Interview with Dr. Arnold Plotnick
Dr. Arnold Plotnick is double board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) and the American Veterinary Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). He owns Manhattan Cat Specialists, a prominent cat-only practice in New York City. Goodnewsforpets.com Publisher Lea-Ann Germinder recently met and interviewed him as part of our series to promote experts in the field of veterinary medicine, and help New York City residents learn more about resources available to them.
- Manhattan Cat Specialists is a feline-exclusive veterinary facility. Why did you feel that a feline-exclusive practice was important?
I have always felt that cats tend to receive less attentive and thorough care when it comes to veterinary medicine, compared to dogs, and the statistics tend to confirm this. Cats are not small dogs. They have their own unique metabolism and unique set of diseases and personality traits. I think they are best served in a facility that is strictly devoted to them. On a personal note, I really adore cats and I truly enjoy working with them exclusively.
- What distinctions if any do you find between urban cat owners and non-urban cat owners?
Cats in urban environments tend to be strictly indoors. Here in Manhattan, you can't just open your back door and let the cat out. In an urban environment, when you're home, your cat is constantly in your presence, and you spend more time with them, becoming intimately familiar with their eating, drinking, behavioral and litterbox habits. This greater awareness allows for more vigilance in terms of monitoring the cat's health. Urban cat owners tend to treat their cats more like a member of the family, compared to non-urban cat owners who leave food out for their barn cats, but may not form the deep bond that some urban owners form with their cat.
- Are there any special considerations that owners should be aware of when caring for a cat in the city?
Cats in the city often have less room to run and exercise than rural cats that go outdoors. Their sedentary lifestyle predisposes them to obesity, so owners of urban cats need to feed their cats accordingly, and actively spend time engaging the cat in physical activity. This is best achieved using interactive toys (laser pointer, kitty-tease, etc.) For outdoor cats, the world is their litterbox. City cats, however, do not have the same number of options when it comes to peeing and pooping. In a small New York City studio apartment, folks are lucky if they can find enough room for even ONE! New Yorkers lead busy lifestyles, but they need to spend enough time making sure the litter box is cleaned and tended to daily, otherwise, it can lead to aberrant litterbox behavior in the future.
- According to the AVMA's 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, there are about ten million more owned cats than dogs, yet over a five year period cat visits to the veterinarian decreased by about 11 percent. Why do you think that cats get less frequent veterinary care than dogs do?
I think dogs have always been portrayed to be the classic family pet. Cats are viewed as being a bit more self-sufficient and not as dependent on people for a lot of things, including their health care. Dogs are also a bit easier to take to the vet; you just put on the leash and the dog thinks it's simply going for a walk. Cats hide when they see that cat carrier, or they fight you as you try to put them in it. They'll often yowl during the trip to the vet, and will sometimes urinate or defecate in the carrier en route to the vet's office, making the trip a bit of a nightmare. This alone can be a deterrent for some cat owners.
- Do you think it is important for cats to visit the veterinarian frequently? Why or why not?
I do think it is important, because cats often don't let their owners know when they're feeling unwell. They're programmed that way, so to speak. Predators pick on prey that are weak and sick. So cats don't let anyone know they're weak and sick until they can't hide it anymore. By the time we do recognize that something is amiss, the illness is often pretty well-established, and it only makes it that much more difficult to treat or reverse it.
- Have you had challenges with stressing the importance of veterinary care to cat owners?
That's an unfair question for me, because I own a cat hospital, and I attract a clientele who deliberately seek out this veterinary environment where cats reign supreme. My clients are highly involved in the lives of their cats, and are fully aware of the importance of veterinary care for their kitties. In the past, however, when I worked in general practices, there were indeed clients who would do whatever was necessary for their dogs, but treated their cats as an afterthought, figuring that if they just leave out food and water and change the litterbox now and then, the cat would essentially care for itself.
- Manhattan Cat Specialists offers geriatric healthcare for cats. Can you explain your Senior Wellness program and why it is important?
As cats age, they are at increased risk for certain illnesses such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, chronic renal failure, periodontal disease, and cancer, to name a few. Because cats are secretive a bout their health status, and because early detection is often the key to successful management of disease, we recommend doing baseline labwork for senior cats. Our senior wellness program includes a complete blood count, serum chemistry panel, thyroid evaluation, urinalysis, and fecal examination. In cats with no symptoms, if we detect any abnormalities, we've caught it early, and are more likely to be successful in our treatment. If no abnormalities are detected, then we've at least established the cat's baseline normal values, so if the cat were to get sick in the future, I can compare any abnormalities I find to what I know is normal for that particular cat.
- When is a good time for cat owners to begin looking at a Senior Wellness program?
Exactly when a cat officially becomes a senior can vary from one veterinarian to another, but in general, a cat can be considered to be "senior" around age 7 or 8.
- Are there any other unique services that Manhattan Cat Specialists offers?
We offer a similar wellness program for middle-aged cats (age 3 to 7) that checks for illnesses common for cats in this age range. We offer dental care, x-rays, ultrasound, endoscopy, blood-typing, microchipping, boarding and grooming. I don't know if you could describe our services as unique, per se. I would hope that at this point, all practices are offering the same kind of services. When we offer it though, we do it with the cat's unique physical and psychological make up in mind.
- June is Adopt-A-Cat month. How important do you think pet adoption is and what are some top considerations that potential owners should be aware of when adopting? Are the considerations different for urban owners?
Pet adoption will always remain an important issue. The shelters are overwhelmed with cats and kittens in need of responsible, loving cat owners. Potential owners should be aware that adopting a cat is a financial, emotional, and time commitment, and the decision to adopt a cat should not be taken lightly, regardless of whether the cat lives in a rural or an urban environment.
- We hear a lot about humans with allergies to pets, but pets can develop their own allergies. You had mentioned in New York City you see a lot of allergies. Can you explain what allergies and why you think that is? How are they treated?
Cats often manifest allergy through their skin, or through their gastrointestinal tract. The most common skin allergies are allergy to fleas, food, and substances present in the air. Flea allergy is not a common problem in my practice, since most of my patients are indoors and do not encounter fleas. Food allergy is, I believe, an underdiagnosed problem in cats. Some cats, after eating the same food for years, can develop an allergy to the protein source in the food, and can develop an itchy dermatitis that typically (but not always) affects the head and face.
Food allergy can also manifest as gastrointestinal discomfort, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss. Treatment consists of feeding a diet containing a novel protein- one that the cat has never encountered before. Some companies, such as Hill's Pet Nutrition Company, manufacture a prescription diet that contains a unique protein, such as rabbit, venison, or duck. Feeding this diet can result in dramatic improvement in clinical signs.
Atopy (allergic inhalant dermatitis) is a condition in which the cat is allergic to inhaled substances, such as molds, pollens, or house dust mites, for example. Cats with atopy tend to be very itchy and will lick excessively or pull out clumps of their fur. Treatment, ideally, would be to identify and remove the offending substance. Often, this is impossible, and treatment usually consists of a short course of anti-inflammatory medication. Omega-3 fatty acids are often helpful in managing the itchiness seen in these cats, either alone or in combination with anti-inflammatory steroids.
- Are there any upcoming advances in feline medicine that you are excited about?
There have been an incredible number of advances in veterinary medicine over the past few years. The one that has me the most intrigued is a new diet that supposedly treats hyperthyroidism in cats. The company that is manufacturing the diet is keeping mum on the topic, but if it is true, it would be an amazing development. Hyperthyroidisim is the most common glandular disorder in cats, and some cats require twice daily medication for the remainder of their lives, once the diagnosis is made. If this disease could be treated without medication, by simply feeding a certain type of food, it would be very exciting.