Gia Pets


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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.


Bicycling and dogs

I have recently embarked on a grand adventure of rediscovering bicycling, with a primary goal of enjoying the world at a slower, greener pace…with the side benefits of increased physical exercise.  It’s only natural to want to include my dogs in our adventures via the bike, but that requires some careful planning before we add them to the routine.

First, since we have not been habitual cyclists, we have to regain proficiency as cyclists, and become comfortable with riding, not only in the parks but also on city streets to get from point a to point b.  We have just obtained our first bikes, inexpensive straight-off-the-Walmart-bike-rack bikes.

We chose full suspension mountain bikes as the starter bikes, and will probably end up having to upgrade some features on them, as well as work on general adjustments.  Fortunately for us, we have an authentic bike mechanic as a friend, and he has offered to go over the bikes for us.  Ensuring that they are properly tightened and adjusted is important, especially since we ignored all of our cycling friends’ advice and bought “Walmart bikes.”  In our case, we had an economic motive-we couldn’t afford “good” bikes, and it wasn’t likely we would be able to anytime soon.  We ultimately decided that a bike under our butts was better than no bike at all.

I already know that my bike seat has to be upgraded.  After my initial spin on the new bike, I’m sporting a sore butt.  The new seat, an inexpensive larger gel seat, is waiting to be installed on the bike already.  I have no doubts that a more comfortable seat will help me become more comfortable in general with riding.  It’s hard to concentrate on anything when you are uncomfortable as a result of your seat!

When I was a kid or even as a young adult, I thought little of just riding along on my bike with a dog on a hand held leash.  I was much more agile, and I healed much quicker if I did fall in those days.  Now however, I am more concerned about both my own and the dog’s safety.  Falling presents a very real risk to both the dog and myself.  So, the first thing to search for has been methods to ensure both of us are fairly safe.

I had seen various kinds of arm-like attachments that connected to the bike and then had a leash connection to the dog.  Any of these would probably work, to varying degrees of safety and efficiency.  Most connect to the seat post-a very convenient mid-body location that will spread out potential tugs at the point of greatest safety to the rider.  Attachments to the front wheel or handlebars are the most risky, as a relatively mild tug can turn the front wheel, resulting in a dangerous swerve for the bicycle.

Amazon is a familiar on-line vendor, but the first few offerings I found on a search with them were “out of stock.”  These items may or may not be carried at a future date by Amazon, and were crossed off of my list.

I did find some very attractive ones, like this one called a “bike tow leash”, from Pet Expertise.  I really like it, but…I don’t want the dog on the left side (street side) for safety reasons–cars barely clear bicycles on the streets & roads, and a dog on the left hand side is at more risk.  I want the dog on the right, and yes, I know dogs heel at the left side, but the average dog is smart enough to figure out the difference between bike riding and walking.  Still…it’s worthwhile to find out if it can be used on the right.  However, another down side is the price.  It seems like $119.75 is an awful high price, free ground shipping or not.

The PetEgo Walky Dog Bike Attachment from The Pampered Petmart (Drs Foster & Smith list it at $49.99) looks like a more economical choice at only $37.95.  This one is much more straight forward, and looks pretty much like an arm that clamps to the seat post.  My concern here is the lack of any device to reduce any sudden tugging or jerks, such as a spring. There is also a Walky Low Rider attachment, which allows the Walky to be attached to the rear wheel.

The Springer looks like a great choice, and is designed for use on either side of the bicycle (or even one on each side).  This basic arm has a quick release tab designed to release the dog in the event of something going wrong-not a bad idea!  If the dog goes on the opposite side of an obstacle, etc. the tab is designed to simply snap, rather than delivering a potentially fatal amount of force to bike, cyclist, or dog.  This one is also designed to be used with a harness on the dog, as well as easily be removed when not in use.  Attaching to the seat post is an excellent and simple method of handling the force of a tugging dog.  This one is a bit more expensive, listing at $89.00.

The next issue to check on in regards to these devices is their adaptability to specific dogs.  In my case, there are two dogs–one comes in at 65 lbs, the other at 25 lbs.  They are radically different in size, so I can’t help but wonder how well these devices would adapt between the dogs, or would each dog need their own device.  In our case, that’s not impossible–two bicyclists, two dogs, easy math.

For now, with our limited distance abilities as we relearn about biking, it isn’t a huge concern about distance for the dogs to keep up with us, but as we expand our distance from single digit rides to longer ones, it will become more of a concern.  Neither dog is a young dog anymore-the larger is 8, the smaller is 7.  The larger dog is showing signs of aging with increased stiffness in her joints.  Is it truly fair to expect her to pace a bicycle for long distances, even perhaps something like 5 miles?  We will know more as we start taking her along, and perhaps we’ll return to the basic 1 mile loop at the park with its lower speed limits and more considerate drivers, as well as grass alongside the roads.  Even so, if we do start doing longer distances, it might behoove us to make plans on coping with aging dogs and distance.

The best answer is, without a doubt, the addition of a trailer for the larger dog.  Reading reviews of trailers, they seem to track well behind the bicycles and normally don’t add a lot of drag to a cyclist.  They are prone to increase stability, as well as grant higher visibility to motorists, as well as make them more inclined to passing a cyclist with a trailer with better clearance.  I haven’t bought one or used one yet, but these all seem like great advantages, and the idea that a trailer would add less drag than typical touring panniers is also attractive.

In looking at trailers, specifically for large dog trailers, one stood out from Bike DoggyRide Novel.  At $349.99, this is like the Hummer for dog bike trailers.  That’s a fair chunk of change, so you had best be very serious about frequent rides when you fork out that kind of money for a dog bike trailer.  The Bike Trailer company has excellent reviews, and a number of other dog trailers available, so it’s a worthwhile source.

There are a number of less expensive trailers out there, and there is always the option of buying a cargo trailer, then strapping a normal wire or airline crate to the trailer, and making your own covers for shade or weather protection.  In looking at some of these trailers, and being aware of the heat here in New Orleans, I’m a little concerned about adequate ventilation to keep these trailers from being hot–the wire crate with a shade cover might be a more practical solution because of the increased ventilation.  Yes, I know that a wire crate weighs a LOT compared to these nylon fabric & plastic coated commercial trailers, but my primary concern is that the dog can ride safely and comfortably.  I would just have to ensure that the bike trailer’s weight limits were not being exceeded with the combined weight of dog & crate, plus any accessories that may be added.  There is also the possibility of getting creative-why not use plastic mesh similar to what is used in large aviaries & gardens over pvc pipe?  As long as the dog was not going to get sincere about escaping the trailer, that might be a very viable solution requiring minimal tools and weighing in far less than a commercial wire crate.  In addition, the top could be made entirely of any sturdy outdoor waterproof fabric rather than merely a cover made for the crate.  Desert dwellers could even use a gravity feed system to slowly drip water into fabric side panels, creating a mobile “swamp cooler” for their pet-on-the-go!  (Evaporator cooling systems don’t work particularly well in the high humidity climate of the American South, however, they are extremely efficient in low humidity climates in the West.)

So with all of that to explore, I’m off to fill a water bowl!