Senior Pet Care Recommendations

Who is a Senior Pet?

Cats & Small Dogs = 8-years & older

Large Dogs (over 70 pounds) = 5-years & older

Physical Exam — every 6 months

Why?  Twice-a-year wellness exams provide our veterinarians with the opportunity to prevent problems before they become too advanced to treat or control.  The goal is to prevent or minimize disease or injury & enhances your pet’s quality of life.  Twice-yearly examinations do not necessarily mean your pet is going to be subjected to a barrage of costly tests.  While some pets require close monitoring of blood work, x-rays, or other tests, most pets benefit simply from being examined.  This includes having their heart & lungs listened to & their general health reviewed every 6 months.  A dental health exam and a weight check are also very important parts of this.  Serious conditions or diseases can develop rapidly and have a significant impact on your pet’s health.

Senior Screen — once per year

Why?  Our pets cannot describe symptoms to let us know what might be wrong, we suggest blood tests to give us the answers we need.  Hematology tests tell your veterinarian the status of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  Changes in these numbers can reflect anemia, dehydration, infection, cancer & more.  Blood chemistry tests provide an inside look at your pet’s vital organs — including liver & kidney function, blood sugar, calcium, and phosphorus levels along with electrolytes.  The Senior Screen also evaluates the thyroid level & a urine sample.  A urinalysis test gives even more clues regarding kidney function, and can indicate issues like urinary tract infections, crystals, blood &/or sugar in the urine or any abnormal cells.


Included in the biannual exam is a complimentary blood pressure reading!

Why?  Blood pressure monitoring is an important tool in evaluating many health issues, including chronic renal failure and Cushing’s disease.  It enables the veterinarian to discover signs of disease even earlier.

What Is Arthritis & What Can We Do About It?

Dogs are now living longer than ever. Many conditions, such as osteoarthritis, occur with aging and can be difficult to manage. With recent advances in veterinary medicine and surgery, there are now many things that can be done to help your pet with osteoarthritis.

Weight Loss
Weight management in older arthritic dogs is very important. Joints that are already sore and stressed are made worse when they have to support extra weight. And let’s face it- our pet population is battling obesity just like the human population. The difference is, it is the HUMANS who are making the dogs obese. Numerous studies have been done that show reducing weight leads to significant improvement in quality of life. Ease of activities such as climbing stairs, jumping into a car or truck, and even getting up from a sitting position can improve dramatically with weight loss.
Just like in people, exercise is vital for weight loss. Feeding less food alone simply decreases the resting metabolic rate. Exercise increases the rate and thus burns more calories. One of our goals is also to increase muscle mass. Providing 20-60 minutes a day of activity along with reduced calorie intake will help patients with osteoarthritis.
Veterinary Diets
Several veterinary diets have been introduced to the market specifically for dogs with
osteoarthritis and more of these specialty veterinary diets are soon to follow. These diets contain EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and/or DHA (dicisagexaebiuc acid) which result in less inflammation in the joints. They also include glucosamine and chondroitin. Some dogs show improvement being these diets in as little as three weeks!
Therapeutic Exercise
Controlled exercise is invaluable in treatment for patients with osteoarthritis. This helps
improved function, reduced pain, and the need for medication.  Initially, an exercise program should avoid overloading the joints. Walking and swimming are excellent for starters. Exercise programs must be tailored for each dog and your dog should not be
forced to exercise during times of pain, as this will increase inflammation. Controlled leash walking, walking in water, jogging, swimming, and going up and down ramp inclines are excellent low impact exercises. Exercise should be monitored so there is no increased pain after the activity.
Many inflammatory mediators and degradive enzymes are present in osteoarthritis and lead to the deterioration of articular cartilage.  Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are important in the treatment of osteoarthritis.  They decrease inflammation and pain. NSAIDS used in veterinary medicine include carprofen  (Rimadyl), deracoxib (Deramaxx), and Meloxicam. Your veterinarian will discuss the NSAID options with you and decide which is best for your dog.  Aging dogs often have medical conditions that affect the management of osteoarthritis and the use of these drugs. Kidney, gastrointestinal, or liver conditions must be assessed to make sure your dog is able to metabolize and excrete the medications. A complete history, physical exam, and blood work are thus necessary prior to initiating NSAIDS along with periodic follow-up blood work as determined by your veterinarian.
Slow-acting Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis agents
Neutraceuticals are nutritional supplements believed to have a positive influence on cartilage health by alternating cartilage repair and maintenance.  Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are often used (Glycoflex, Cosequin, Dasequin and Adequan are a few of these). They are purported to help improve cartilage metabolism. They may be more helpful in early osteoarthritis than in chronic, long-term osteoarthritis. Some people report great success by using them, others do not. Essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA), the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, have been shown to have marked anti-inflammatory effect when added to the diet at proper levels. As mentioned above, veterinary joint aid diets contain both of these supplements or they can be added to your pet’s current diet

Many animals benefit from the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture. Acupuncture points (acupoints) are specific spots on the body surface where a practitioner applies stimulation for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Thousands of years of clinical practice along with modern research have shown that each acupoint possesses special therapeutic effects. Each acupoint has a unique location and physiological effect. Some dogs experience less pain following treatment, allowing a decrease in the use of NSAIDS. This is particularly helpful in dogs with decreased kidney or liver function.
There are many things you can do at home to help your dog with osteoarthritis. Keep your dog in a warm dry environment, away from cold and dampness. Use a soft, well-padded bed. Provide good footing to avoid slipping and falling. Carpet runners work well on hardwood floors. Minimize stair climbing by using ramps. You can purchase these from pet stores or make them yourself. Portable ramps are available to assist dogs getting in and out of cars. Avoid overdoing activities on weekends and excessive play with other pets.
Together with your dog’s veterinarian you can come up with a plan involving some or all of the above treatments to help with your pet’s osteoarthritis. Please don’t hesitate to call us at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital if you have any questions.
Source: M K Shaw DVM 11/10

Chocolate Poisoning


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 little 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. 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. Activated charcoal may be administered every four hours for the first twenty-four to thirty-six hours to reduce the continued reabsorption and recirculation of theobromine.

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.

© Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. August 13, 2014

What does AAHA-Accreditation mean for my pet?

Rita Ranch Pet Hospital undergoes a triennial accreditation evaluation by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The AAHA is an industry leader that sets the standards for small animal hospitals in North America, standards which are often emulated internationally.


The Benchmarks 
Over 900 different standards are assessed during the accreditation evaluation. The standards focus on the quality of care in the areas of: anesthesia, contagious diseases, dentistry, pain management, patient care, surgery and emergency care. The standards are grouped into 20 large categories covering quality of care in diverse areas such as contagious disease, dentistry, diagnostic imaging, emergency and critical care, and pain management. Mandatory standards detail 46 critical/crucial hospital functions required of every AAHA accredited hospital. These “deal breaker” standards include the requirement that dentistry is performed under general anesthesia with tracheal intubation, and all patient care is provided under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. The standards require hospitals to provide diagnostic services (x-ray and laboratory) facilitating quick and accurate diagnosis of your pet’s illness. Accredited hospitals must dispense medications so treatment can begin immediately.

The focus of the benchmarks is not just on patient care, but on how the veterinary team interacts to achieve high quality patient care. Standards pet owners might not expect as part of the evaluation process include an assessment of confidentiality, security and integrity of medical records, fire safety, diagnostic image archiving, continuing education, and referral standards. While not exactly medical standards, these functions are clearly critical to an accredited hospital’s ability to provide top-notch patient care.

Exam Prep
Rita Ranch Pet Hospital is continuously maintaining and working to meet the AAHA accreditation standards. Our accreditation team reviews the benchmarks and educates the staff regarding their responsibilities in implementing each standard. When a new standard is issued, the hospital team writes our policy to ensure the new standards are met.  Each new standard improves the quality and safety of Rita Ranch Pet Hospital’s patient care.

A Pop Quiz
On-site examiners perform a full-day thorough and comprehensive review of the hospital. Preparing for an AAHA evaluation is like preparing for a pop quiz; they can ask questions about any of the 900+ standards and they don’t have to give you a heads-up as to which ones are on the quiz. The examiners speak with a variety of staff and review hospital policies to ensure standards are met. If any deficiencies are identified, they suggest methods of improvement.

Perfect Scores
The accreditation process is rigorous and encompasses all aspects of pet healthcare. Only 15% of all veterinary hospitals meet these stringent quality standards. Rita Ranch Pet Hospital is proud to say it has been an AAHA accredited hospital since 2011 and passed its most recent evaluation with flying colors.

Standards Met
For over 8 years, Rita Ranch Pet Hospital has been the premier veterinary hospital in the Rita Ranch & Vail area, consistently providing exceptional clinical care.  In fact, Rita Ranch Pet Hospital is the ONLY AAHA-accredited hospital in the area!  The AAHA is another leader in veterinary medicine whose opinions and stance are relied upon for setting high hospital standards. Achieving AAHA certification is just one way we continue to provide the highest quality of medicine and surgery to each and every one of our valuable patients.