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Over the years I have heard this sentiment many times by passionate dog owners who are planning family vacations, summer trips or weekend get-aways. And I definitely understand – my dogs are family – and we would want them with us for our adventures. Especially if we will be doing activities that our dogs love like hiking, camping or tons of walking!
“If my dog can’t come I’m not going!”
But if you have a dog on a fresh food diet like mine – you know that managing travel with fresh food can be a bit complicated – at least at first. But with a bit of planning – I can guarantee that it isn’t as overwhelming as you think.
How Long is the Trip
When planning on feeding fresh food such as a home cooked dog food while traveling the length of the trip and the set-up of the location you will be traveling to is very important. Remember most fresh food is good for about 3-5 days in your fridge (only 2-3 days for fish!), so to prevent spoilage for longer trips you will need to be creative with your storage solutions.
Another great option is to bring an “all in one” base mix like Honest Kitchen, Sojo’s or Dr. Harvey’s where you can purchase pre-cooked meats or canned meats from a local grocer and mix them in according to the instructions to create a simple homemade dog food.
In case of emergency you also want to bring a backup solution - this might be something like a canned, dehydrated or freeze-dried option. This will prevent a disaster from happening if for some reason you are stuck traveling for longer than intended, due to poor weather or natural disaster.
How are we Getting to the Location
Will you be driving, flying, taking the train, or a bus?
Each of these has their own considerations when it comes to transporting your dog’s food to the new location. Often there are regulations around food on planes, and plane cabins are not exactly temperature controlled. So storage of the food for plane travel can be complicated. Often shipping food, or picking up food at the location where you will be located will be a better option.
For driving with fresh dog food, depending on the size of your dog and length of the trip, you may need a lot of space to transport the food with you. If you are limited on space – only traveling with a small amount of food, and then picking up food at the location you will be arriving at may be a better option.
For long road-trips, planning out not just where you will be going, but where you will be stocking up /restocking up on food along the way will probably be your best option. If you have a gently cooked dog food brand your dog does well on – you can simply have the food delivered to the destination location! This works particularly well for both Hotels and AirBnBs.
Consider having food shipped to the location you will be traveling to, or cooking once you are at your final destination if you will be going on a longer trip. Plan out “restock” locations if you plan to cook for your dog while traveling, or camping.
This list was updated June 9th 2021 Offering your dog freshly cooked dog food offers many different benefits – from better digestibility to more diversity of the microbiome, to even a potential reduction in cancer rates. As more research is done, […]
Food storage Options for Fresh Food While Traveling
For most short weekend trips – a simple ice-chest with ice-packs should be able to do the trick. I’d recommend putting day 1 in the cooler thawed on ice, then place day 2 & 3 into the cooler frozen to thaw on ice over the next day or so. This will prevent spoilage of the food, and easily get you through the weekend without issue.
However if you are taking a longer trip you will need to consider the facilities of the location you are going to. For example – if you are camping, you will have no fridge – so investing in dry ice and cooler that can keep food frozen, may be ideal. If camping for longer than a week, you may need to think about restocking your fresh food, or cooking at the campsite for your dog! Both can definitely be done.
Plan to restock during your trip if you will not have a freezer and will be at a location for more than a week. This will prevent foods from going bad and spoiling. If you will not have a freezer/fridge and you are planning more than a weekend trip, consider upgrading your food storage to a more robust system.
Tips for Traveling with a Dog on a Fresh Food Diet
If you plan on traveling with a dog who has medical needs make sure to clear travel with your vet first! Sometimes it may be more stressful for some dogs to travel, than to stay at home with a qualified pet sitter. But if you are like me and have a dog that is generally healthy but just requires a specialized diet – finding solutions prior is ideal.
I know for my Ash I often use a Tetra-packed Food from Just Food For Dogs while traveling or in emergencies to keep his diet consistent, as I have noticed that any time I transition him even onto dehydrated foods he doesn’t do well.
Just Food For Dogs has both a prescription and over-the-counter range of gently cooked dog foods for a variety of medical conditions including: liver disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis, IBD, and joint disease. Many now come in tetra-packed containers.
Composition Changes based on Activity:
If you have a dog who is going to be doing activities that are different than their normal day-to-day at home it’s important to realize that you may need to bring additional foods, or even feed more calories than usual. So making sure to have extra food on hand is important – especially if you will be doing a lot of walking, hiking, running or swimming.
Whenever we have traveled with our dogs we have found having pre-portioned meals to be the most convenient – they freeze and thaw easier, and there isn’t as much of a mess getting the food ready for the dogs.
In Case of Emergency:
Always have an extra 3-5 days of meals in case of emergency – this might be because you got stuck a certain location due to weather problems, or that your stay was extended due to airports or travel restrictions. You don’t want to be caught without food.
Get the kitchen
If you are traveling for more than a couple days – I highly recommend choosing a location that has a full freezer/fridge and a kitchen. This will offer you the most flexibility for maintaining your dog’s regular cooked diet during travel.
Consider an Alternative Diet:
One thing I want you to realize is that you do not have to keep your dog on a fresh food diet while traveling if your dog will do well on other food and you will not have the means to store or prep your dog’s regular fresh food diet. This may allow you and your dog to enjoy your vacation more, and often it’s good to have a shelf-stable emergency kit option anyways – just in case things don’t go exactly “as planned” and you end up at your location for much longer.
If you are looking for an alternative diet I highly recommend attempting to match the macro composition of your regular diet, and if the diet is dried – add some water to it to rehydrate it!
Your veterinarian or local pet store may be able to direct you to some similar options to what you are feeding from reputable companies that have good quality control and ingredient sourcing. And remember – you don’t just have to go with kibble as the alternative – there are many other types of diets on the market: dehydrated, freeze-dried, canned and even jarred.
And make sure to test the new diet prior to your trip to make sure your dog likes it and does well on the diet without issue. You may even want to consider transitioning to this alternative diet prior to your trip to prevent digestive upset.
Other Dog Travel Considerations
There is so much more than goes into traveling with your dog then just figuring out the logistics of feeding them.
Pre-Travel Vet Visit
During these visits your veterinarian can discuss any medical concerns or need for your dog traveling to a particular location, and fill out any legal forms needed for Travel. If you plan to travel by plane – speaking to your vet up to a year in advance may be a good idea as some states/countries require extensive paperwork including Rabies Titer Testing which can take up to 6 months to get into order.
First Aid Kit
I cannot stress the importance of always having a first aid kit on hand both in your home and while you are traveling with your dog. You don’t want to be in a situation where you need supplies or medications and you don’t have them.
As a registered veterinary technician or veterinary nurse who has worked in the field for over a decade I cannot stress the importance of not just having a first aid kit but also knowing how to use the first aid kit items.
Probably one of the most important areas of traveling with your dog other than food and safety is stress management. Obviously everyone wants to have a good time traveling with their dog – but if you have not done training around being in new environments your travel-dream may turn into a nightmare.
There are some supplements and medications on the market than can help with travel and anxiety for dogs – but ultimately – training is going to give the best results. I’d highly recommend reaching out to a qualified trainer prior to travel so that you can set your pup up for success.
There are so many different supplements on the market labeled for use for anxiety in dogs – learn all about CBD Oil, Valerian Root, Kava Kava, and more – along withe the current research on this topic.
Plan Ahead to Travel with a Fresh Fed Dog
The number one thing I hope you take away from this post is that with a bit of planning – traveling with our dogs while on a fresh food diet is definitely possible. I know I have taken my own dog on many camping trips of varying length while on fresh food without issues – and we all had an amazing time! Now with the addition of kids to the mix I’d probably opt for a cabin, and fresh food delivery as my hands are a bit more “full” than before.
Happy travels dog lovers – I hope you all have fun and enjoy your time exploring.
About the Author: Nikki is a Registered Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) and Dog Mom with over a decade of experience with dogs and cats. Since graduation from college (BS Biology, AS Animal Health -2013) she has adopted two mixed breed dogs – Ranger and Ash, and has focused her time learning about pet food and nutrition.
Nikki shares information on a range of dog nutrition topics: from how to create a homemade complete and balanced dog food recipes, to how to choose a dog food. Nikki strives to give dog parents the information they need in order to make the best nutrition decisions for their pup!
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