reluctance to climb steps or jump up, and being slow to rise from a resting position. Cat owners will often misinterpret arthritis as “slowing down” with age. Cats may be reluctant to jump up or down and, because arthritis in cats often affects the same joint on both sides of the body, they may appear to slow down, not groom as much, and seem more grouchy or irritable.

There are ways for you to help your arthritic pet that can be done right at home. Help your pet shed those extra pounds through increased exercise and diet (your vet at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital can help with diet recommendations). A warm soft bed helps soothe aches and pains. A ramp for helping the dog in/out of the car or upstairs will help make a difficult climb easier.  For cats it can be as simple as buying or making some steps for cats to reach her favorite perch or the bed.  Make sure to buy litterboxes with lower edges and bring food and water bowls down to ground level.

There are excellent treatments available to help manage arthritis. These include joint supplements, anti-inflammatories (never give your pet over the counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen/Tylenol/Aleve as they can be toxic to your pet), acupuncture, even laser and physical therapy.

Your pet doesn’t have to suffer in silence. Arthritis can’t be cured, but it can be managed, environmental changes to ease discomfort, and TLC.  Call to set up an appointment with your veterinarian at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital — your pet will get a full physical exam so that the doctor can consult with you.  Then, we will make a custom treatment plan to help your pet start feeling better right away!

Christmas Pet Safety Checklist

Christmas is upon us and things have really gotten busy!  We ask you to take a quick check around your home and make sure your pets do not have access to any unsafe plants, foods, or items in your home.  Here’s a quick rundown of the most problematic holiday perpetrators!


Most species of lilies are deadly to cats. In some cases, a small amount of pollen or even one leaf can cause sudden kidney failure. Christmas cactus and Christmas (English) holly can cause significant damage to the stomach and intestinal tract of dogs and cats. Death is not usually reported, but it’s best to keep these plants out of reach.  If your pet ingests some of these plants, call Rita Ranch Pet Hospital immediately.  If we are not open, call the veterinary emergency room.

A holiday myth is that Poinsettias and mistletoe are toxic to pets.  These plants are not as toxic as urban legend describes.  Poinsettias have little crystals in them that can be irritating to the pets mouth or skin, but serious poisonings are almost unheard of. American mistletoe (the kind we use for Christmas parties), is not very toxic, generally causing mild stomach upset.  Its cousin, European mistletoe is more toxic and causes more problems.

The most dangerous foods at this time of year are chocolates and cocoa, sugarless gum/candies containing Xylitol, fatty meat scraps, and yeast bread dough.  If your pet ingests any of these, even if it seems to be just a small amount, call Rita Ranch Pet Hospital immediately. Surprisingly, fruit cake is actually quite dangerous to our pets. Grapes, raisins, and currants are common ingredients and have been implicated in kidney failure in dogs.  In addition, many fruit cakes have been soaked in rum or other alcohols making it doubly dangerous to pets.  Alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the pet’s bloodstream causing drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Liquid potpourris can cause chemical burns to the mouths of pets.  Cats appear to be more sensitive, but fevers, respiratory difficulty, and tremors can be seen in both dogs and cats.  In addition, cats (and some dogs) are attracted to long string-like objects including garland, tinsel, and ribbons. Although these are not poisonous, they can be ingested and that is where they can cause serious problems.  These “linear (or string) foreign bodies” can get stuck in the pet’s stomach or intestines and slowly saw through the tissue causing a potentially fatal infection of the abdomen. Surgery is the only treatment.

Play it safe with your pets this holiday season. Keep dangerous items out of reach, secure trash cans, and do a “pet proofing” walk through of your home.  While decorations are out, do your best to keep an eye on your pets or keep them separated from them to prevent exposure to these festive, yet potentially dangerous things.  If you have any questions about the potential dangers of holiday plants, decorations, or foods, contact Rita Ranch Pet Hospital at (520) 624-6100 for answers.  If we are not open, you can call Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center at (520) 888-3177.  You could also call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 1 (888) 426-4435.

We wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday!

Raw Food Diets… A Good Choice?


What are some of the benefits of feeding a raw food diet to pets?

Raw food diets are available commercially, or can be prepared at home. They contain
whole animal and plant tissues that have not undergone processing to denature (break
down) their proteins, starches and fats. The natural enzymes and cofactors such as trace vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are intact and able to be used by the body to maximum advantage. Raw food diets are fresh and can be readily varied to provide
a range of nutrients.

A common misconception is that raw food is completely digested by animals, due to its “increased enzyme content”. Research evidence suggests the opposite. Raw foods are likely to be more slowly digested and absorbed. Over time, there is evidence that the animal responds by increasing its own digestive enzyme production, making its digestive tract stronger, not weaker. In the short term, raw foods may cause diarrhea or vomiting in some animals that is unrelated to the presence of bacteria.

What are some common misconceptions about feeding raw food diets to pets?

Advocates of raw food diets, whether they include raw bones or not, generally state that
raw food diets represent the natural or ‘paleolithic’ diet for dogs and cats. What they
often forget is that modern dogs and cats do not necessarily represent their ancestral
origins. Thousands of years of domestication, adaptation to diets based on human foods or leftovers, and genetic modification by inbreeding to establish specific breed characteristics have altered the anatomy as well as the digestive physiology of the modern dog and cat, thus affecting their nutritional requirements and biochemical individuality.

Are there concerns about nutrient balance when feeding a raw diet?

Raw food diets may be significantly imbalanced with respect to their mineral content, with
excesses or deficiencies in calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and iron being the
most common imbalances. Some raw food diets are deficient in fiber. Many supporters
of raw food diets maintain that the diet does not need to be balanced over the short term
because it will become balanced over the long haul. This idea overlooks the fact that most
of our pet animals are reliant on us to provide all of the components of their diet, and if we
don’t provide all of the necessary nutrients, it is impossible for the diet to become balanced over time. Some authors propose that animals will only eat what they require in order to balance their nutrient intake. This contention presumes an owner would see fit to offer a range of choices, varying in nutrient content, which many don’t. In addition, if offered a highly palatable food such as raw meat (at least, palatable to the carnivore) at the same time as an offering of vegetables or fruits, most carnivores will preferentially choose the meat.

Typical raw food diets may not meet the additional requirements for growth or reproduction,
especially for puppies or kittens, and pregnant animals. Veterinary advice is very important
to ensure a balanced diet is being fed.

Are there any risks associated with feeding raw meats to pets?

Healthy pets may be relatively resistant to developing disease associated with contamination of foods with bacteria. However, many of our pet animals have health problems and may be susceptible to infection by disease-causing strains of bacteria.

Raw foods may themselves contaminate the environment and even if the pet is in a state of optimal health, it is still possible for him or her to contaminate the environment by shedding disease-causing bacteria in the feces. The bacteria of most concern are Salmonella, some species of E. coli, and Campylobacter jejuni, any of which can be present as contaminants on human-grade food products.

In order to minimize these risks, it is imperative that you follow the same
sanitation practices that you use in preparing your own foods. Wash your hands
and all utensils thoroughly before and after handling raw meat. DO NOT use
wooden chopping boards. Store the pet’s meat so that it can’t contaminate
human foods (ideally, you should have a separate freezer for storage of your pet’s
food). Confine the feeding of the raw diet to one location in the house, or to one
location outdoors. Do not allow your pet to lick or kiss your face. Ensure meat is
frozen before preparation, and that raw food prepared in advance is frozen until
needed. Freezing does not kill all bacteria, but reduces their numbers in food

To avoid environmental contamination, always clean and disinfect the spot where your pet
ate the meal after it is finished. Make sure you scoop up any fecal material immediately
after elimination and dispose of it properly.

Is there any risk associated with feeding raw bones to your dog?

Raw bones may be fine in a diet, depending on the size of the pet being fed and the size
of the bone. An improper size of bone may cause an intestinal accident such as an intestinal obstruction or blockage. Cooked bones must NEVER be fed, since they are brittle and prone to splintering, which can cause tooth fractures, intestinal obstruction and intestinal perforations.

Caution must be used when feeding raw bones to avoid contamination of the environment
with bacteria, and to minimize spoiling of the bone marrow. To minimize environmental
contamination, bones should be fed outdoors and the area that was contaminated should
be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before humans are exposed to it. Fresh bones with
lots of marrow must be discarded within one day in the summertime to avoid rancidity. After you have handled a raw bone, you should thoroughly wash your hands and use routine sanitation practices.

Is there any other concern I should have about feeding raw food diets to my pet?

Under certain conditions, there can be serious health consequences to human companions of animals fed raw food diets. Young children are much more susceptible to bacterial infections, and are more likely to become contaminated by crawling around in the feeding areas of pets. They are also more likely to be licked by dogs or otherwise come in contact with bacteria shed in the pet’s feces. If there are adult family members with compromised immune systems due to serious diseases or chemotherapy, these family members will be at increased risk of contracting bacterial infections. In any of these circumstances, it is extremely risky to handle or feed raw foods to your pet.

How to Handle a Pet Emergency

Having access to a veterinary team that knows exactly what to do when your pet experiences an emergency can mean the difference between life and sometimes fatal consequences. At Rita Ranch Pet Hospital, we are experienced in providing emergency veterinary care for dogs & cats.


But what can YOU do at home to help your pet?

1.  STAY CALM.  You cannot help your pet if you get injured.  The best way to help your pet is to remain as calm and collected as possible — as difficult as it may be!  This is includes not trying to break up a dog fight or attack, run into the road, or pick up an animal that is in pain.

2.   BE CAREFUL.  Your pet may be in pain.  Picking them up or trying to transport them to the vet may cause them pain.  Even if you think your pet would never bite you, use extra caution, and possibly apply a muzzle (if you don’t have a muzzle handy, you can use a belt, leash, stocking, or other long/soft material that can be tied into a bow).  Use a thick towel or blanket to pick them up and try to drive smoothly and carefully to the veterinary hospital.

3. THINK AHEAD.  Know the hours at your veterinarian — just in case  the emergency happens after-hours, try to know where the closest 24-hour care veterinarian is located.  Keep a copy of your pet’s vaccination history or medical record at home or in the car.  Remember to keep any financial resources (credit cards, Care Credit information, Pet Insurance paperwork) somewhere easy to find.

  • Ingestions or poisonings—Did you witness your pet ingest a foreign body? Do you suspect your pet may have swallowed or come in contact with a poison or toxin based on changes in his or her behavior? If so, your pet may require immediate medical attention and the need for critical care services. Please visit the ASPCA Poison Center website or call them direct at (888) 426-4435 for immediate assistance with any poison-related emergency.
  • Trauma—Has your pet suffered from a trauma resulting in an injury or wound? Immediately seek professional emergency care to ensure that your pet is OK. If left untreated, traumatic injuries can lead to infection, lameness, and even death.
  • Signs of illness—If your pet is suddenly experiencing abnormal changes in behavior or loss of appetite, these may be signs of illness. Neurological problems, seizures, drooling, vomit or diarrhea that contains blood or is persistent are just a few things that should NOT wait to see a vet. We are trained to readily identify these signs in animals and will work with you to quickly help your pet get the proper medical treatment he or she needs.
  • Seasonal hazards—With changes in weather and seasons also come many hazards for your pets. Decorations and even foods are often the culprit behind many pet emergencies during changes in seasons and holidays.

In the event that your pet has ingested a toxin, you may want to phone the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. They can provide up-to-date information regarding a wide variety of toxins found in household products, medications, and other toxic substances. In addition, we can also work with Poison Control to develop a treatment plan for your pet. However, please note that there may be a charge for the information they provide.

When in doubt, please do not hesitate to contact our staff. We can help you decide if your pet’s situation is an emergency.