Cat Agility Proves It's Not Just a Dogged Sport

Cat Agility Proves It's Not Just a Dogged Sport
By Brian Stillman on Zootoo PetNews

Cat Agility Proves It's Not Just a Dogged Sport: Feline agility competitions show cats are not only trainable, but that they can run an obstacle course just as well as their canine rivals. The growing sport is changing the perception of cats everywhere.

NEW YORK -- They say there's nothing harder than herding cats, but that old adage falls by the wayside after only a few minutes spent watching Jill Archibald lead her two Japanese bobtails through a feline agility course.

Armed with nothing more than a sparkly, fluffy toy at the end of a long stick, Archibald entices her frisky friends to climb over rails, run through tunnels, and leap through hoops.

"Cat agility is really a test of the skill of the cat and the skill of the handler," says Archibald, the Feline Agility chairperson for the Cat Fanciers' Association. "The cat's ready to play, and the handler just directs that play."

Archibald is standing inside a fenced in obstacle course that's been set up at the first annual Meet The Breeds convention at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. Sponsored by both the American Kennel Club and the CFA, the event is designed to bring hundreds of different dog and cat breeds together under one roof.

It's also a perfect spot to showcase feline agility, says CFA Executive Director Allene Tartaglia. "People don't know cats can be trained," she explained. "I think this shows cats truly are great athletes, that they are trainable."

The rules governing feline agility competitions are simple: cats must complete the course in under 270 seconds, and they have to overcome each obstacle in the prescribed manner. This means, for instance, that when navigating a set of three stairs, a paw must land on each stair. The course is run counter-clockwise, and handlers can't to use food to lure their cats.

"I once played a practical joke on a friend of mine," said Archibald. "I got her cat to run the course in about eight seconds, and she couldn't even come close to that. She didn't know I was using a cat treat!"

Archibald hastens to add that she'd never do that in competition. What she modestly avoids mentioning is that she doesn't need to: her cats are champions, and have completed the course in less than 20 seconds.

While feline agility competitions have been around for about a decade, they've only recently gained a wider audience. They're often held at larger cat shows, where there's room for the course. Today, these events can attract 40 to 50 competitors.

"Of course, many of them are new to the sport," said Archibald, with obvious pleasure. "I'm happy seeing people being active with their cats. That's what matters the most."

Archibald hopes the demonstrations she's been holding at Meet The Breeds will attract more people to feline agility competitions. She says no breed is better than any other, and success can come to any cat that's energetic and has a handler who knows how to read its body language.

Practice obstacles can be made at home from easy to find materials like PVC pipe, which is available at many home improvement stores. "They don't have to be regulation size in the beginning," she said. "Make them small for kittens, and then make them taller as the cat gets older."

Standing outside the course at Meet The Breeds, Divida Weber, a cat owner from New York, watches one of Archibald's demonstrations with wide eyes. "It's amazing to see," she said. "My cats have taught me a lot: To come, to feed. It's nice to see the shoe on the other foot!"

Perhaps even more impressive are the reactions that Archibald has gotten from the dog owners attending the convention.

"We're more familiar with seeing border collies and such doing this sort of thing," said Dorice Stancher. "I have new found respect for kittens!"

For more information on the Cat Fanciers Association, visit

[Article and Photo by Brian Stillman]
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Whodunit? Probably not Bartonella

Whodunit? Probably not Bartonella
by Paul Basilio of

If a differential diagnosis were a murder mystery novel, Bartonella would be the butler. Everyone may assume it is responsible for the problem, but the real culprit is most likely something more complicated.

In recent years,
Bartonella has become a popular answer to many diagnostic questions in cats, despite research that shows that the bacteria is part of a cat’s normal flora and does not play a major role in most disease processes.

In 2006, a group of experts published an American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) panel report that acknowledged the prevalence of the bacterium but, based on peer-reviewed research, could not name it as a cause of much disease in cats.

The report stated that while prevalence rates can vary, studies have shown that Bartonella henselae and clarridgeiae organisms are present in about 20% of cats. In one study, antibodies against Bartonella have been shown to be present in as many as 93% of feral cats, but the seroprevalence rate of a population of cats will generally be twice the bacteremia rate.

Cats typically contract Bartonella from infected fleas and flea feces, but Bartonella DNA has been found in ticks, biting flies and other blood-feeding parasites. It is also potentially transmitted amongst cats by biting and scratching. The bacteria are not transmitted through gestation, by milk or from infected cats during breeding.

Still, the threat that Bartonella presents to cats is much lower than some anecdotal evidence would suggest. The AAFP panel states that more research will be necessary to conclude that Bartonella is a cause of disease because most cats with Bartonella organisms show no signs of illness.

The panel’s findings jibe with what Arnold Plotnick, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP, a feline specialist in New York City, sees in his patients. “I think that people jump to Bartonella infection as the answer to a lot of questions without it being an accurate answer,” he says. “Two things can exist in a cat simultaneously, but it doesn’t mean that one is the cause of the other. A cat can have gingivitis and test positive for Bartonella, but that doesn’t mean the Bartonella is causing the gingivitis.”

In fact, anecdotal evidence linking Bartonella to stomatitis, but experts agree that correlation is not causation, and appropriately controlled peer-reviewed evidence has shown no statistically significant difference between the Bartonella antibody titers or the positive PCR assays of cats with stomatitis and cats without.

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Reader Question: Feline Leukemia Vaccine and Testing

Feline Leukemia Vaccine and Testing
CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, discusses the procedure for testing before giving the vaccinations.

Dr. Arnold Plotnick is one of CatChannel's feline health experts.

Q: I had my cat tested for feline leukemia last year. The test was negative. I don't know how but I missed getting her the vaccine. (I changed vets, for one thing). Is there any reason I cannot get her the vaccine now, without getting her tested again? She is a house cat but we let her outside some. She has not, that I know of, been near any other cat.

A: The feline leukemia vaccine should only be given to cats that initially test negative for the virus. If you vaccinate a cat that you think is negative for the virus, but is actually positive, you won’t do any harm, but the vaccine offers the cat no benefit at all.
Ideally, your cat should be tested for leukemia twice, 90 days apart. Your cat initially tested negative, however, if your cat was exposed to the virus a week or two before the test, your cat would test negative, as it takes a few weeks after exposure before virus can be detected in the bloodstream.
If your cat has not been exposed to any cats during the 90-day period after the initial test, a second negative test proves for certain that your cat is negative, and the leukemia vaccine series can commence. Considering that your cat does go outdoors, and you don’t sound 100 percent certain that she has not encountered another cat, I’d play it safe and have her tested again before vaccinating.

Cat Channel
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New drug for managing chronic renal failure

Chronic renal failure is the most common illness I see in my veterinary practice. Once a cat is diagnosed with CRF, there's not much you can do (short of a transplant) to improve their kidney function, but there's a heck of a lot you can do to try to slow down the rate that the kidney disease progresses. There are a lot of things you can monitor, such as potassium, phosphorus, urine protein levels, and blood pressure. If any of these get out of whack, it can accelerate the progression of the renal failure. Fortunately, there are ways of getting them back in balance, which improves the prognosis.

The cornerstone of treatment is dietary modification. It is absolutely proven that cats with kidney failure that eat a diet restricted in protein and phosphorus do better and live longer than cats do aren't fed (or won't eat) these diets.

A variety of supplements are also available that may be beneficial in cats with kidney disease. Omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial effect on cats with renal failure. The prescription diets that are designed for cats with renal failure already have a generous amount of omega-3s. The optimal amount has never really been determined. At my hospital, we give a little extra. Also, keeping the phosphorus level low is beneficial for cats with CRF. The diets designed for renal failure are restricted in phosphorus. If a cat won't eat these diets, a phosphorus binder should be mixed into the food. We regularly dispense a phosphorus binder (Epakitin), to ensure a low phosphorus level.

Now there is a new product called Rubenal. It is a palatable form of Rheum officinale, a medicinal compound derived from the roots of the rhubarb plant. This plant has been documented (so they say) to help protect renal tissue. I have not seen or read the studies about the rhubarb plant. The company says that the main compounds in their supplement - anthraquinone glycosides, beneficial tannins, and stilbene derivatives - help support renal function and prevent fibrosis in the kidney. I'm anxiously awaiting more information about this product, but the company that makes it is very reputable. I've added this supplement to my regimen for management of CRF in kitties. I figure it can either help, or do nothing. If it does indeed help reduce or prevent fibrosis, it's pretty exciting news.
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Cats and MRSA: don't blame Tigger!

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body. It's tougher to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus -- or staph -- because it's resistant to some commonly used antibiotics. Though most MRSA infections aren't serious, some can be life-threatening. Staph can usually be treated with antibiotics. But over the decades, some strains of staph -- like MRSA -- have become resistant to antibiotics that once destroyed it. MRSA was first discovered in 1961. It's now resistant to methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, oxacillin, and many other antibiotics.

MRSA is spread by contact. So you could get MRSA by touching another person who has it on the skin. Or you could get it by touching objects that have the bacteria on them. MRSA is carried, or "colonized," by about 1% of the population, although most of them aren't infected.

MRSA infections are most common among people who have weak immune systems and are living in hospitals, nursing homes, and other heath care centers. Infections can appear around surgical wounds or invasive devices, like catheters or implanted feeding tubes. Rates of infection in hospitals, especially intensive care units, are rising throughout the world. In U.S. hospitals, MRSA causes more than 60% of staph infections.

MRSA is also showing up in healthy people who have not been living in the hospital. This type of MRSA is called community-associated MRSA, or CA-MRSA. The CDC reports that in 2007, 14% of people with MRSA infections had CA-MRSA, and the rates of infection are growing fast, especially in young people. In a study of Minnesotans published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the average age of people with MRSA in a hospital or healthcare facility was 68. But the average age of a person with CA-MRSA was only 23.

MRSA has been identified not only in people, but in dogs and cats as well. MRSA from people can cause infections in pets, and pets can be a source of MRSA for people. An investigation into the prevalence of MRSA in people and their pets, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association entitled “An investigation of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus colonization in people and pets in the same household with an infected person or infected pet” revealed that in households in which one or more persons had experienced MRSA infection, both humans and pets, including cats, were found to be infected. The isolates from humans were the same as those isolated from pets. This proved that cross-species infection can indeed occur, but it can be difficult to tell whether the infection was from human to pet, or from pet to human. The authors of the article speculate that the humans were the source of infection for the pet, and not the other way around, because the isolates were community-associated MRSA strains. Affected pets weren’t in contact with other animals, so they likely got the infection from their owners.

I once received an e-mail from a worried cat owner who was considering putting her cat to sleep because she acquired an MRSA infection, and was blaming the cat for it. I think this study sheds a bit more light on the topic, namely that cats and people can both be infected with MRSA, but you cannot blame your cat for being the source of infection, and in fact, it is more likely that the pet owner is the source of infection for the cat, and not the other way around.
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New breakthrough in cat population control?

As a cat vet, I am a big supporter of the Winn Feline Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds feline veterinary research. Every week or two, I receive an e-mail containing a summary of a journal article that deals with some aspect of feline medicine. Today's summary is entitled Suppression of Estrus in Cats. The full title of the article they've summarized is "Suppression of estrus in cats with melatonin implants". It appeared in the journal Theriogenology. (Theriogenology is the scientific term for the study of reproduction). I've cut and pasted the summary, below:

Cat overpopulation is a large problem in much of the world. Surgical contraception has been the method of choice, but is not feasible in some countries because of economic limitations, and lack of organized programs. Control of reproduction is needed, but little work has been done in non-surgical feline contraception. Cats are long-day breeders; melatonin may signal the feline ovary, and exogenous melatonin may mimic shortening daylight. This study examined the usefulness and safety of heat, or estrus, suppression in cats with melatonin implants. Melatonin implants were given to nine queens, while five received a placebo, during the interestrus period. This was followed by a second implant during estrus. Vaginal cytology, behavior, and reproductive status were examined. The interestrus period was extended by two to four months in the queens receiving melatonin. Once suppression waned, and estrus occurred, pregnancy rates were not affected. The authors concluded that subcutaneous melatonin implants effectively, reversibly, and safely suppressed estrus in queens for 2 to 4 months. Additional studies are needed to suppress estrus in queens for the entire breeding season.

The summary does contain some scientific terminology that might be a little complicated, but the gist of the article is this: Nine unspayed female cats were given an injection of melatonin under the skin. Five unspayed females were given a placebo. The melatonin delayed the onset of heat for two to four months. The effect was reversible;when the melatonin wore off, the cats came into heat, and those that got bred became pregnant at the same rate as if they had never been given anything. I think this is exciting news. It shows that melatonin can suppress heat. It remains to be seen whether the dose of melatonin can be adjusted so that perhaps one injection can suppress heat for the entire breeding season. If the melatonin proves to be less expensive than spaying, the melatonin injections might at least provide an alternative way to prevent pregnancy in cats for those folks who cannot afford to get their cat spayed. It would be interesting to know if oral melatonin can suppress heat. If so, it could be put in food that could be fed to feral cats to prevent them from coming into heat. Exciting stuff!

The November issue of Veterinary Economics is going to have an article about diabetes in cats. The article, entitled "I Have to Stick My Cat with a Needle?" contains extensive quotes from me. I have a lot of diabetic cats in my practice (and my own cat, Crispy, is diabetic), so I'm very familiar with the topic. The article will also contain a client education handout entitled "Your cat has diabetes - now what?" The information in the handout is modified from the client handout I use in my practice. I cannot share this with you just yet, because the handout is not finished, and the editor asked me not to share it outside of my office. But stay tuned. As soon as it becomes available, I'll show it to y'all.
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It's hard to believe that vacation is over

It’s hard to believe that vacation is over. I’m sitting here on the plane, flying back to the U.S. I still can’t believe how wonderful Prague was. I had only heard good things about the city, but I didn’t think I would consider it to be on par with Rome, Paris, or Barcelona.

The truth is, I enjoyed Prague more than any of the other cities just
mentioned. Every street was charming, every square was picturesque, every park was enchanting. Totally mesmerizing.

We arrived in the city at 2:30 and figured out the metro system pretty quickly(being a New Yorker definitely helps). We were in our hotel at 3:30, and we were ready to explore the city at 4:15. No time to lose!

While everyone immediately heads toward Stare Mesto (Old Town), I put Mala Strana (Lesser Town) on the itinerary first. We took the metro to the Malostranka station, and followed the map to our first landmark, St. Nicholas Church, a masterpiece of high Baroque. From the church, we meandered up Nerudova, a street lined with stunning Baroque houses, many of them having their own little name and history. For example, at Number 12, Nerudova, is “The House of Three Violins”, and there’s a little painted sculpture of three violins above the doorway. The street is dotted with these little palaces, and they’re amazing. We continued up the street, but rather than head to Prague Castle at the top, we turned left halfway up the street and went down a few steps onto Jansky Vrsek, a little street that takes you into the quiet heart of upper Mala Strana. As we strolled, we encountered the American Embassy (the police guarding the embassy looking very out of place). Further down, we went into the Church of Our Lady Victorious, which contains the famous “Infant Jesus of Prague”, a wax statue of baby Jesus on an altar. A service was being conducted, and we got to see the ceremony; I filmed the congregation singing in front of the statue. From there, we went to Maltezske namesti (Maltese Square), a church that belongs to the Knights of Malta. Great Romanesque design. I followed the walk outlined in my guidebook, and spent the next hour completely amazed at the architecture around me. The quiet, cobblestone streets, the beautiful restaurants, and the buildings. Oh, the buildings! Each one more charmng and impressive than the next. We wandered into Velkoprevorske namesti, another big (but quiet) square, and saw the French Embassy on the right. To our left, though, was quite a sight: The John Lennon Peace Wall. Allow me to digress a bit and give you the history of this fascinating wall.

On December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was killed. Lennon's death sent shock waves around the world, and Prague was no exception. In 1980 though, simply singing a Lennon song in public could get you thrown in jail for perpetrating subversive activities against the state. Despite this, an anonymous group of youths stole away in the middle of the night, and risking capture and severe punishment, set up a mock grave to honor their underground hero. It ticked off the Commie police, and captured the imagination of the population at large. Despite repeated warnings, Lennon's fans, and believers of his message of peace would slip into the square and stealthily jot town their thoughts on the subject. The wall was whitewashed over and over again, but paintings and lyrics of love and hope continued to appear. The wall soon became an informal political forum for those daring enough to voice their grievances against the Communist regime. Shortly after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 the wall was returned to its original owners, the Knights of Malta. The Knights weren't much more understanding than their Commie predecessors and were about to whitewash the wall again, however, the French Ambassador intervened. His office looked directly onto the graffiti covered wall. He liked the wall. He called up the municipal authorities and asked them to leave the wall as it is. This sparked a minor diplomatic incident, but the wall remained. The wall has evolved over the years, and while the current messages lack some of the anti-communist punch of the old wall, but you can still see the occasional heartfelt message from believers who continue to imagine all the people living life in peace. Vising the wall was one of my favorite moments in my entire time in Prague.

From the wall, we walked over a little bridge over the Certovka stream, to a beautiful little park, Kampa Park. One one side of the park were quaint little footbridges and mills. On the other side, a wonderful view of the Vltava river. The peacefulness of the park, the view over the water, and the color of the sky as twilight approached was just overwhelming.

We walked out of the park and headed north to Na Kampe, a scenic street lined with little hotels and restaurants on both sides. As you wander up the street, you encounter the steps that lead to Prague’s best known site, the Charles Bridge. The bridge is magical, like a scene from a Disney movie. As we walked quietly among the hundreds of other visitors, we checked out the statues lining the bridge, each with a story to tell. We listened to musicians on the bridge, and weaved around vendors selling handcrafted jewelry and paintings. I looked to the north side and couldn’t believe how lovely it was, the water below, Kampa Park in the foreground, and the moon rising above. On the left side, rows of ornate houses, with Prague Castle gleaming above in the twilight. It was a picture postcard come to life, and I was starting to experience sensory overload. I started to wonder if anything could possibly top this, and then I looked off down into the river below, and I saw two white swans, gliding along side by side. Amazing.

We arrived on the eastern side of the bridge, along with the throngs of other tourists. The majority of them were continuing their walk toward Old Town Square, we took a left and went into St. Francis church. A classical concert was about to begin in a few minutes, featuring compositions from Handel, Mozart, and Bach played on the church’s organ. The interior design of the church was incredibly ornate, and the church’s acoustics were perfect. I took many photographs as the organ played in the background. The concert ended at 9:00, and we walked back over the bridge, back to the Mala Strana, for a quiet, romantic meal in a nice restaurant. In looking back over the trip, this night was undoubtedly the most memorable.

Thursday started out a bit cloudy. The plan was to check out Stare Mesto, the Old Town. We took the metro to the station Namesti Republiky and began our walk at Powder Tower, a late-Gothic remnant of the Old Town’s original fortification system. It marks the start of the Royal coronation route. It’s called Powder Tower because that was the tower’s early purpose: to hold gunpowder to defend the city. We climbed to the top of the tower (a brutal set of spiral stairs) and got a great look at the city.

Before proceeding down Celetna street and starting the Royal route, we took a peek inside the Municipal House, an ornate Art Nouveau building from the early 20th century, and current home of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. The building also housed a café, French restaurant, traditional pub, and cocktail bar.

We started walking the coronation route, and our first building was the Museum of Czech Cubism, also known as the House of the Black Madonna. We took a little detour to the left to see the Estates Theater, a historic theater that in 1787 saw the world premiere of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, conducted by Mozart himself. Back on the main route, and in no time we were in Old Town Square , the heart of Old Town. The square has been the center of the city’s economic life for nearly 1000 years. It is one of the most beautifully preserved Gothic and Baroque spaces in Europe. In the center is a statue of Jan Hus, the Czech Protestant reformer. Behind the statue is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, a beautiful church with twin Gothic spires that dates from the 14th century. Across the square is Old Town Hall. On the ground outside the Hall you can see 27 X’s marking the spot where in 1621, the Hapsburgs beheaded 27 Bohemian noblemen, to frighten the locals into accepting Austrian rule. We took the elevator to the top of the tower, where the view of the square below was fantastic.

Right next to the Old Town Hall is the city’s number one crowd pleaser: the astronomical clock. At the top of the hour, a brief, eerie little morality play unfolds; two doors slide open and the 12 apostles go past, while some 15th century symbols of evil – death, vanity, corruption, and greed, shake and dance below. It’s almost as much fun to watch the crowd as it is to watch the clock.

After the clock, we went down Melantreichova Street to see a genuine bit of Prague: the Havelska Market, where we saw vendors selling fruits and vegetables, as well as souvenirs. From there, we meandered down busy Karlova street, which eventually deposited us at the base of the Charles Bridge. This is probably Prague’s most beloved attraction, as I noted above. Once again, we wandered over the bridge, enjoying the performers, the vendors, the statues, and the views.

From the bridge, we walked beneath, to the Smetana Embankment, and encountered the neo-Renaissance National Theater, a true architectural stunner. From there, we walked up Narodni street, and armed with my guidebook, we wandered into a very unassuming arcade and found a small but powerful plaque honoring the students who started the Velvet Revolution on November 18, 1989, the movement that overthrew the communist regime. Narodni led to Wenceslas Square, the most famous square after Old Town Square. More of a boulevard than a square, it has evolved into the commercial heart of the city. It’s also the symbolic center of the nation’s conscience. Crowds tend to gravitate here to celebrate important events, whether independence from Austria in 1918, the Nazi occupation in 1939, the Soviet-led invasion in 1968, and finally, the Velvet Revolution in 1989. We wandered up the right side of the square, checking out the fancy stores and hotels. At the top of the square is the most prominent equestrian statue in the city, the Statue of St. Wenceslas. The statue is the most popular meeting spot in the city. If a Prague resident says to meet him “at the horse”, this is where he means.

Right behind the statue of St. Wenceslas is the National Museum. I read that the displays are mediocre, but the elaborate interior is the real show-stopper. I tried to get a photo, but some grumpy woman guard said that I couldn’t. Grrrr. Next to the National Museum was the funky building that now houses Radio Free Europe, and next to that is Prague’s Opera house. Of the three Opera houses in the three cities, this one was the most low-key, but still a stunner. On the way back up the square, we wandered up the left side, toward the pedestrian street Na Prikope, where there was some great shopping, including Zara’s flagship store! (I love Zara’s.) Na Prikope led to Namesti Republiky, and back to Powder Tower and Municipal House. We decided to go into the café at Municipal House, called Obceni Dum. This café is an absolutely stunning Art Nouveau café, with amazing chandeliers, tiled mosaics, and of course, scrumptious desserts. Then, back to the hotel, and then dinner afterward.
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Cat Man Do answers Cat Questions on

Cat Man Do answers your Cat Questions on
Dr. Arnold Plotnick, DVM - Warm greetings to my fellow feline enthusiasts. I'm Dr. Arnold Plotnick, one of CatChannel's health experts. I'm very excited that I've been given this opportunity to answer your cat questions and share my experiences as a practicing feline veterinarian.

Ask Dr. Plotnick a question about your cat now on

Each week, Dr. Plotnick will respond to one email question. When emailing Dr. Plotnick regarding your cat or kitten, consider sending digital photos — this may help him identify the problem.

If you have a sick cat, seek veterinary assistance immediately. Do not wait to see if your question is answered, especially if your pet is showing signs of illness. In many cases, time is of the essence.

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Searching for Kitties in Vienna, Part 2

Once again, I’m sitting on a train, heading to a new country. This time, the Czech Republic. This train is very fancy. I’m in a private, six car booth. We have all six seats to ourselves. The door is closed, and its as quiet as a tomb. There are many stops between here and Czech Republic, so I suspect the seats in our little room will fill up. Might as well enjoy the silence for now. It’s 10:00 a.m. The Vienna portion of our trip is over, sadly. We’ll be in the Czech Republic at 2:30 p.m.

Vienna has been really interesting. This is a very diverse, cultured city, and although I didn’t see even ONE cat while here, it’s been great fun. On Monday, we took the train from our Metro station a few stops to the Schonbrun Palace. This is the former summer residence of the imperial family. Lots of gardens, trees, statues, and alleyways. We took a tour inside and saw the breathtaking decorations in the staterooms, and the more understated apartments that were occupied by Franz Joseph and Empress Elizabeth. After exploring the palace, we strolled the grounds, taking photos of amazing gardens and statues. We skipped the zoo and the garden labyrinth, and instead visited the Palmhouse, a magnificent tropical greenhouse erected in 1882. It houses a vast collection of exotic plants.

We took the train back to the center of the city, to Karlzplatz, and found the famous Trzesniewski restaurant, where we were treated to a huge array of little finger sandwiches. We chose six and shared them, eating at one of the stand-up tables outside, like the locals do. A few minutes later, we went back to the Opera house, to admire it during the daylight. We saw the famous Hotel Sacher right behind the Opera house. It is here that the Sachertorte was invented. I strolled across the street to see the Monument Against War and Fascism again, in the daylight, and then strolled up the street to the Kaisergruft, the imperial burial crypt of the Hapsburg dynasty. This was very solumn, peaceful, and a bit creepy (in a fascinating way). The crypt was dark, damp, and deadly quiet, and we had the entire place to ourselves. I took many photos of the somewhat gruesome adornments on some of the crypts. Across the street from the crypt, there was a cool fountain, the Donner Fountain. The four figures on the statue represent the tributaries of the Danube.

We continued walking up Kartnerstrasse, a grand mall-like street with high-end shops. At the end of the street, Kartnerstrasse runs into Stephansplatz, Vienna’s colorful and fun main square. Situated in the center of Vienna, St. Stephen’s church is the soul of the city itself. The church has stood on this site for 800 years. We marveled at the sumptuous interior, and took lots of photos. To get a better view of the city, we foolishly paid 3 euros to climb the south tower, because it supposedly offered a better view than the north tower. Well, the north tower at least had an elevator to get to the top. To get to the top of the south tower, I had to climb 343 steps in a tightly winding spiral staircase. By the time I reached the top, I was ready to collapse. The views were spectacular, though.

Facing the church is Hass Haus, a shining modern building of glass and blue-green marble that curves elegantly around onto the next street, the Graben. The building has a very pleasing asymmetrical appearance, with lopsided cubes of marble attached to the façade, a protruding structure high up resembling a diving board, and a Japanese bridge inside. Lots of fancy shops and restaurants are found in this building.

From the church, I strolled down Graben, another busy shopping street, with many smart boutiques and neat rows of cafes. In the center of this street is the giant Column of the Plague. During the Plague of 1679, Emperor Leopold I vowed to commemorate Vienna’s eventual deliverance by commissioning the building of a Baroque plague column. Devised by the Jesuits, the most striking image shows a saintly figure andan angel supervising the destruction of a hag representing the plague, while the bewigged Emperor above prays. Graben dead-ends into Kolmarkt, Vienna’s most elegant shopping street. I spotted the famous Demel, the ultimate pastry palace, and got a scoop of blueberry gelato, and a couple of chocolate bars to bring back home.

Kohlmarkt ends at another plaza, Michaelerplatz, where you come face to face with the grand entry façade of the Hofburg Palace. We’ll be tackling the palace tomorrow. Across from the entry façade is Loos Haus, a bank designed by Adolf Loos, one of Vienna’s best-known architects.

We’d seen the major sights of Old Vienna. But we weren’t done yet! A major item on my itinerary was a visit to a special shop. Map in hand, we headed up Herrengasse toward Freyung, a picturesque square. Across from Freyung was the Palais Ferstel, an Italian-style palazzo, lined with elegant shops and a small courtyard with a many-tiered statue of the water-sprite of the Danube holding a fish. It is in this mall where I was expecting to find Katze & Kater, a gift shop with all things feline. My goal was to interview the owner, take many photos, buy gifts for friends and co-workers, and write an article about the shop for CatFancy magazine. I could not find the store anywhere, though. Finally, I went into a nearby shop to inquire. The woman proprietor pointed to a chocolate shop two doors down, explaining that the cat store had gone out of business, and that the chocolate shop had opened it its place. How disappointing! Not only have I not seen any real cats in Vienna, I was thwarted in my attempt to see fake ones! Sigh.
Dejected, we headed back to the hotel, rested, showered, and then headed back to the same area, for dinner, then a casual stroll around the city before calling it a night.

Tuesday’s itinerary was a big one. In the morning, we were up bright and early to see the Hofburg Palace, a vast complex containing the former imperial apartments, several museums, a chapel, a church, the Austrian National Library, the Winter Riding School, and the President of Austria’s offices. The plan was to visit a museum or two and stroll the grounds, but the Spanish Riding School was having a warm-up session which was open to the public. The origins of the Spanish Riding School are obscure, but it is believed to have been founded in 1572 to cultivate the classic skills of haute ecole horsemanship. These horses, the famous Lipizzaner stallions, from Spain, are bred and trained from the age of three. In the building known as the Winter Riding School, you can see 80-minute shows, set to music. The building was built in 1729 and is beautiful. I took many photos and short films of the morning exercise session (despite several announcements that photos and videos were forbidden). (Hey, you know me… the moment you tell me I’m not allowed to do something…) The riders had great uniforms, with black bicorn hats, coffee-colored waisted, double-breasted jackets with two rows of brass buttons, pale leather gloves, buckskin jodhpurs, and long boots. Traditional Viennese music plays over the sound system. I’ve always loved horses, and I watched the training, enthralled. Check out the video below. You can see how majestic the horses look, and how beautiful the arena is where they perform.

After the horses, we checked out the state apartments, including the rooms occupied by Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth. The ticket included the “Sisi” Museum. Sisi was the nickname given to the Empress, who is a beloved figure with a cult of personality surrounding her, much like Evita Peron. The museum was pretty interesting. Apparently, to preserve her beauty, Elisabeth slept with a piece of raw veal on her face every night. The veal was held in place by a leather face mask. That must’ve smelled great in the morning.

We were hoping to take a tour of the Opera house, but the unplanned horse-training session put us a few hours behind, and we were starving. The Opera house would have to wait. We headed to Naschmarkt, Vienna’s liveliest market, with some of the best snack bars in Vienna. On the way, we passed a very interesting building, The Secession, designed as a showcase for the Secession movement’s artists. It has a striking filigree globe of entwined laurel leaves on the roof. On the façade, in gold letters, it says “Der Zeit ihre Kunst, der Kunst ihre Freiheit”, which translates as, “To every Age its Art, to Art its Freedom”. Alongside the building is the marvelous statue of Mark Anthony in his chariot being drawn by lions. We skipped going into the Secession, although I would have liked to see their best known exhibit, Gustav Klimt’s Beethove Frieze. It covers three walls and is 100 ft long.

After admiring the Secession building, we went to Naschmarkt and I got some traditional Wiener schnitzel. In the background, I could see Theater an der Wein, the oldest theater in Vienna, designed in 1801. We strolled down the street after lunch, to the Wagner Apartments, two remarkable apartment buildings designed by Otto Wagner in 1899. Number 38 has sparkling ornament, and Number 40 has subtle flower patterns in pink, blue, and green. Number 40 is also known as Majolikahaus, after the glazed pottery used for the weather-resistant surface decoration. The building next to it, Number 42, is in historicist style, and is exactly what Secession architects were rebelling against.

Decisions, decisions. Do we head to the Opera house for a 50 minute tour, at 4:00, or do we head to the Kunsthistorisches Museum? The Museum closes at 6:00. We had time for one or the other, but not both. We decided on the museum, mainly because the walk to the museum involved passing some stunning buildings.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of the History of Art) is visited by more than one and a half million people every year. The interior is incredible, and the collection is vast. I made sure we saw the highlights – Hunters in the Snow by Bruegel, The Artist’s Studio by Vermeer, and Portrait of the Infanta Margarita Teresa by Diego Velazquez – before they closed. By now we were ready to chill out, and so we went back to the hotel. We had no specific dinner plans, so we headed back toward the Opera house, and strolled the surrounding streets, choosing whatever restaurant that appealed to us. We found a really nice outdoor restaurant, and I tried tafelspitz, the national dish. This dish consists of slices of boiled beef with root vegetables, served with two dipping sauces (applesauce with horseradish, or sour cream and chive). Our last night in Vienna wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Café Sacher, for a slice of their world famous Sachertorte, and a cup of hot chocolate. Time to say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good bye, to Vienna. By my watch, we’ll be in the Czech Republic in two hours.

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Cat Wellness News - Interview with Dr. Arnold Plotnick

Interview with Dr. Arnold Plotnick

via; from the publishers of

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. 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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.
6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.
9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.
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CatManDoCast: The Pet Hour with Nancy Glass and Cindy Connors

Nancy Glass and Cindy Connors bring you The Pet Hour

The Pet Hour Episode 18
Episode #18 -- Paul Owens the Puppy Whisperer, Dan McClelland and the Police Dog, Bo Bengston and the Whippet and Feline Vet, Dr. Arnold Plotnick

Nancy Glass and Cindy Connors turn the focus to puppies and talk with Paul Owens, author of The Puppy Whisperer. Paul provides great tips on how to treat puppies, and why your hands and voice are so important. Plus, Dr. Arnold Plotnick of Manhattan Cat Specialists debunks the common myth that pet age is 7 years for every human year and shares when a cat can be considered elderly. The facts may surprise you!
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Searching for Kitties in Vienna

Well, a (minor) disaster is upon us here in Vienna. We arrived at our hotel room, and we both realized that neither of us were carrying the little Diesel bag containing both our Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe travel guide and our Knopf Map Guide of Vienna! Our whole itinerary was heavily dependent on the maps and descriptions in those books. Groan. Oh well, it certainly could have been worse. If the camera, the memory cards, passports, cellphones or money were in the bag, it would have been disastrous. Not having these books makes navigating the city a bit more challenging, but certainly not impossible.

So far, we’re impressed with the city. It’s much more ethnically diverse than Budapest, and it’s very cosmopolitan. Being real cityfolk, we really feel the difference right away.
Our first stop was the famous Opera house. The metro system (called the U-Bahn) was a breeze to figure out, and in five minutes, we were standing in front of this amazing building. We hopped on the number 2 tram outside the Opera house, and took a 30 minute ride around the circular Ringstrasse, viewing many of the major sights in the city. The tram left us back where we started – in front of the Opera house – and we meandered toward Albertinaplatz, the plaza housing the beautiful Albertina Museum, where we admired the Monument Against War and Fascism, a powerful, thought-provoking four-part statue. I then found, on my crappy hotel map, the park (Burggarten) in which the restaurant Café Palmenhaus was located. The restaurant was stunningly beautiful, with palm trees and foliage inside as if it were a solarium, and tables on an outside terrace overlooking the park. Dinner was wonderful. Afterward, we didn’t do much else. Sunday is a quiet night in Vienna, according to the hotel receptionist. Most stores are closed, and besides, we have a busy day scheduled for tomorrow – the Schonbrunn Palace, followed by a walking tour of all the major sites in downtown Vienna. I’ve seen many dogs so far in Vienna, in parks, on the U-bahn (apparently, if they’re muzzled, they’re allowed!), and strolling along the sidewalks with their owners, but still no cats.

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