Believe it or not, but the type of food—and how much of it—you feed your dog while embarking on a long hiking or camping trip can have a big impact on their health and performance. Here are a few tips on maintaining a healthy trail diet for your own dog.
Much like with humans, trips longer than a day will require an increased food ration for your dog, simply to keep their energy and strength at optimal levels. However, if saving weight or space is a concern, you can minimalize your load a bit by bringing puppy food, rather than adult dog food. Puppy food actually has more calories and nutrition per ounce than regular kibble and is usually easier to digest. Furthermore, some dogs actually eat less food on the trail, so the best way to decide if you need to bring more or less food is to take a number of shorter hikes to get a rough estimate. Taking the time to do this will also help your dog get used to the rigors of hiking.
When it comes to choosing a food for your hiking canine, look for food that is primarily meat-based, has 30% or greater protein content, and little or no grains. This means the food is much more digestible and rich with energy-providing calories. Such products can potentially contain the same amount of calories as the standard type, but at ½ to 2/3 the weight of a grain-containing kibble, and offers considerably more protein. These foods tend to cost more, per pound, than others, but the benefits are worth it, in my opinion. Also, there are more and more grain-free diets on the market, so you should be able to find one that meets the needs of your working dog, as well as your budget.
Other than standard dog food, there are also several freeze-dried raw meat products on the market. This type of dog food is ideal for backpacking, either for people who feed raw, or for anyone wanting to supplement their dog’s trail diet, because of its small size and carrying weight. The only real downside is that it tends to be more expensive. Whether you go grain-free or freeze-dried, the upside to either one is that with less by-products and filler, there is less waste to clean up.
I’ve never fed my dog scraps from the table. Some people do, and to each his own, but try to resist the urge to feed your dog leftover camp food. The risk of possible upsetting their stomach miles from medical attention is too high. Stick to healthy, protein-rich dog food, or freeze-dried food, and your dog will stay healthy and comfortable during your next outing.