by Barbara Foley
When we travel, one of the last things we think about is food. If, in addition, you travel with a pet and don't think about it, "food" will be one of the first things you have to clean up! The key to not having to clean up after a dog with an upset stomach is making as few changes as possible in your dog's routine while traveling. There are, of course, dogs who become car sick no matter what precautions we take.
Dogs, like us, are creatures of habit and are used to eating at the same time each day. Hopefully, at home you have already gotten your dog used to a regularly scheduled feeding time. When you are on the road, feed your dog at the time he would normally be fed at home unless there is some other overriding reason not to.
Either take along your dog's food and water bowls or use paper plates. (If you use paper plates, make sure to throw them in a trash can after the dog's meal is over so they don't add to our highway/campground litter problem.) If your dog eats moist food, regular flat plates will do. If your dog eats dry food, try to get a paper bowl to keep the pieces from rolling off the plate.
If you feed canned food, don't forget a can opener! Or buy the types of cans with the snap off lids. Heavy duty plastic spoons are great for dishing up moist food. To deal with leftovers in the can, get a plastic top designed to fit the size of can you buy. (For those who feed the little tuna-sized cans, you will find plastic lids where cat food is sold.) The lid should provide sufficient coverage for your pet's leftover canned food that the can can be placed in your RV refrigerator or an ice chest. If this grosses you out, find a plastic container into which you can place the entire can for storage in your refrigerator or ice chest. If someone inadvertently eats it, just don't tell them what it was! Also some pets will turn their nose up at leftover canned food because it is cold. If your dog refuses his dinner made from "leftovers," try leaving the chilled food out for a little while before his dinner time or, if you have a microwave, heating the food back to room temperature before feeding. If you leave the chilled food out to reach room temperature, don't overdo it to the point that spoilage occurs or you will make your dog sick.
When packing for your trip, take along your dog's regular dog food. If you plan to buy it on the road, you may not be able to find "his brand" and shopping around for food for the dog is no way to enjoy a trip. Likewise, don't use your trip as an opportunity to try a new type of food on your dog (even if it is on sale!). To do so is just begging for messy stomach upsets. If you absolutely must buy food on the road and it is not your dog's usual brand, buy the food before your on-hand supply runs out--and then don't just dump the two together. Instead, over several days and for each feeding, mix the new brand with the usual brand using one third of the new and two thirds of the usual brand. Then go to half and half and finally two thirds of the new and one third of the usual brand before switching entirely to the new brand. This allows your dog's digestive system to gradually adjust to the different food. If you are full-timing, try to settle on a well-known brand of food which your dog likes and digests well but is also pretty much available everywhere.
Dry food travels very well. Storing a bulky bag of dry dog food can be a hassle in a RV, and keeping the food in its bag can hasten its spoilage, especially in humid climates. Bagged food is, of course, an invitation to add to your pet population with mice and insects! Instead, try to get a metal container to store your dog's food. Measure the space in your RV where you plan to store your dog's stuff and purchase a container to fit in that space. Buy the size of container that you can handle without getting a hernia. It has to work "with you" to be of any use. If you have several pets eating different types of food, of course, you will need several containers. Many major dog food companies have metal containers as promotional give-aways--that's how I got mine! Put a scoop in the container and you are good to go!
The amount of food you pack for your dog depends on the length of your trip, how much your dog eats, and your storage capacity. Many Rvs are already overloaded, so adding a bulky 40-pound container of dog food only adds to the problem. If it is practical for you to do so, measure out and take along only enough food for the length of time you plan to be away--and then add a few extra meals in case your break down, spill some of the food, or are delayed on your return trip.
Every creature must have water to be healthy and survive. We think of water as just that, water. But water in different locations is different because, in addition to hydrogen and oxygen, there is a varying level of chemicals legally in our drinking water. To avoid stomach upsets in our pets and if it is practical to do so on short trips, try to carry "home" drinking water for your pet. This is a trick used by people who compete with dogs. Just fill a sturdy container with "home" water before you leave and use that to water your dog. Be sure to label it so everyone will know its purpose. Additionally, if you should have to wait a long time to be rescued in a breakdown situation or traffic tie-up, you will have plenty of water to last both you and your pet. It is always a good idea to carry emergency water.
Water your pets in a bowl or bucket which cannot be turned over. Travel water bowls are great because they have a top with a hole through which the pet can drink without removing the top and the water can't splash out as the vehicle moves. Pet supply companies also sell scaled-down metal buckets which can be hung with a double ended snap so they can't be tipped over. Check your pet's bowl frequently to ensure it is full and the water is clean. Ice cubes floated in the water in the summer helps keep it cool; warm water in the winter does not freeze as fast as cold water. If you water your dog outside your RV, place the water bowl where it won't be tripped over but is still easily reached by your pet--and show him where it is!
When your dog is fed, remove his feed dish and any uneaten food after half an hour and wash the dish. This will remove the attraction for scavengers, insects, or other dogs. If you forget, wash the dish thoroughly before you reuse it. Other animals may have diseases which could be transmitted to your pet if you reuse the dish without washing it. Never leave food or water containers outside overnight. The food can attract unwanted wildlife who could physically challenge your pet for its food, as well as convey diseases. I have even seen stray dogs wander into a campground, and once saw a large dog claim as his own a traveling dog's water container by relieving himself in the container.
If you make the decision to board your dog while you travel, provide a supply of your dog's normal food and ask that the food be used for your dog's meals. Yes, you are paying for "their" food so why would you also supply food? Your dog will be somewhat stressed by being separated from you. A sudden switch to a strange food will only add to his troubles. But you should also be aware that you dog may not eat at all because he is stressed and the boarding facility may refuse to feed your food for liability reasons. But, it's worth a try.
So, with a little forethought, we can make our dog's trip as pleasant as our own--and avoid cleaning up the expensive RV upholstery! And don't forget some of your dog's favorite treats!
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