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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.

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Paying attention on a budget

What are the best ways to ensure your pet’s health?

Pay attention!  Animals are essentially hard-wired to hide health problems, but for the observant pet owner, there are small hints that things may be going wrong.  Changes in behavior, especially in terms of eating habits, can signify serious problems.  Sleeping more can indicate other health problems.

Nutritional problems, as well as allergies/food intolerances show up often in the coat & skin.  Any sudden change is obviously a cue to pay attention.  Weight gains & losses can also be related to nutrition.  One useful tool in monitoring changes is to use photographs.

In this day & age of digital photography, it’s very easy to take many photographs.  Taking a monthly photograph at approximately the same distance & location and comparing them side by side can be a very useful tool.  Store them in a single file in your computer, labeled with the date, and it will be easier to track any changes.

Take note of changes, and to make it easier to let your veterinarian know, write them down and take the list of concerns & observations with you to the vet’s office for the appointment.  Just like when we visit the doctor, it is easy to forget details that you meant to mention (and that may be important clues for the veterinarian) while in the office.  A list makes up for that tendency.

Paying attention helps save money by catching problems early, before they become huge problems.  Often, minor issues such as the kinds related to the foods you are feeding your pet can be remedied before a veterinarian visit is required, but don’t wait too long!  If it is more than merely a food issue, it can escalate before you know it.

Comparing the photos regularly helps you know when that veterinarian visit is necessary, and can even help your veterinarian literally see what you are talking about–a great help in the diagnostic process.  It can quickly show changes in coat condition,weight, stance, and even be used to assess the seriousness of tumors and other growths that appear on our dogs, often minor disfigurements that appear with age.  Face it, our pets can’t talk and are hard wired to hide health problems, both of which make it much more difficult to diagnose problems.

Skipping veterinarian visits is not uncommon when our budgets are strained, it’s hard to justify a doctor visit for your pet when you can’t afford them for yourself either.  Don’t cut corners by avoiding vaccinations and annual exams on your pet!  These vaccinations can save your pet’s life and save you a lot of money compared to battling diseases such as distemper, parvo, etc.  Shop around for these vaccination and exam packages–there can often be a vast difference in prices even between clinics in the same general area.  It’s okay to price shop!

Doing the best we can for our pets is important, even when we are short on money.  Shopping around for vaccination packages is an excellent way to cut a corner without “doing without.”  Paying attention so that our visits to the veterinarian accomplish the most possible is another way to get the most out of our tight dollars, as accurate information can save you both time and money.

For your photographic record, try to position your pet in approximately the same position in the same location and get a profile view.  If there are areas of concern, taking a close up on a regular basis helps compare these particular spots too.  Making a habit of a top view regularly is also a good idea, and can show weight gain/loss dramatically.  Date each photo, and review them each month after you take your new set of photographs, but don’t look at them too frequently!  Examining them often will make it more difficult to truly see the changes over time.

Enjoy your pet!