Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Decoding Your Cat's Behavior (video) - Dr. Arnold Plotnick on CBS' The Early Show

Decoding Your Cat's Behavior
The Early Show on CBS

Video: Cat Behavior 101
Cats are as social, active and expressive as dogs if you know how to read their signs. Debbye Turner Bell spoke to Erica Hill about decoding a cat's behavior to understand their needs.

(CBS)  There are actually more pet cats in the United States than dogs, yet dogs firmly hold the title of man's best friend. Many say it's because dogs are easier to understand.

But "Early Show" resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell offered a lesson in de-coding your feline friend's behavior.

Bell explained cats are just as social and expressive as dogs.

She said, "You just have to know how to speak their language."

Helen Abramsom owns six cats, and believes cats are perfect communicators.

She told Bell, "I believe cats, in general, are almost human-like."

Bell asked Abramson whether she feels she knows what her cats are thinking and how they feel at any given moment. "I do," Abramson responded, "because each cat is unique in their own way. They have different meows that I recognize."

Bell said not that -- they also have different purrs, according to a recent study conducted by Dr. Karen McComb, a specialist in animal communication at the University of Sussex in England.

McComb told CBS News, "When they want to be fed, they give this particular purr, which has the cry embedded in it."

Cats, Bell said, have a "feed me" purr and a "regular" purr. McComb has captured them on audio and deciphered the differences between them.

McComb said, "They're good at using a signal, learning to use a signal that has an outcome that is good for them."

Abramson added, "They tell you when they want to be picked up, they tell you when they want to be taken care of, they tell you when they want to eat."

That's why, Bell said, feline fans everywhere say kitties get a bad rap. Some people think the only way to understand cats would be if they could talk.

Dr. Plotnick, a feline specialist, said, "Cats are very misunderstood. People think they're aloof, that they're sort of snobby. When nothing could be further from the truth."

Plotnick says you just have to know how to read their signs.

"Ears and tail tell you a lot," he said. "When they're happy they're ears tend to stand straight up and their tail is straight up in the air."

And of course, a mad cat may hiss. Plotnick pointed out one feline behavior that you may not understand: constant rubbing. It doesn't, he said, mean that the cat has an itch.

"Cats are territorial creatures," he explained. "And they like to mark out their territory. They have glands in their face that release a pheromone and they're sort of marking your -- they're claiming you as their territory."

However, even Plotnick agrees cats are a bit complicated.

"They don't try to please you to try to obtain a reward," he said. "They live life on their own terms and they hope that you like it."

[Thank you Debbye Turner and The Early Show]

Potential New Treatment for Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Of all of the infectious disease that cats can acquire, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is perhaps the most devastating. FIP is a viral disease caused by a type of virus called a coronavirus. Most cats are exposed to, and become infected with, the coronavirus as kittens.

At worst, kittens may get mild diarrhea. Many show no clinical signs at all.  The immune system makes antibodies against the virus but does not eliminate it, and the virus continues to reside in the intestinal tract usually causing no further problems for the cat.

Occasionally, for reasons not fully understood, the harmless intestinal coronavirus can change or mutate, gaining the ability to leave the intestinal tract and cause horrible problems. The immune system tries to defeat the virus, but the virus manages to evade it. This mutated intestinal coronavirus is now the evil FIP-inducing coronavirus.

The FIP virus causes damage to blood vessels, allowing fluid to leak through the vessel walls. Effusions (collections of fluid) can develop in the abdominal cavity, chest cavity, and pericardium (the sac around the heart) resulting in what is referred to as the “wet” form of FIP. Some cats develop nodular accumulations of inflammatory cells called granulomas throughout many of the body’s organs. This form of the disease is known as the “dry” form of FIP.

Diagnosis of the disease is difficult because clinical signs are vague and non-specific. Most cats are young (usually less than one year), and show lethargy, weight loss, poor appetite, and a fever that doesn’t respond to antibiotics. A serum chemistry panel often only shows elevated protein (mainly in the form of increased globulins) unless the virus has begun to affect the kidneys or liver, in which case the liver and kidney parameters may be abnormal. The wet form is easier to diagnose because the presence of fluid in the abdomen or chest is relatively easy to detect and fluid analysis can give additional information supporting the diagnosis. The dry form remains one of the more challenging diseases for veterinarians to diagnose.

There is no simple blood test for FIP. Many laboratories offer veterinarians an “FIP test”, but these tests only measure antibodies to coronaviruses in general. It cannot distinguish whether the antibodies are there due to the cat being infected with the harmless intestinal version of the coronavirus, or the deadly FIP version of the coronavirus. A positive test does not mean that the cat has FIP. Until a rapid reliable test is developed that allows veterinarians to make a diagnosis, biopsy of the affected organs or tissues remains the only way to definitively diagnose FIP, although Auburn University offers an assay that they claim is very good for diagnosing FIP.

A commercial FIP vaccine is available, however, the efficacy of the vaccine remains questionable. The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Academy of Feline Medicine, in their regularly published guidelines for feline vaccination, currently do not recommend the FIP vaccine at this time.

FIP is progressive and fatal. Cats with FIP tend to succumb to the disease rather quickly, in a few days or weeks. The “wet” form of FIP tends to progress faster than “dry” FIP. Treatment is generally symptomatic and supportive. Nutritional support, antibiotics, and corticosteroids may produce a temporary alleviation of clinical signs, but the disease invariably progresses.

A few years ago an article appeared in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery about a potential new treatment for FIP. This was very exciting for us feline practitioners, because FIP is a truly devastating disease that leaves us totally helpless. In the study, 12 cats with FIP were given prednisolone and recombinant feline interferon. Four of the cats died relatively quickly. Four cats survived for a short period of time – between 2 and 5 months. The last four, however, showed prolonged survival. This was an uncontrolled study, but it was really all that we had.

Not long after the article came out, I diagnosed a cat with FIP. I mentioned the new study to the client, and they were interested. A problem: the interferon that we use in veterinary practice is recombinant human interferon. Recombinant feline interferon is not available in the United States. It’s available in the European Union. Well... I managed to score some; we won’t go into the details. I used it on the cat, but to no avail. The cat (a kitten actually) succumbed to the disease. Not long after that, a controlled study of the use of recombinant feline interferon in over 50 cats with FIP was published. The study concluded that recombinant feline interferon was ineffective in treating FIP. Darn it.

An article was recently published in the November 2009 Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery on the use of polyprenyl immunostimulant for the treatment of FIP. Polyprenyl Immunostimulant is an investigational veterinary drug. The drug is given orally and it has low toxicity. In the report, three cats with the dry form of FIP were treated with this new drug. Two of the three cats are still on treatment and are alive and well. Once cat was treated for only 4.5 months; that cat survived 14 months, which is pretty long. (He might have survived longer if the owners had continued treatment.)

Once again we have a small, uncontrolled case study. The authors, however, are university professors who are very well known in the veterinary community. Of course, we’ll have to wait for a larger, controlled study before we can make any conclusion regarding whether this is truly is a good treatment option. It’s gratifying to see that there are veterinarians working hard to try to find some type of treatment… any type of treatment… for this terrible disease.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

UPDATE: Dr. Arnold Plotnick will appear WEDNESDAY January 27th on CBS' "The Early Show"

UPDATE: Dr. Plotnick's segment has been moved to WEDNESDAY January 27th at the 8am hour.

From CBS News:
"Hi Dr. Plotnick , I just wanted to let you know that our CBS News The Early Show story about "cats communicating" will be airing on MONDAY Jan. 25th, 2010 TUESDAY Jan. 26th, HAS APPEARED on Wednesday January 27th, 2010. It will be airing aired with in the 8 o'clock hour of the show on CBS (Channel 2 in New York City)."
For any further info, including the link if it appears online, join our Manhattan Cat Specialists page on Facebook.

In case you miss the segment, you will be able to find the video on The Early Show's website here:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Join our Manhattan Cat Specialists Newsletter

Manhattan Cat Specialists' first issue of our e-Newsletter is about to be unleashed. Our newsletter is designed to keep our clients informed about what's new at our rapidly expanding hospital, as well as to report on interesting topics relating to cats and veterinary medicine. You do not have to be a MCS client, or live in the New York Metro area to gain valuable knowledge regarding caring for your cat. Everyone who is a cat owner and cat lover is encouraged to join our e-Newsletter to get valuable insights. Our plan is to publish our newsletter no more than 4-6 times a year.

Our e-Newsletter is for everyone, so once you receive it, feel free to forward this newsletter to friends and family (and even your cats.)

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why am I seeing so much gastrointestinal cancer (and cancer in general) in cats?

Gastrointestinal cancer can strike cats of any age, although it is mostly seen in older cats. The gastrointestinal tract is susceptible to several types of cancer, however, lymphoma is the most common. Exactly why lymphoma develops in some cats is not clear, but viruses may play a role.

The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is associated with an increased risk of lymphoma. Cats infected with FIV are 5.6 times more likely to develop lymphoma compared to FIV-negative cats. Infection with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) dramatically increases the risk of developing lymphoma; FeLV-positive cats are 62 times more likely to develop lymphoma than their negative counterparts. Most cats that develop gastrointestinal lymphoma, however, are negative for these two viruses.

Gastrointestinal lymphoma usually involves the small intestine. The stomach and colon are less likely to be affected. The average age of cats with GI lymphoma is 9 to 13 years. The most common clinical signs of GI lymphoma are decreased appetite and weight loss. Vomiting occurs in about 50% of cases, and diarrhea in about 30%. Biopsies are required to obtain a definitive diagnosis of GI lymphoma. Biopsy specimens can be obtained either by endoscopy, in which a long snake-like tube with a camera on the end is inserted in the cat’s mouth, and then advanced into the stomach and small intestine.

Biopsies are obtained using a special forceps that is inserted through the endoscope. Biopsy specimens can also be obtained via abdominal surgery. Both procedures require general anesthesia.

Once a diagnosis is achieved, the lymphoma is categorized into one of two general types: low grade (also called “small cell” or “lymphocytic”) or high grade (also called “large cell” or “lymphoblastic”). The type of lymphoma is significant in terms of prognosis. Low grade lymphoma has a significantly better prognosis than high grade lymphoma.

Chemotherapy is the treatment of choice, as lymphoma is the considered the most chemotherapy-responsive cancer. Combination chemotherapy, in which several drugs are administered sequentially is the primary method of treatment. In cases where the lymphoma is causing a complete or partial intestinal obstruction or an intestinal perforation, immediate surgery may be necessary, followed by chemotherapy.

The prognosis for gastrointestinal lymphoma varies, depending on type. The median survival time with chemotherapy for high-grade lymphoma is only 2.7 months. Cats with low-grade lymphoma fare much better. Median survival of 18 - 24 months has been reported, and it is not uncommon for cats to survive even longer.

As the year 2009 came to a close, I looked over our hospital statistics. In 2009, we performed 37 gastrointestinal endoscopies. Twenty cats were diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. One cat was diagnosed as normal. Sixteen cats had lymphoma. That’s almost one case of gastrointestinal cancer every three weeks! Our hospital opened in January 2003. It took us 38 months to diagnose our first 16 cases of lymphoma. None of the cats diagnosed with GI lymphoma were FeLV or FIV positive. 15 of the 16 were low grade. A recent article in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery gave a survival time of 19 months for cats with low grade gastrointestinal lymphoma. A chapter in the newly released textbook “Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine” gave an even better prognosis: 25 months! I haven’t calculated the survival times of our hospital’s patients, but I can say that most of them have done very well on chemotherapy. We’ve seen some pretty long-term survivors. “Pez” lived about 24 months. “Julie” is still alive at 30 months after the diagnosis. (Pez would have lived longer. He died of old age. He was 19. He was still in remission when he died.)

Exactly why we’re seeing so much gastrointestinal lymphoma is a mystery. If there’s any consolation in all of this, it’s the prolonged survival with treatment. Trust me, there are much worse cancers to have than low-grade gastrointestinal lymphoma. Unfortunately, I’m seeing an increase in all types of cancers, including some pretty odd ones. We’re not even a month into 2010 and I’ve already diagnosed a biliary carcinoma (no treatment possible), an extraskeletal osteosarcoma (first one we’ve seen since we opened in 2003; no treatment except to amputate the leg), and a B-cell lymphoma of the bone marrow (a rare, bizarre cancer; we’re attempting to treat with chemotherapy).

I can think of two reasons why we’re seeing an uptick in cancer. One reason is that cats are living longer than ever before, and are now living long enough to develop these weird cancers that they would never have developed if they had died at age 13 or 14. Another reason is that we’ve gotten so much more sophisticated in our diagnostics that we’re able to detect cancers that had eluded us before. I guess this is the unfortunate price we pay for increased feline longevity. In any event, early detection is always the key to better survival, and with our hospital’s updated Wellness Plans and our emphasis on examining cats every six months (“Twice a Year for Life”), we’re one step ahead of the pack, I think, when it comes to cancer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dr. Arnold Plotnick is currently being Interviewed for CBS' The Early Show

This is Brad Reason of "Cat Man Do" reporting with very cool breaking news:

Dr. Arnold Plotnick of Manhattan Cat Specialists is currently being filmed and interviewed by CBS for a segment on The Early Show! We will let you know the details as they develop as well as info on when it is going to air.

In the meantime, check out our MCS Facebook Page for updates.

Feline Wellness Plans offered at Manhattan Cat Specialists

In the past, the lifespan of a cat has been divided into three stages: kitten, adult, and senior. There was no consensus, however, regarding when adulthood ended and the senior years began. Recently, the American Association of Feline Practitioners released a new feline lifestages chart. The new chart describes the six stages of a cat’s life: kitten, junior, prime, mature, senior, and geriatric. For more information about this, see my blog post "How Old is My Cat in Human Years"

As cats get older, they are at increased risk for acquiring illnesses such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, chronic renal failure, high blood pressure, and urinary tract infections. In keeping with the changing times, we at Manhattan Cat Specialists have modified our very popular Wellness Plans to fit with the new lifestage classification. Click the images below to read about our new Prime Wellness Plan, Mature Wellness Plan, Senior Wellness Plan, and Geriatric Wellness Plan offered at MCS.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Arnie & Brad: Big Brother & Little Brother Reconnect after Ten Years

The holidays are over, but there’s still time for one more nice holiday story.

The year was 1992, and I was living in Baltimore, Maryland. I had graduated veterinary school in 1988, and after working for a year and then doing a one-year internship at the University of Pennsylvania, I had taken a job at a prominent cat hospital in Towson,  a cute suburb of Baltimore. My work schedule was reasonable and I found myself with a little spare time in the evenings and on the weekends. I decided to do something constructive and join the Big Brother program.

The organization hooked me up with a kid who, frankly, was the spawn of Satan. I did my best to bond with the brat; going to movies, museums, walks in the park, etc. We had a few nice moments, but you can’t really manufacture chemistry and there really was no chemistry between little Damian and me. Zero. Our stint came to an end after a few months, and with no pressing desire for either of us to renew, our brief encounter fizzled out and faded away.

Cut to a few months later. I arrived at work at the cat hospital, and the receptionist Bonnie said, “hey, did you see the little kid who’s volunteering here? He’s so cute!” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Bonnie filled me in. Apparently, some kid in the neighborhood was being home schooled by his new-age hippy-trippy mother and to satisfy his science curriculum, he wanted to volunteer at the local cat hospital. I hung up my coat, went upstairs to check on the hospitalized cats, and introduced myself to Brad, our diminutive 12-year old volunteer.

Brad turned out to be a kid with many interests, and he and I hit it off right away. On my surgery days, I would be in the surgery suite in my cap, mask and gown, and Brad would sit on a little stool opposite me in cap and mask. Across the surgery table, we would chat about everything under the sun. He had a variety of pursuits, including baseball. He was an avid baseball card collector and he knew the value of every baseball card in existence, off the top of his head. The kid was a virtual encyclopedia. Week after week he would show up at the hospital, and during the times that I wasn’t actually seeing appointments or doing procedures, he and I would be chatting merrily away. I finally said to him, “you know, Brad, I wish the Big Brother organization had paired me up with a cool kid like you.”

That evening, I got a telephone call. It was Brad’s mother. She was calling to tell me that every Tuesday, when Brad came home from volunteering, he rambled on and on about how much fun he had and how he and I would spend the day sharing stories and ideas. “It’s ‘Dr. Plotnick this’ and ‘Dr. Plotnick that’, all night”, she said. “So I’m calling to ask you something, because Brad is too shy to ask it himself.” Brad apparently took my words about the Big Brother thing to heart. “Bradley said that you were in the Big Brother program, but that you didn’t really get along with the kid they paired you up with”, she said. “Well, Brad wants to know if you’d be willing to try the Big Brother thing again, with him as your little brother.” She then told me that he could use a male role model like me in his life at the moment. Frankly, the Big Brother thing had already become ancient history for me. Unpleasant history. This, however, was different: a chance to do the Big Brother thing with a guaranteed cool kid. I jumped right on it.

The following Tuesday Brad showed up as usual for his volunteer stint. He acted a little bashful, having asked his mom to do his dirtywork for him with the phone call. I cut right to the chase. “Yo, Brad. I got that call from your mom about the Big Brother thing”, I told him. “Absolutely, dude.” And with those few words, a really great friendship was born.

Brad was the kind of kid who, once he took an interest in something, really immersed himself in it. Computers were a pretty new invention in 1992, and Brad was very into the whole idea of them, especially computer games.

His hand-eye coordination was mind-boggling. His fingers moved like lightning on the keyboard, and he was zapping space aliens and vanquishing villains like you wouldn’t believe. Together we discovered the computer game Wolfenstein 3-D and we both completely obsessed over it, drawing maps of the different levels and spending hours killing Nazis and evading capture.

We attended Baltimore Orioles games at the old Memorial Stadium and at the new Camden Yards. We went to concerts together and I exposed him to a wide variety of music. We went to movies, walked around to hot spots in the city... We had a blast.

In 1994 I got accepted to Colorado State University’s internal medicine residency program. I loved working at the cat hospital and I loved living in Baltimore, but my interest in furthering my education had grown and I knew that if I didn’t make this move soon, the opportunity would likely be lost. I sat down with Brad and told him that I’d be leaving for two years to pursue this program, but that I would surely be back once it was over and that he could come visit me in Colorado if his mother would agree to it. He saw how much I was into veterinary medicine, and he understood completely my need to leave for Colorado.  He was also entering high school (Baltimore School for the Arts, a highly prestigious Baltimore City magnet school, with a four-year theater program) and had to stop volunteering at the cat hospital. 

Brad and I kept in touch while I was doing my residency. During my first year, he flew out to visit. We had a great time, hiking in the mountains, shopping in Boulder, and exploring Denver. Brad was still into baseball, so I scored us a couple of tickets to a Colorado Rockies game (we caught a foul ball that was hit into the stands during batting practice, which was pretty neat). The following year, as my residency came to a close, Brad flew out again. I had two cats and a small apartment full of furniture and was planning to rent a truck and drive all the way back to Baltimore from Colorado. I needed company. What an adventure, to have Brad in the passenger seat for a cross-country drive. Needless to say, we had a blast, laughing, singing, being completely silly. He told me about a play he had been writing called "Insane". He and I worked on some of the dialog throughout the trip. It was a perfect way to end my time in Colorado and to return to beloved Maryland.

Brad and I still hung out after my return, but not as much as before. I was now living in Kensington, Maryland, and working in Columbia. It wasn't very far from Baltimore, but far enough to make getting together something that had to be planned. Brad was busy with high school and had his friends, but we still hung out when we could.

About a year after my return to Maryland, I was contacted by a headhunter working for The ASPCA. I was asked to interview for the position of Vice President of Animal Health. I was excited about the prospect of working for a prominent animal welfare organization, especially since it would allow me to return to New York where I grew up. I interviewed and was accepted for the position. Brad was graduating high school, and had been accepted into Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey's Clown College in Sarasota Florida. I was preparing for my triumphant return to New York. We each led busy lives. Not surprisingly, we drifted apart.

At the age of 20, Brad surprised me by popping in to see me unannounced at The ASPCA. He knew I was working there, and although he was with a friend and he only had a few minutes to spend, the visit was nice. We made promises to stay in touch, but as with most good intentions, they sort of fell by the wayside. Eventually, we lost touch. I knew he was out there in the world somewhere and that one day we would cross paths again. I just didn’t expect it would be so long.

Ten years went by.

A few months ago, I logged on to my computer to check my e-mail, and Brad’s familiar screen name suddenly appeared on my AIM buddylist! I thought I was hallucinating. “Brad?” “Yo dude, yeah, it’s me”. He was in a hurry and couldn’t chat, but clearly we were both thrilled to be reconnected, and we hurriedly exchanged contact info. We had lots catching up to do.

As it turns out, the kid of many interests had become a man of many talents. Besides being a professional club and lounge DJ with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, he is also an accomplished music producer, as well as a fully-trained circus clown (front row center, green hair, that's Brad), he is a computer genius whose area of extreme expertise is Virtual Worlds and immersive environments (something that he says won't become mainstream for another half-decade, but is going to be the future of the internet). He owns a company that exists in a virtual universe; that is totally amazing to me. He maintains his own blog. He also excels in new technologies, trend prediction, social media,  marketing, networking, and graphic design. Lo and behold, this was exactly what I needed for my growing veterinary practice. And so…

Brad is not only my lil’ bro, he’s now my newest employee! My hospital is small, but I’ve given him a big title: head of Office Operations and Marketing at Manhattan Cat Specialists. Starting in January, every Thursday and Friday, I get to hang with my lil’ bro as he helps out around the hospital doing all of our graphic design, internet marketing, and computer maintenance. Our friendship has been rekindled, and we’ve already gone to museums, watched lots of movies, and I’m sure there will be a few ballgames and concerts in our future. He even helps me maintain my blog, "Cat Man Do". He pushed our Manhattan Cat Specialists public profile fan page on Facebook to new levels and started me on Twitter. Life is better when it’s shared with good people, and life has suddenly gotten much better.

Brad's footnote: If you stop in to Manhattan Cat Specialists, make sure to tell 'em "Brad sent ya"...

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