Best Backpacking Food for Dogs – Keep Your Pup Nourished on the Trail
Before my pup hurt her knee, I really loved taking her hiking with me. She enjoyed the trail as much as I did and I felt safer and happier with her around. Many trails do not allow dogs or are not appropriate for them. However, if you’re travelling to a place that is safe for dogs, they can really enrich your hike. You will need to do some extra planning and be willing to shorten or change your plans if the need arises. Make sure you are not traveling to an area that is too hot, too rocky, has horses or bikers, or has steep drop offs because these situations can be difficult and dangerous with a dog. I learned this the hard way while hiking through a burned forest area with no shade on a 100 degree day! If there is any doubt as to whether your pup can handle the conditions you will be facing, leave him or her at home.
Some important things to consider before taking your dog into the backcountry:
- What type of food are you going to feed your dog?
- How much food will you need to feed?
- Transitioning your dog to a new food.
- Who will carry your dog’s food and water?
Types of Dog Foods to Consider While Backpacking
Kibble – Okay
The most common type of dog food is plain old kibble. Its what most people feed at home, so they naturally stick with it for the trail. The benefits of staying with your dog’s usual kibble while hiking is that they won’t get digestive upsets from a diet change. For a short trip, kibble is fine but it can be really heavy and I don’t recommend it for trips over a week or so. Make sure if you are feeding kibble you check the labels and get a high quality one with a protein source as the first ingredient and no added fillers.
Dehydrated food is a good option while backpacking because it is lightweight. Dehydrating involves removing the moisture content of the food by heating it at low temperatures. This method does cause some nutrient loss but its still better than highly processed kibble. I’ve used the Honest Kitchen brand before and my pup loved it. Honest Kitchen is a high quality, human grade dogfood that uses real ingredients and is considered complete and balanced by AAFCO.
Freeze dried raw food is the healthiest option for dog food on the trail. The freeze drying process removes the moisture content from the food, but leaves most of the nutrients in tact. This will also be your lightest weight option but it can be rather pricey. I recommend Vital Essentials, a family owned company that sources, makes, and packages their product in the US. Their food is considered balanced and complete by AAFCO and they use only USDA certified and inspected animal protein.
How Much Food Will Your Dog Need While Backpacking?
This varies depending on individual dogs, how many miles you will be covering, and the type of terrain you’ll be on. My suggestion is to take a few shorter hikes and see how your dog’s energy level is. Some dogs might be okay with just a little more than their usual amount but some might need up to double the amount they usually get.
When I was backpacking with my 45 lb pup, she seemed ravenous at the end of each day so I gave her an extra cup of food with each meal.
Transition Your Dog to the New Food
This is an important step that many pet owners overlook. Any time you change your dog’s food, you should do it gradually. If you go too fast, your poor pup will end up with diarrhea. The week before you leave on your trip begin this transition process. This is especially important for the freeze dried raw, but there are discrepancies about the best way to do it. One way is to mix raw food with kibble but since they are digested differently this could cause digestive upset. Another option is to feed one raw meal and one kibble meal a day and see how your pup does. If he’s doing okay, go ahead and switch to fully raw. As of now, I feed my dog one kibble meal and one raw meal a day, since it is more affordable that way. A few years back, I fed her fully raw. The way I transitioned her was that I fasted her for a day, then I gave her just muscle meat for a few days, then I slowly added in some bone, and last I added in the organ meat. If she ever had runny poo I would add more bone and less organ meat.
Who Will Carry Your Dog’s Food and Water?
If you want your dog to carry their own supplies and wear a doggie pack, you will probably need some time to get them accustomed to this. I tried to slowly introduce one to my dog but she just hated it and wouldn’t tolerate it. I started very slow by just showing it to her and treating her a bunch. Then I put it on her but didn’t put any weight in it, still giving her a bunch of treats. Eventually we worked our way up to carrying weight out on the actual trail, but I found it would slow me down because she was constantly rolling on the the ground trying to rid herself of it. I would have to stop and adjust it and convince her that she wasn’t broken and could still walk while carrying the pack before we could move on. Some dogs do great with it right off the bat though so if you’re one of the lucky ones, let your pup carry their own food. If I were to buy another doggie pack, it would be this Lifeunion Adjustable one.
Extra Tips for Backpacking with Your Pup
- Dogs can get Giardia and other nasty stuff from untreated water so make sure you filter or treat your dog’s water too
- Brush up on obedience skills before your trip and make sure your dog is under your control at all times
- Its a good idea to pack separate first aid bag for your pup
- Don’t let your dog harass the wildlife
- Take a foam sleeping pad for your dog to sleep on and a blanket or sweater if nighttime temps will get down low
- I like to take some freeze dried cow lung for a special trail snack/treat for my dog
- Consider dog booties if you will be on rocky terrain