Food on the trail? It’s important to take food for your dog if you are going on long hike. You need to replenish your dog’s energy and strength. Extra protein is great for your dog.
There are several trail food options for your dog if you are out doing a day hike or multi-day, backpacking trip. We give you an overview of each option.
You’ll need to try different options to see what works for you and your dog. It’s also important to try things on a shorter hike before going on a long one. You don’t want to be surprised if your dog has an adverse reaction to what he eats.
HOW MUCH FOOD DOES YOUR DOG NEED?
We are not veterinarians or food nutritionists, so we don’t provide specific recommendations and amounts of food required for your dog. Every dog has different nutritional needs, so please consult your vet.
Find out from your own vet how many calories your dog needs on a daily basis and while hiking. Use the information your vet provides as a baseline and adjust from there. You can mix and match any treats and food so long as it totals up to your total calorie goal.
If your dog is very active, he will need more food. A good rule of thumb is to give about 25% more kibble than your dog’s normal meal for hiking, however, for a lengthy backpacking trip your dog may need 50%-100% more food. It all really depends on how much you hike and in what conditions. Use your best judgement by observing your dog on shorter hikes over time. Keep your vet in the loop so they can best advise you further.
Erin Tuveson’s dog, No Shame, needed about twice the amount of calories per day while hiking the Appalachian Trail! That’s a lot more than most people think is enough for their dog.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR DOG NEEDS FOOD?
A sure sign to tell if your dog needs more food is if he becomes sluggish, if you can feel his ribs, or if he loses weight over time. Unfortunately, It takes time, close observation and experimentation with food to tell for sure. Keep a journal of how long and difficult your hike is and how much you are feeding your dog. Start with shorter hikes and apply whatever you learn to longer hikes.
Consult your vet at all times. They may give you recommendations on better dog foods to meet your dog’s nutritional and caloric needs. Dandruff or scratching, dry coat, loose stool, stomach problems and repeated refusal to eat food are all indications that it’s time to change your dog’s food.
If you are trying a new brand of food or treat, give your dog a little at a time to try. Mix in old food with new food. Over time, gradually increase how much new food you put in until you transition over completely off your dog’s old food. Give your dog a little bit of a treat and wait at least half a day before giving him more.
IS YOUR DOG STILL HUNGRY?
As long as your dog is at his idea weight over time he should be fine. That should be your gage for how much you need to feed your dog – not a longing puppy dog stare to get your food! You may want to break up your dog’s meals up into more frequent dog meals. This is helpful if your dog has a tendency anyway to gulp down his food all at once too fast.
If you are heading out on the trail in the morning, bring your dog’s food with you and give him a little at a time while out on the trail. Going out with a full stomach can lead to stomach aches and uncomfortable hike anyway.
Don’t forget that drinking water is just as important as giving your dog the right amount of food. Read our article How Much Water for Hiking & Backpacking With Your Dog? to learn more about carrying and drinking water with your dog on a multi-day hiking or backpacking trip.
ENERGY BARS & TREATS
If you run and hike with your dog on the trail, energy bars are perfect. You really don’t want to carry so much bulk while you are moving around a lot. Many energy bars can actually be supplemented as an entire meal for your dog. They can be broken up into smaller pieces as well.
Steer clear of store bought dog biscuits and regular treats. These don’t provide nearly as much nutritional value as energy bars.
Read our article Best Energy Bars For Dogs to find specific food recommendations for your trail dog.
Sometimes your dog still wants a tasty morsel. You can always bring along a few! At least you’ll have room for it if you carry energy bars with you.
For a short day hike, bring along some extra kibble (just your dog’s normal fare) as a snack. Start with about 1/3 the daily amount of your dog’s daily intake of dry kibble.
For a very long hike, you will want to feed your dog a meat-based kibble that provides more calories, protein, and less grain.
Ideally, you want to find the right type of kibble that doesn’t end up with you carrying so much extra weight and bulk. Many specialty dog store carry better brands of kibble.
You could also consider feeding your dog puppy kibble which often comes with more calories and nutritional content then adult kibble or adding in supplements such as peanut butter or oil to your dog’s food.
FREEZE DRIED FOOD
If you normally feed your dog raw food, this may be the best alternative to bring while on a multi-day hike. In the freeze-drying process, food is not cooked and still looks like what it does with water inside. Read the ingredients of the food that you buy to make sure that there are no artificial additives. Make sure it also has a AAFCO statement which states that food is “complete and balanced.”
Dogs loves the taste of freeze-dried food, so they can be used as a tasty treat.
Freeze dried meats are expensive, but could mean carrying up to a half less kibble and a lot less weight. Freeze dried foods generally contain better ingredients and made directly from raw foods. Cooked foods often have depleted nutrients.
Freeze dried food can be given without adding water, but some brands suggest that you add water to rehydrate the food.
Dehydrated food is processed by cooking at very low heat until water evaporates.
It takes 2-3 times longer to rehydrate dehydrated food than freeze-dried food. Once dehydrated food is hydrated, it can grow 3-5 times in size.
Like freeze dried food, dehydrated food can be expensive. You also need to wait to have boiled water before you can heat up the food, and then some additional time for the food to cool. Add that to food you need to cook yourself and your dog will be begging for something to eat. To tie him over, give him a bone or treat while you prepare the food.
It’s probably best for you to carry the dehydrated food if your dog loves to romp around in the water. If the food gets wet, your dog will have to eat it or it will spoil.
Well there you have it! There’s quite a lot of dog food options. Choosing the right kind of food depends greatly on your dog’s preferences, dog’s nutritional needs, how much you want to carry with you, and activity level.
What do you bring for your dog to eat while on the trail?
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