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Archive for May, 2011

Food (and more) for backpacking dogs

My preferred travel food for dogs was discontinued, it was called “Whole Meals”, and it was in bone-like bars that were sized according to the size of dog they were to feed.  They weren’t ultra light or compact, but it was a convenient form for traveling, without worries about spilled kibble.  Now, we’re planning an extended biking/backpacking trip (22 days out) which means carrying a lot of supplies!

I really need a food that is dense nutritionally, so our volume and weight are minimized.  We’ll have two dogs with us, (one dog will stay with friends–she’s not crazy about traveling) so its a 5 lb. chihuahua and a 70 lb. American dingo/carolina dog.  Standard kibble for each of them comes in at 3 cups per day on a normal low activity day.  That means I’d have to pack 66 cups of kibble to last us the 22 days!  In addition, the little one is a picky eater, whereas the bigger one is happy with almost anything, especially when she’s hungry.

Does anybody make such a food?  The only alternative I can think of is dehydrating a mixture of meat for them, and rehydrating it and adding rice on the road for their meals.  At the same time, I don’t want to cause nutritional deficiencies, especially when they are already being faced with high energy consumption and potentially low temperatures.  (It’s in November, we have NO idea what kind of weather we’ll really have.)  I’m even considering making meal-bars for them myself, using pureed meat, vegetables, eggs, and cooked rice and then baking them to rock hard perfection in the oven.  Obviously, the chihuahua’s “bars” would have to be much smaller.  Has anyone tried this either?

Searching online, I found one company that sold food, recommended only for intermittent or occasional use, called “Peakwaggers.”  At $8.95 for 2 meals suitable for an 80-100 lb dog, that might just fit the bill for my dynamic duo.  My sole concern is that “intermittent and occasional use” clause.  I sent them an inquiry.  Price wise, I really can’t beat that if I make it myself, and I would have the hours of work preparing it and packaging it as well.  If you are curious, check out their website.  According to an email I received from them, each meal is vacuum packed and weighs in at 5 oz.

Most of the foods that come up on the search just don’t qualify as dense enough nutrition to eliminate the bulk and weight.  Merrick has a “wilderness” food, but it’s just a high protein kibble really.  Granted its got great ingredients, but its still not what I’m looking for.

Then, I remembered a food I had seen before, a food that amazed me and the dogs absolutely went gaga over.  It’s compact, freeze dried, and you just add hot water and let it sit for a few minutes…just like our own Mountain House meals.

Who is this mysterious food manufacturer?

Grandma Lucy’s Artisan Foods.

I’m not kidding, the chicken was the only one I saw, but it was literally delicious looking and smelling.  Cutting up one of the CHUNKS of chicken, it looked like just cooked chicken…nothing “dog food” like about it at all.  At about $68 for either the pork or chicken varieties in a 10 lb. bag (makes 55 lbs. of fresh food) it seems reasonably priced for what we’ll need.  (To get one pork and one chicken, along with some beef tiny tidbits treats would total just about $145 plus shipping and handling.)  To get the first brand, one package would work for 1 day, and we’d therefore need 22 pkgs., would be about $196.90…and doesn’t include any “extras”.   Packaging the food into serving sized portions for the dogs in zip lock bags, all we’d have to do is add the hot water and stir in the food in their bowls.  It’s much more expensive than the familiar kibble, and its much less bulky than trying to drag along canned fish, rice, vegetables, etc. to cook up their food on the road. I’m sure we’d have trouble getting Nemo, our little guy, to eat kibble again at home…but hunger is quite an incentive!

Treats are something else that is important to have along for the dogs too.  When we stop for a break and a snack, they’re ready for their own.  They also need copious amounts of water, and Red Dog’s been nicknamed “The Camel” for a reason.  She has been observed to go through a couple of GALLONS of water when she’s hot and getting a drink.  (Not all of it makes it to her stomach, she dribbles, drools, spills, and slops a lot of it.  She also drinks by submerging her entire snout and literally sucking it in when she is truly thirsty.  Lapping is tea time behavior in her book.  Her favorite drinking method, even in cold weather, is standing belly deep in a creek and sucking up water.)  High quality treats are important to maintain their high energy and good spirits.  Typically, we’re giving jerky, but a hot favorite with all of them is peanut butter crackers.  Yep…the same peanut butter and crackers that we are consuming!

Don’t forget their beds, especially when camping in cold weather.  We are intending to use hammocks for a number of the nights, due to terrain, and we’re working on the canine solution.  Nemo the chihuahua can join GM in the hammock, but I am a bit uncertain about how agreeable Red Dog will be to sleeping in a hammock.  (Haven’t tried it yet…she’s remarkably good about sharing a cot though!)  I’m assuming she’s going to find the movement of the hammock disturbing, and may prefer solid ground.  With her advanced age, sleeping on the cold ground is going to aggravate old joints, and that’s not conducive to her enjoying the trip.  If she refuses to agree to sleep in the hammock, something we’re going to work on this summer, we will need to find a compact and light solution to insulating her from the ground’s heat sucking tendencies if she’s not joining us on our bed in a tent or helping me stay warm in the hammock.  We may have to come up with an insulating pad that fits the bottom of the bicycle trailer she rides in when we’re biking (she’s also too old to run alongside a bike for any distance) and use that for her sleeping arrangement.  At night, if we’re not in a tent, she’s tethered to a tree or other large sturdy object to prevent her wandering off and getting into mischief.  When riding in the trailer, she’s tethered to that to prevent a startled dog from jumping out and into traffic or other danger.  Nemo will also be tethered into his basket or carrier, for the same reason.  We have all seen dogs become suddenly and unexpectedly alarmed by some noise or sight that they are unfamiliar with, and it is much better to be safe than sorry, especially when motor vehicles enter into the equation!

For Nemo, we’ve decided on a handlebar basket solution due to his size (about 7 lbs.) but we also would like to have one that has a top for shade at least, since we live on the Gulf Coast and the summer sun is scorching hot.   Since Nemo is a “daddy’s boy”, the basket will be put on “daddy’s” bicycle, which  means he is not thrilled with anything too frilly or “sissy” either.  (Probably for the same reasons that he does not regard spandex as appropriate attire for himself.)  So…no flowers, lacey trim, pink or baby blue baskets either.  Something suitably masculine for the little boy and his adoring daddy is what is on my shopping list.  We are apt to look for a standard soft pet carrier that will fit in a regular bike basket, as the pre-made solutions I’ve seen so far are overpriced and under-quality, as far as their reviews have indicated.

The Aosom cargo trailer that I like so much is sold out, with no date of more coming in.  They may have gone the way of the Model T–they were inexpensive, sturdy, and efficient.  I love ours.  That means we need an alternative to carry either a dog or cargo, and with no anticipated date of our preferred trailer in stock again, that means shopping all over again.

The SolveIt HoundAbout trailer in large MIGHT work.  Rated at up to 100 lbs, it can carry Red Dog and some gear, such as bedding, blankets, spare leashes, and possibly even food.  (I’m thinking about possibly packing the food in individual bags flat on the floor, then covering it with Red’s sleeping pad and her blankets, etc. to protect it from punctures from her nails.)

Croozer trailers are only rated to 66 lbs.  Barely one Red Dog.  That’s not much weight, so that one isn’t really appealing.  I don’t think it would be a good choice for durability.  M-Wave has a very do-able looking cargo trailer, and Amazon’s page shows a customer modification to allow his cocker spaniel to ride under his camping gear–quite ingenious.  It’s rated to 88 lbs.  Serviceable weight.  Avenir‘s cargo trailer looks like a good option, but one of the reviews complains about the early failure of one of the axle bearings and customer service’s lack of interest or response.  I hate bad customer service, by the way…  Amazon also has an “Extended Space” dog trailer, which looks interesting, is much more expensive and has no customer reviews.  I’m a bit leery of a trailer in this price range without reviews.  Even more expensive is the “Novel Dog Bike Trailer“, but it has options like a roof rack (yeah!) and has a good review.  Still, $300 for a dog trailer is a good chunk of change.  In that price range, however, is the Burley Nomad, an industry standard.  It also has a cargo rack option.  It’s also a trailer well known to cyclists.  If I’m going to spend $300+ on a trailer, this is probably the trailer I’d choose, even though it lacks the solid floor I prefer.  It’s lightweight, reliable, and it works.

I already have one trailer that can carry Red Dog, but the second trailer needs to be capable of it, even if that’s not what is in the trailer.  We like our gear to be multi-purpose, and we already know that dogs are one thing we’re apt to have to carry in the trailer.  It wouldn’t make sense to purchase a second trailer that couldn’t also carry her.  In addition, our gear and supplies will weigh in at roughly the same amount as she does, making it sort of a six of one or a half dozen of those in terms of use.  If we have a choice, putting her in the solid bottomed trailer just makes more sense, but if we can’t get another sturdy cargo trailer, and are forced to choose a “pet” or “child” trailer, then she may have to ride in the second one.

There is also the option of making our own trailer, with a little help from friends.  This would give us the option of matching our 26″ bicycle wheels or the 16″ wheels on the Aosom trailer, keeping the number of spare parts to a minimum.  It would also allow more customizing of shape, and possibly even let us use the hitches from the Aosom trailer to hook our home made trailer to, which is also appealing.  We may just think about that!

All in all, our trip is planned in early November, and we’re working diligently on getting ready, getting gear, deciding on supplies, and calculating weight and volume carefully.  We really need to have all of our plans solidly in place within four months, with the gear and the bulk of our supplies purchased as well, leaving the last month for last minute issues and ensuring it is really all going to fit and we can actually tote it behind our bikes!  (Wouldn’t that be a fine how-do-you-do to be all packed, all ready to leave, and climb on our bikes only to discover…we can’t pull the load!)  Training, both for us and the dogs, starts just next month.  Even though we’re not riding far or fast each day, we are going to be riding 2-4 times our current daily ride distance, which means we’ll also definitely need that training!  For the dogs, it’s going to be mostly about learning to ride most of the day when we’re on the bikes, and us learning what their tolerance is for staying put in a relatively small space.  (Moving around much means we’re apt to become unstable, and more likely to fall or wreck ourselves.)

Most of all, our trip is to have fun and enjoy ourselves.  The dogs are to enjoy themselves too, everything from their food to their sleeping arrangements should be about fun and staying safe, comfortable, and being happy.  For them, it’s mostly about being with us, no matter where we are and what we are doing, that’s what makes them happy.  It’s our job to keep them safe and comfortable while they do just that.

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Home made dog food with a recipe for Tuesday Tuna Special

Up until dog kibble was invented, all dogs were fed at home from food produced at home.  Granted, some dogs were probably severely malnourished, some were starving, and others were as fat as could be.   Feeding your dog “human food” was frowned upon in general, right up until the contaminated dog food was recalled, and suddenly, it’s very fashionable and responsible to make your own dog food.

From a practical point of view, making your own dog food can provide a quality diet at a very low cost, if its done right.  You know exactly what is going into it, and what kind of quality it really has.  It’s also a great way to use up items that may have been lurking in your freezer a bit too long, or are at risk of spoiling in your refrigerator.  Never ever feed your dog spoiled food–it will make him or her just as sick as it would make you!

Canine allergies are just as much an issue as human ones, and while many canine allergies are environmental in nature, they can also be food related.  Limiting the ingredients can help you and your veterinarian determine what the problem foods may be.  Home made foods make this easy.  Want to go on a turkey and barley diet?  Turkey comes in ground form at the grocery store, and barley is found near the rice and pasta normally!  Perhaps you think that pork and sweet potatoes would be better?  That too is an option!  Whatever ingredients you choose (check with your veterinarian for suggestions) can become your dog’s food.  All organic?  That’s also an option!

Just like humans, dogs are suffering from obesity at higher rates than ever before, and just like humans, that isn’t healthy.  Reducing calories while keeping a large quantity is often a need for the eager chowhound on a reducing diet.  High water content meals make that easier, by replacing much of the denser calories of kibble with the water that has no calories.  Make sure Fido has plenty of water in his or her meals, limit the fats, and stick with great ingredients that make them feel full, and those pounds will fall away easier.  Using more vegetables and fruits than grains will help too.  (Try carrots, sweet potatoes, summer squash, green beans, peas, apples, pears, peaches, blueberries)

The basic formula is rather simple–about 1/3 proteins such as dairy, meat, and eggs and about 2/3 carbohydrates such as grains, fruits, and vegetables.  In dogs, cholesterol is not a worry, and their bodies can’t tell the difference between high quality extra virgin olive oil and plain old beef fat.  The choices are infinite within those parameters though.  Grains, vegetables and most fruits should be cooked, but the proteins (except for eggs) usually can be served raw, if you so desire.  Contrary to the old wives’ tale…raw meat will not turn your dog into a killer either.

Creative cooking has no limits, and your dog’s palate may be less discerning than your significant other’s is.  All three of mine will dine quite happily on a dish of Tuesday Tuna Special, even if we weren’t interested in sharing!

Tuesday Tuna Special

  • 2 c. rice
  • 3 c. water
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 can green beans

Bring water to a boil, add rice and cover.  Cook on medium low heat until done (about 20 minutes for white rice.)  Remove from heat and fluff with fork.  Stir raw eggs into hot rice, replace lid and let sit for about 1 hr or until just warm.  Dump in (liquid and all) tuna and green beans.  Stir to combine.    Refrigerate or freeze unused portions until ready to use.  (Refrigerated, it will keep for about 4 days.)

Serving sizes depend on size and energy needs of individual dogs.  In addition, the high water content of this food in comparison with dry kibble makes comparing the amount of this dish fed per dog to kibble difficult–it will be a much more substantial looking serving than the kibble is.  This recipe feeds 1 large dog, 1 medium dog, and 1 toy dog at my house.  They all also love it–not even the green beans are discarded!

The male dog and persistent leg hiking

Some male dogs, no matter how persistent you attempt to dissuade them from hiking their legs in the house, and even after neutering…insist on hiking their legs and peeing on every object and corner they come to.  There comes a point when you are beside yourself, and facing a situation where the dog is potentially to be banished from the house, even as a three pound toy dog.  What can you do?

It’s not a training solution really, but it IS a solution short of euthanasia or re-homing the dog.  It’s commonly referred to as the “male diaper” or the “belly band.”  At its most basic, its a strip of fabric that uses hook and loop fasteners to create a snug, urine-proof, leg hiking solution.  Typically, a sanitary napkin or infant diaper is used inside of the belly band to soak up the urine, although there are some models that are designed to soak it up and be washed.  Personally, I prefer the disposable solution inside of the band–it doesn’t eliminate the need for washing, but it does reduce it substantially.

How does it work?

It is really very simple.  It fastens around the dog’s mid-section, covering the penis (the diaper or napkin should be situated at the end of the sheath, where the urine will exit) and eliminates the scent marking by simply preventing its escape.  The dog isn’t even usually aware that they can no longer mark their territory, although some dogs, after realizing that they can’t mark, gradually quit trying to do so.  Depending on the dog and his insistence on hiking that leg, the absorbent layer will need changed several times a day or once a day.  The dog’s abdomen may also need wiping down, especially in the most severe cases.  For easy clean up, try using alcohol free baby wipes.  Don’t let moisture and debris build up, as that can create skin inflammation and irritation.

Also don’t forget to remove the diaper before taking your newly house-safe buddy outside again.  Always reward him for taking care of his business outside too.

Inside, you no longer have to worry about urine drenching your furniture or carpets, and your buddy can now walk through the house without causing problems.  It also makes him a much more welcome guest when you visit, so don’t forget to include belly bands in his travel bag, along with the appropriate absorbent liners!

Sometimes, we have to accept that we aren’t all going to have the perfect dog, but that doesn’t mean his habit is going to force him out of the house.  Everyone will soon come to love the belly band!

Our recent rescue, a male chihuahua, was insistent on marking every object over 2″ high.  Obviously, this was not endearing him to me.  We ordered belly bands! These are available from a variety of companies, and hand crafted ones with cute fabric can be purchased inexpensively from sellers on Ebay too.  With there arrival, our little guy went from a perpetual state of disgrace to once again being cute.  (And we may now know why someone had abandoned him too.)

Get at least two, so that you have one to wear when the other one is being laundered.  They should last several years with proper care, but a wider wardrobe may be desired.  Seasonal fabrics will also help make the belly band more of a fashion accessory than a sign of disgraceful leg hiking as well.

Fleas and ticks

I live in the South, the land that fleas and ticks call heaven.  For pet owners, it can be akin to hell.  I didn’t always live here–most of my life I spent in the arid Southwest, where fleas are easily controlled with minimal effort.  Not so here.

In addition, my older dog, who was born and raised in the Southwest, is highly allergic to flea bites.  A single bite has her in fits of frantic chewing, resulting in bald patches and sores.  It’s hardly attractive, and certainly indicates her level of misery.

So we’ve spent a fortune over the years controlling the nasty things.  Most of my hard earned dollars have gone to Frontline, and then, a couple of years ago, we began to see insistent fleas remaining behind, despite religious application of the Frontline Plus.  We alternated with Advantix and Advantage, and still…there were some persistence of the fleas, although in reduced numbers.  I’d catch sight of them, and I swore they gave me the finger.

With Comfortis, we did have 100% control, but…at what cost?  After recalls of other products in the past, I’m a bit leery of an oral solution to a topical infestation.  In addition, Comfortis is expensive and requires a veterinary prescription.  After the initial supply of Comfortis was gone, we went back to the over-the-counter use of Frontline Plus, often needing to apply it every 3 weeks rather than monthly, at least during the summer when fleas are planning their own summer vacations on my dogs and cats.

Recently, on a foray to purchase more flea remedy, we discovered a product called “Pet Armor Plus” at our local Walmart and Sam’s Club.  It appears to contain identical ingredients to Frontline Plus.  It’s also less than 50% of the cost of Frontline Plus, and when you’ve just ended up with a third dog who wandered up and refused to leave…and have two cats who arrived the same way, our monthly flea treatment expense was formidable.  We also don’t like fleas and their potential to carry disease.

We gambled, and since we were shopping specifically for the two small dogs’ flea treatment (Red Dog, our big girl, still had a dose left) we bought a box of three doses for the two of them to share (at 7 & 20 lbs, they required the same size dose.)

A week later…they are still flea free, despite regular contact with our neighbors’ dogs, who happen to be hosting the National Democratic Republic of Fleas annual summer convention.  On these dogs, treated only with the traditional spray, powder, and shampoo routine, you can literally stand and watch the fleas moving through their coats, building cities and highways along their routes.

Okay, I realize that the Fipronil used in the product is regarded as a potential carcinogen, and as a hazardous chemical, it may also have other health issues.  However, I regard the continual infestation of fleas as having a far more immediate and potentially equally dangerous side effects, ranging from infection from open sores to diseases and round worms.  The itch from the flea bites is intense…I know, I’ve had enough of the bites myself!  Continual use of anti-allergy medication isn’t exactly healthy either.

It’s a trade off.  Yes, it puts their long term health at risk.  But without it, their short term quality of life suffers, and there are mid term health hazards to consider too.  It would be great if we could treat their space and be done, but in the South, that doesn’t work.  Everything has fleas, they move around, and everything living in nature are regarded as a potential ride into new territory.  In addition, we like taking our pets with us on excursions, and those areas are obviously NOT treated for fleas…and we’re infested all over again.

So far, I’m pleased with Pet Armor Plus.  It seems to be working as well as Frontline Plus.  The price could be lower and make me happier, but it isn’t.  We won’t see further reductions in price until more generic versions of Frontline hit the market.

From the veterinary industry, we’re being cautioned about potential reactions and told that it is not really the same.  We’ve heard this before, and we all suspect it is because it affects the veterinary clinics’ bottom line.  Yes, reactions can occur and they can be dangerous, but guess what?  That’s true with Frontline too.  Allergic reactions are unpredictable in some cases.  I’ve had severe allergic reactions to commonly consumed foods and medications, requiring emergency medical intervention.  Does that mean that these items are hazardous and should be avoided by everyone?  Of course not!  It is an individual reaction.  One of these veterinarian based statements I read claimed the inert ingredients were the source of the reactions and other hazards of this generic version.  I find that difficult to swallow–inert ingredients are inert ones, and while an allergic reaction could occur, there should be no “other hazards” resulting from these inert ingredients because they are INERT.

Another complaint is that the Pet Armor Plus is manufactured in India.  Okay, so I prefer American products myself, but…we don’t make much here anymore, and often the quality is sub-standard when we do.  If the quality is high, so is the price tag.  That’s why we’ve seen so many jobs lost in the manufacturing industry already.  India is better than China, as far as being the manufacturing country is concerned in my eyes.  We’ve seen too many contaminated items coming out of China in the past decade.  I’m not sure where Frontline Plus is manufactured either.

In these trying times, with budgets strained to the breaking point, many people have had to give up their pets, unable to care for them.  Veterinary visits are often too expensive, and avoiding the annual visit is not uncommon either.  Pet owners are struggling to make ends meet too, and a less expensive solution to the flea issue is important.  So far, I’ve got no reason to discontinue the use of Pet Armor Plus and revert to my rotation through the three big name flea products with their big prices too.  We’ll see how this month plays out.