Holistic Pet Care
Phil Klein, owner of Whiskers Holistic Petcare in New York, shares his holistic pet care tips.
What do you do when your animal is showing signs of illness, and your veterinarian doesn’t seem able to help? For many pet owners, the answer resides at the back of a Manhattan pet store.
Phil Klein and his wife Randy took over the store now known as Whiskers Holistic Petcare 27 years ago, after their collie, Tiffany-Anne, was misdiagnosed by a trusted vet and given antibiotics and antidepressants for symptoms that later turned out to be bone cancer.
Though Phil is quick to say he’s not a vet, he has since earned a reputation as the natural-remedies go-to for pet lovers all over the globe.
Instead of a consultation room, the hard-nosed animal lover holds court at the back of a jam-packed holistic pet store in Manhattan’s East Village.
Phil rolls his eyes in disgust over the poor quality of commercial pet food (most are “garbage,” he says). He bemoans the fact that few pet owners properly feed and (yes) fast their animals, and is aghast at how little time vets spend learning about nutrition.
“I am usually 180 degrees opposite of anything you’ve ever heard from a traditional veterinarian,” Phil says, going on to discuss errors in judgment that most pet guardians, have never thought about.
What are the biggest mistakes pet owners make? One of the most egregious, he says, is leaving food out for hours at a time between meals.
“Dogs and cats do not carry digestive enzymes in their gut,” Phil advises.
They only develop saliva in anticipation of a meal, and their sense of smell is far better than that of humans, he says. When food is left out for long periods of time and the smell of it remains, your pets will not develop the required saliva. Thus, the food they consume remains largely undigested, he says.
Ideally, you should leave food out for your animals for no more than 20 to 30 minutes tops, he says, and then thoroughly clean the area between meals.
Fresh water should be available 24/7, Phil says, but you want to take care to scrub your pet’s water bowl thoroughly. When you don’t clean a pet’s water bowl, the saliva left at the bottom will create a “beautiful bed for bacteria,” breeding disease.
Another little known fact, says Phil, is that healthy dogs and cats from seven months to seven years of age should have a regularly-occurring break from all solid food. “Extremely healthy dogs and cats would do well to fast for two non-consecutive days each week,” he says.
“Vets and pet food companies will yell and scream” at that directive, Phil observes, but the fact is that “In the wild, animals in good health have a binge and fast lifestyle, and this is what they handle best unless they’re sick or debilitated.”
I ask about my new grey-and-white tuxedo cat Zelda, who we rescued from a shelter and who seems to be perfectly healthy except for a case of gingivitis, which the vet wants to treat with a deep teeth cleaning that requires anesthesia.
His advice is to get this done while Zelda is young and able to withstand such a procedure. “Kidney disease is life threatening and is often the result of toxins born from teeth and gums,” he says.
“We see four to seven kidney cats a day,” he says. Whiskers also sells fresh raw chicken necks and wings that are good for teeth cleaning in healthy animals.
Phil says he won’t stock anything at Whiskers he wouldn’t be willing to eat himself.
Often the reverse is true as well: many natural foods that are good for humans are good for their pets to boot. Leafing through an issue of Spirituality & Health, Phil pauses to peruse a piece on edible dandelions.
Green dandelions happen to be great for dogs and cats, Phil advises, noting that they boost pets’ urinary tracts, and aid their immune system. “All the greens that are good for you are good for the animals” as well, he says. You just need to dice and steam them and mix them into your pets’ regular food.
Whereas Whiskers stocks many brands of pet food, Phil and his wife also offer their own homemade brand, which they make from their home in Bayside, Queens, turning out chicken, turkey, lamb, duck and beef products fortified with vitamins and natural supplements.
For those who’d like to order homemade pet food from Whiskers and live outside of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, the store is able to freeze its products and ship them cross-country. But that can be expensive. “I’d rather teach people how to make their own food,” he says.
I observed Phil talk to pet owners who’ve called to discuss their animals’ symptoms, and he’ll spend a half hour explaining how to prepare a brew designed to address issues with their liver, kidneys, or white blood count.
Before I can squeeze in another question, a staffer shouts to Phil to please pick up his extension.
“Sit down, get out a piece of paper, and tell me about the cats,” he tells the caller.
I wait, chewing on some flavorful dried apple Phil had offered me from a small plastic bag when I’d first arrived, telling me with the smallest trace of a grin, “You just ate some dog food.”