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We’ve been getting some calls about dog flu.

The first outbreak of canine influenza in the US was at a Greyhound track in Florida in January 2004. Racing types being the travelers they are, it spread to other states and showed up in boarding kennels and shelters in several states the first year. These outbreaks were of the H3N8 Influenza A virus. This is very closely related to equine influenza virus and is thought to have mutated from it to a form that affects only dogs. There have been sporadic infections since that time. Then in April 2015 there was a big outbreak of canine influenza in Chicago, involving some 1,000 dogs. It was caused by a different strain — this one mutated from avian influenza and was first identified in dogs in Korea in 2007. It was Influenza A strain H3N2.

Both H3N8 and H3N2 strains of dog flu can cause two forms of disease. By far the most common is the mild form, with a cough, runny nose and a fever– essentially the same symptoms of kennel cough. The cough lingers, and can persist for a month. Then there is the severe form, with a high fever of 104 to 106 degrees F and signs of pneumonia. This is the form that can be life-threatening, but it’s rare. In the Chicago outbreak, it is reported that of approximately 1,000 infected dogs, 0.5% died from complications of the disease. Several thousand dogs across the US have been tested and confirmed positive for H3N2 influenza since then, in clusters of outbreaks that typically resolve in a few weeks or months. It is characterized as a high morbidity / low mortality infection, meaning that it infects many in a cluster but is fatal to few.   The virus has not been shown to infect humans, but it can be transmitted to cats. I haven’t found anything about the disease in cats beyond the fact that it’s possible.

Last week, a veterinarian in Helena tested a dog with a respiratory infection and it came back positive for the canine influenza virus H3N2. What does this mean, and how should we respond?

First off — don’t panic. This isn’t an epidemic; it’s one case. The virus is contagious, spread from dog to dog by direct contact and from people or objects touching the respiratory secretions of an infected dog and then not washing before coming in contact with a susceptible dog — just like any other upper respiratory infection. This is why you see us washing our hands all the time between patients. The virus doesn’t last long in the environment and is easily killed with common disinfectants. For folks in Helena, ask your veterinarian — should you avoid boarding kennels and day care for a few weeks, or even the dog park? I think I would be keeping my dogs pretty close to home, or on walks way out in the woods, while we see how this develops.

Then there is the subject of vaccination. Canine influenza virus remains a rare, sporadic disease. It is not endemic like parvovirus or canine distemper virus, which all dogs need to be vaccinated against as puppies and as adults. There is a vaccine for the H3N8 virus, though we have never offered it, as the risk of serious infection is so low. That vaccine would not protect a dog against this new strain, so now there is a new H3N2 vaccine that was just released, on “conditional approval” — meaning that safety and efficacy studies have not been completed. If we had a full – blown epidemic here, you bet I’d consider using the vaccine. But we don’t — and I’m not recommending it.

Bottom line — Avoid sick dogs, stray dogs, and unknown dogs, like you always would to protect your pets. Watch for symptoms — coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever — and call your veterinarian if your dog is sick. Having a thermometer at home for your pets is always an excellent idea (normal being 99.5 – 102.5 degrees). If your dog gets the flu, the treatment is very similar to when you get the flu: Rest, plenty of fluids, and treatment with antibiotics when needed to control secondary bacterial infection. Remember that most dogs get the mild form. Make sure they’re protected with the core vaccines for the diseases that are prevalent here, and that we still see cases of every few months.

Feel free to call the clinic if you still have questions!

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Diabetes mellitus is a serious disease…….it affects just about every system in a mammal’s body.  And in dogs, with rare exception, it is preventable.  So when we mention that your dog or cat is overweight and really needs to start a diet, we aren’t just nagging.  We really are trying to improve your pet’s health and avoid serious consequences, like diabetes.

Today we diagnosed a sweet 11 year old Labrador with diabetes mellitus.  If he had gone undiagnosed and untreated for much longer, it likely would have killed him.  Fortunately, his family cares about this guy and got him in for an exam as soon as they realized he was losing weight rapidly, drinking more water and was no longer able to make it through the night without having to go outside.  They are now committed to a strict feeding and insulin regime,  will bring him in for follow up testing, and are willing to adjust their schedules to his for the remainder of his life.

Diabetes is manageable but it isn’t very fun.  It is in everyone’s best interest to avoid it, in most cases prevented with a diet that started 2 years ago instead of today.

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Beware of Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs

Xylitol is a sugar substitute sweetener found in many products– from gum and candy to peanut butter and baked goods.  Even a small amount can be fatally toxic to dogs.  Many foods with xylitol are designed for diabetic people or those on low-carbohydrate diets.   Xylitol tastes sweet yet is low in calories.   In people it has been shown to have multiple health benefits that have made it increasingly popular in natural food stores. It is now available in a granulated form found on bakery aisle shelves at Costco and other stores. What’s not to like?  In the human gastrointestinal tract it is absorbed slowly and has little effect on blood sugar.  In dogs, on the other hand, it is absorbed into the bloodstream within 30 minutes.  The canine pancreas confuses the xylitol with real sugar, and releases a large amount of insulin, which drastically lowers blood sugar levels.  This hypoglycemia can be so rapid and severe that the dog dies very soon after ingestion.  The other effect of xylitol in dogs is severe damage to the liver.  The mechanism for this is not known.  This can lead to internal hemorrhage, liver failure, seizures and death.  It takes about ten times as much xylitol to damage the liver as it does to cause hypoglycemia.

How much does it take?

The amount of xylitol that it takes to harm a dog is quite small, and depends on the weight of the animal. Dogs who have eaten more than 100 mg of xylitol per kg of body weight should get to a veterinary clinic and be treated aggressively.  Those who have ingested between 50 and 100 mg per kg of body weight should still be seen by a veterinarian and monitored for toxic effects.  A dog who ingests 1000 mg per kg of body weight is at severe risk for liver necrosis.  The amount of xylitol in one piece of sugar-free gum may be anywhere from 0 to 1000 mg, depending on the manufacturer and flavor.  That means one stick of gum can potentially cause hypoglycemia in a 20 lb dog.  A cup of granulated xylitol used in baking has 190 grams, or 190,000 mg.  That calculates out to 11,875 mg per tablespoon– twice as much as it would take to cause life-threatening hypoglycemia in a 130 lb dog, and plenty to cause death by liver failure in a 25 lb dog.

How do we know?  How do we make them better? 

There is not currently a test for xylitol poisoning.  The diagnosis is made by the history of ingestion of a product containing it, and by symptoms of vomiting, lethargy, weakness, diarrhea, collapse, seizures, and death.  If the ingestion of xylitol was in gum, symptoms of hypoglycemia may not show up until several hours later.  Liver failure may develop in any dog that has ingested xylitol, whether it shows signs of  hypoglycemia or not.

The prognosis for dogs who have ingested xylitol depends on how much they ate and how quickly treatment is started.  There is no antidote — only timely and intensive supportive care.  If treatment for hypoglycemia is started early, the prognosis is good.  For dogs that develop liver failure and seizures, or other neurologic symptoms, the prognosis is very poor.

The best treatment is prevention.  Read labels and avoid having xylitol containing products anywhere dogs can reach them.  A little dog sneaking gum out of the owner’s purse is a common scenario of poisoning.  Another, more recent, problem is that now manufacturers have started to sweeten peanut butter with xylitol.  Baking with xylitol is obviously dangerous for households with dogs.  If there is accidental ingestion, get help as soon as you possibly can.

There have been no known poisonings of cats with xylitol.

Rosa, an 8 year old Newfoundland, and her buddy Dan, a 12 year old lab, were both victims of unintentional poisoning by xylitol they found when raiding the pantry shelf.  This post was made in their memory.

Rosa, a beautiful 8 year old Newfoundland, and her buddy Dan, a 12 year old Labrador, were both victims of unintentional poisoning by xylitol they found when raiding the pantry shelf. This post was made in their memory.



Linda Gragg came to work with us in 2004.  Her kind and calm manner would have cats melting in her arms and dogs forgetting that they were ever nervous in the first place. Her steady hands were invaluable in doing procedures and drawing samples, and she contributed greatly to the safety of our patients and staff. Linda was Kalispell native, with a loving husband, three grown children and six grandchildren. She was a great animal lover, filling her home with frisky, enthusiastic bulldogs and cats that owned the place.  She found time for fly fishing, camping and creating beautiful hand-made greeting cards.

Linda was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, and took it on with gusto.  She made use of every treatment offered, never wavering in her resolve to beat the disease, despite the discomfort that came with many of those therapies.  Even in the last weeks of her life she held out hope of coming back to work someday, work that she loved and did with the grace of someone who has found their true calling.  She left us on July 27, 2015, and we will miss her, always.  Linda GraggLinda’s family has requested that contributions be made in her memory to the Calm Animal Care donation fund.  This account is a source of help for low income pet owners who could not otherwise afford to treat unexpected injuries and illnesses in their furry family members. Anyone desiring to donate to this fund can do so by calling the clinic or by mailing a check with “Linda Gragg Memorial” in the memo line to PO Box 14, Kila, 59920.  To donate on – line, here’s a Paypal link


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Sometimes it just has to be said….


We had a lot of help:

Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble, catering by Tree Frog Tavern, donations from Merial, Pfizer and MWI, help from many clients and friends, and over 200 happy people…..

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So many changes over those years!

The doors opened in 1984 in a cabin up Truman Creek Road, with a four-party telephone line and rustic plumbing.

The next year found us in downtown Kila, in the little orange house next to the old post office on Main Street, and slightly better facilities, but we still had to share the phone with three neighbors.

In 1989 we moved down Main Street to the current building, remodeling it from the wiring up. Acupuncture and chiropractic were added to the practice in 1997, and so was the east wing of the building.

Modernization began in earnest in 2002 when our clinic became one of the first practices in Flathead County to embrace computerized medical records,  and a few years later, digital radiography, and then, solar power.

We are known for our personal touch, excellent patient and client-centered standard of care, and a down-to-earth style that has defined Calm Animal Care from the beginning. We’ve also kept pace with advances in medicine and the equipment needed to provide it, most recently adding ultrasound diagnostics and laser therapy to the services we offer.

We’ve come such a long way, and in the summer of 2014 it’s time to have a party to celebrate our 30 years. Food, marimba music, prizes, and a chance to share some quality time with our friends who have been so important to our growth. We’re so happy to be here, and excited about what the future holds.

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Calm Animal Care joins handful of local residences on the grid.
Solar Panels

Kip Drobish checks his progress while realigning solar panels at Calm Animal Care in Kila. – Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

(Story taken from an article in the Flathead Beacon by Myers Reece)

KILA – In a valley with notoriously gray skies, solar-powered electricity might not seem to be the most viable energy source. Yet for decades, rural people who live outside of the Flathead Electric Cooperative power grid have relied on a combination of solar panels backed up by batteries or generators.

Now, tucked away in Kila, the Flathead has its first grid-tied, solar-powered business: Calm Animal Care.

Last November, Kip Drobish of Oso Renewable Energy along with Whitefish electrician Richard Cowen, installed a grid-tied, battery-backup photovoltaic system for Barbara Calm, the clinic’s owner. The term “grid-tied” means that Calm’s solar electricity system is connected directly to the Flathead Electric power grid. At the clinic, nine large solar panels harvest energy – sunlight – and either supply on-site electrical needs or feed energy back into the grid when the system’s output is greater than the on-site load demand.

Furthermore, energy is stored in a backup battery, which is the foremost reason Calm installed the system. The Kila area is known for frequent and, at times, prolonged power outages. Calm’s clinic has computerized medical records, one of the only digital X-ray processors in the valley and specialized dental lamps that are of utmost importance when working on an animal’s teeth. Surgeries can’t be interrupted either.

So not only is it dangerous for her veterinary practice to have sudden blackouts, it’s not good for business. As she puts it: “I’ve never lost a patient, but I’ve lost clients.” When the power goes out, her business can operate for up to two days on the battery.

Drobish said Calm is part of what he views as an increasingly necessary – though lagging in Montana – movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, especially solar.

“She’s a pioneer,” Drobish said.

In recent years, the valley has seen a steady rise in interest regarding renewable energy, but most of the solar-powered efforts remain off-grid, meaning they are not linked to Flathead Electric’s utilities. Ross Holter, energy services supervisor for Flathead Electric, said there are six local residences with grid-tied solar power systems, while Calm’s is the only business besides Flathead Electric itself. There is also an office building in Bigfork with solar panels, Holter said, as well as a residence that uses wind energy.

The Kila area is home to a community of off-grid, solar-powered homes that have backup generators. Holter said there are also people scattered throughout isolated places like the North Fork of the Flathead who utilize solar energy. Calm’s personal residence, which is off the grid, has relied on solar panels and a backup generator since the 1980s. Drobish installed a system at his Kila house in 1993.

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In 2009, Calm Animal Care celebrated 25 years!

At Calm Animal Care, we love the Flathead Valley Community that we serve here in Northwest Montana. After 25 years of caring for all sorts of animals in the valley, we decided it was a good time to have a celebration.

So, on a lovely summer day, we invited our clients and friends to join us in a day of celebration. With tasty food, refreshing beverages,  live music, and fun activities for young and old. A good time was had by one and all.

We thank everyone who participated, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to be of service to the community doing what we are passionate about.

Here’s a short 38 second video of photos from the Calm Animal Care 25th Year Celebration.

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Proyecto Felino in Cuba, 2009

On my first visit to Cuba in 2008, I helped with spay and neuter clinics in Havana. The veterinarians there are skilled surgeons and very knowledgeable. It was a mystery, then, why during these spay campaigns they shared needles between patients, because that would not be acceptable in practices in developed countries. When asked about the feline retroviruses, Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), the veterinarians replied that they don’t have those in Cuba.

The truth is actually that due to the isolation of this country, no one had ever tested for the presence of these viruses on the island. And the veterinary schools of Cuba do not teach their students about companion animal medicine, only about production animal medicine. So their understanding of physiology and anatomy and disease is very sound, but their education about specific diseases and disorders of small animals has to be acquired in other ways. Internet access is scarce, travel outside the country is difficult if not impossible for Cubans, and text books are very hard to come by.

In production animal medicine, it is the standard of care in most areas to share needles between patients. When I worked with cattle in eastern Montana, it was standard practice to load a syringe to deliver 25 doses of vaccine with the same needle. It is no wonder the Cubans were conserving hypodermic needles, which are also a scarce resource, by using them for multiple patients.

Upon returning to the US after that first visit, I had to find a way to determine whether the feline retroviruses are present on the island. Not only is it essential to disease prevention, but it is an interesting epidemiological question – Cuba has been relatively isolated since the emergence of these viruses elsewhere. Testing is expensive, but Idexx generously donated 300 test kits for detection of FeLV and FIV. Securing approval from Cuban authorities to do this project was more difficult. It took two visits but it was ultimately approved, along with a request for my participation in a lecture on feline viruses for veterinarians in Havana.

The test kits were brought into the country with permission from Customs, and prepared for distribution to four Havana clinics for the study. The lecture presentation was given in Spanish to a packed room of 35 or 40 attentive veterinarians, with a translator to help me with the hard parts. We talked about some of the common viruses, their symptoms and management, and also the retroviruses, which can live undetected in cats for years before causing disease and death. These veterinarians are a sharp group and were full of questions and ideas. They listened to the importance of not sharing needles between patients, and avoiding any transmission of viruses even between cats that appear healthy. It is so ingrained in our culture now that it’s difficult to imagine it’s different anywhere else, so I had to make a pretty convincing pitch.

Then I demonstrated the test kits that Idexx had donated, first with pictures, and then we actually did a test on the cat my translator brought, who looked as healthy as can be. We all watched anxiously for the result, which appeared after 10 minutes. It was a powerful demonstration of the need for this knowledge – the kitty was positive for FeLV. All of the veterinarians in the room are committed to sharing this information and awareness to prevent the unintentional and needless infection of other cats. I would like to take this message to other parts of the country, and have started making connections in other provinces.

Hopefully we can make it easier for Cuban veterinarians to take care of people’s beloved pets (and they do love their pets, more than any other Latin American people I’ve seen) once there is increased openness and trade between our countries. In the meantime, my friend Terry Shewchuk is doing what he can to bring veterinary supplies and books in to the country via Canadian tourists and distributing them to veterinarians. Let me know if you would like to donate toward that effort.

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