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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.

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!

Dogs and camping

We’re going camping this weekend.  It’s our annual spring primitive camp out, and the dogs, as usual, get to go.  They are already excited, we practically had to pull our feist, Sissy, out of her travel crate in the van.  Red Dog, our big girl, was beside herself this evening after watching camping gear being stacked in the yard beside the van and then loaded.  She knows what those tent bags mean, and she also knows that she’s rarely been left behind when they have been loaded.

Our spring camp out means more freedom than usual for them both.  Sissy’s incessant barking is less of a problem there, as we don’t have outsiders walking past, along with bicycles, other dogs, rangers in their trucks, etc. to get her going.  That means we’re saying a lot less of “Sissy, shut up!”  For Red Dog, well trained at 9 years old, it means more off leash time as well as some swims in the creek near our campsite.  No alligators means more water time!  (The water is fast and cold, neither of which enthuse alligators about a creek.)

It means lounging by the camp fire and an opportunity to use her “psycho powers” to coax extra tidbits from the other campers too.  It also means sharing the tent and sleeping on the bed.  Long walks are right up their alley as we walk and explore the woods.  All of this adds up to a great time for them, and they look forward to these trips as much as we do.

But it means other things are important too.  We’ll be away from home, and that means making sure the dogs don’t get lost, as well as that they are carrying current identification tags and are up to date on their shots.  It also means traveling safely both to and from the camp site.

Traveling safely varies between dogs, but one rule should never be bent.  The drivers’ space should never include a dog!  That means even toy dogs, as having them on your lap, etc. is an excellent way to cause an accident as well as seriously or fatally injuring your pet.

There are harnesses designed to restrain your pet while traveling, as well as crates for traveling.  Restraining your pet inside the vehicle is a smart idea, after all, we wear safety belts don’t we?  I must confess though, I don’t strap in Red Dog.

Both dogs have been trained to load into the van on command…and to NOT exit the vehicle without another command, no matter what they want to do.  Sissy rides in a small wire crate to ensure her safety, as she is not as reliable about following the rules.  Red, the dog who has been with me the longest, has a long history of traveling with me, and performing standard security details.  Panhandlers and mischief makers  alike avoided me as a result of her poking out her head through the open door as they approached and giving them a silent “Colgate Grin.”  Apparently, 2″ fangs are greatly inhibiting to these people!    Red is a skilled actress–she puts on a very threatening (and convincing) act of wanting to shred people through the windows of the vehicle.  I have never had a vehicle damaged when she’s sitting inside of it, let alone a thief trying to take an object or the van itself.

So why do dogs love camping so much?  I think its because we are relaxed and happy, and that is contagious.  The dogs pick up on our happy state, and relax themselves.  Add in the interesting scents, the increase in quality time with us, and the fascinating change of routine to include walks and swims, and it’s as much a vacation for them as it is for us.

Camping with dogs is much like any other travel with them, but we do spend more time in camp than we would spend outdoors anywhere else.  As a result, be prepared to cope with their needs outdoors.

  1. Be able to secure the dog for outside lounging time.  Most parks require that dogs be on a 6 ft or shorter leash, which isn’t much room.  Typically, I’ll tie a rope around a tree trunk and thread it through a leash handle, allowing the dog to have a 6 ft radius around the tree.  Most parks do not allow you to leave your dog in camp and go elsewhere–someone has to stay and “dog sit.”
  2. Don’t forget food and water, as well as their dishes.  If your dog has a touchy stomach, bring water from home for them to drink.  It’s a great help to prevent diarrhea and stomach upsets.  Remember, when traveling you may encounter difficulties in obtaining your food, so bring enough along.  Don’t forget their treats–it helps keep the people food for the people!
  3. Bring along a copy of their vaccination history.  This may be required at some parks, and is always good to have along, just in case of a problem.
  4. Bring a toy or two if your dogs play with toys.  It helps occupy their time too.
  5. Have a spare leash.  Leashes often meet with strange damage problems, can be lost or broken, or simply mislaid.  A spare saves your sanity.
  6. Remember the weather. In warm weather, dogs can quickly overheat, whether in a vehicle or not.  Make sure they have shelter and protection from rain or wind, according to the season.  NEver leave a dog in a vehicle in warm weather.  (Typically, if we have to stop & shop when traveling with the dogs, one of us stays with the vehicle unless it is at night and then we’re quick.)  In cool weather, remember…if you need a jacket to be comfortable outside, so do they!

Most of all, have fun and enjoy your time with your pet.  That’s the most important part!