What is it, you ask?
There’s going to be a time that you’ll need to be away from your best friend either for a few days or a few weeks.
What happens to your primal pooch when it’s time to go on vacation, travel for work, or an out-of-town emergency occurs?
Having a dog is like having a child, it’s hard enough to find trustworthy boarding or dog watching options. But having a raw fed dog makes it a bit more complicated. How do you do it and how do you ensure things run smoothly?
The last thing you need is an inexperienced dog sitter feeding your dog incorrectly or not carefully following instructions. Or worse, a dog sitter that takes it upon themselves to decide what to feed in your absence.
The fear is enough to ruin a vacation or turn any raw feeder into an overprotective pet parent – something that’s not healthy for either of you.
There’s always the option to hire a professional dog watcher to come to your home to care for your dog.
The pros are that your dog will remain in his/her own environment and won’t need to deal with new surroundings, new people, and other pets, which can be stressful for any dog.
Everything is at home where you left it which makes life much easier, especially with raw feeding. You don’t have to worry about hauling raw meat to another person’s home and hoping that they have the freezer or refrigerator space – something that’s more of an issue with larger dogs.
DogVacay is another great option. It’s a website that connects dog lovers. People who are willing to watch other people’s dogs sign up to become a host. They provide online profiles for those in need to view. When it’s time for your dog to be boarded, you search for available hosts in your area, read their profiles, descriptions, and reviews. When you find someone that sounds like a good match, you can even schedule a phone call or in person visit.
Ultimately, you can either bring your dog to this person’s house or they can come to yours and babysit your four-legged friend while your away – with prices starting a $15 a day. It’s essentially the same thing as paying a friend or family member for their troubles, except that you probably won’t know this person prior. The great thing about DogVacay is that most hosts are dog lovers, trainers, groomers, breeders, vet techs or veterinarians.
Often, the people who sign up to become hosts have a lot of experience with dogs. You can search for the people you think are a good fit and inquire if they have raw feeding experience. Even if you cannot find a host with raw feeding experience, chances are you may run into someone who’s more familiar with it.
Of course, this isn’t always the case.
Boarding is usually the first option for many people who don’t have someone they can depend on for those who are uncomfortable leaving their dog with a stranger or having a stranger come to their home – I don’t blame you there!
Boarding can be a fantastic experience or a nightmare. It all starts with proper research and finding a boarder with whom you can build a relationship and one you can trust.
I tend to shy away from any dog company or boarder that is too commercial. I find the small, independent facilities to be the most knowledgeable and caring.
But do remember, looks can be deceiving; your dog doesn’t care how “cute,” modern or trendy the place is. I would say having a caring and knowledgeable staff is far more important.
Regarding facility checks, you want to know how safe the place is. You want to ensure your dog can’t escape and will be supervised at all times when not crated. You’ll also want to find out how late and how often someone is there to check on the dogs, especially overnight.
Now that you’ve selected a boarding or dog watching option. Here are some tips to ensure your dog is well cared for in your absence, how to handle the hurdles with feeding a raw diet, and how to maintain a somewhat similar routine.
If the staff doesn’t allow you to tour the facility, I wouldn’t even waste your time.
Make sure you call around and talk to several of the facilities nearest you. Be aware that they may be understaffed. They’ll also have their hands full with their four-legged customers, so I wouldn’t expect to get someone on the phone who can chat for a while.
Instead, I recommend stopping by for an in-person visit. Visit the kennel, ask lots of questions, and observe.
Do the dogs being picked up look happy, do they look like they had a great time? Do the dog care providers tell pet parents about their dog’s day, what they did, who they played with, and how they behaved? Do the dog care providers seem like they love dogs? Do they seem to understand canine behavior? Do they have experience training dogs or working with them in some other fashion? Check credentials first, then check the facility.
If boarding your dog, call or speak with someone to verify feeding raw isn’t a problem. I recommend you ask several people, the manager or the owner. The last thing you want to do is show up on the day your scheduled to leave, with meat in hand only to be turned away – then you’d really be in a pickle.
2. Ensure that they have the proper refrigerator or freezer space
Any friend, family member, or dog sitter will still have a job, a life, and other obligations while you’re gone. The same goes for a boarder, they will have several, if not many dogs to supervise.
Feeding time will most likely be hectic. Although you may feed big hunks of complicated meat to your kitchen carnivore at home, please keep it simple while your away.
Be respectful of other’s time, even if you’re paying for it. No one will want to watch your dog again if you make the feeding process super complicated. Remember, balance happens over time. It won’t kill your dog if the menu is basic for a week or two.
Make sure to stock up on meat a few days prior. Keep it simple and stick to one or two proteins. Chicken breast seems to be the safest and easy option for most dogs. It’s also the best meat for upset or nervous stomachs. Buy chicken in bulk a day or two before leaving and portion, chop, or prepare it at home as you normally do.
Flights or travel can get delayed and you don’t want your dog running out of food at the boarding facility.
If this happens, the staff may be forced to feed kibble or something they have on hand. If your dog has a sensitive stomach or has been eating raw for years, he may experience an upset stomach or diarrhea because of the switch.
However, chances are your dog is staying with someone who’s familiar with your feeding program or doesn’t mind feeding raw.
But this doesn’t mean they are well versed in it.
All dogs should be supervised when eating bone, especially when in a new or stressful environment. Dogs that weren’t originally gulpers may feel the need to gulp when surrounded by other dogs, especially if they’re used to being the only dog at home.
If your pet is normally a gulper then you should really pay attention. You may supervise your dog, hand feed them, or intervene when necessary. Most boarding facilities drop the food bowl in the dog’s kennel and move on to the next one. They don’t have the time to watch your dog eat. They also may not be experienced in feeding raw and don’t know how to feed bone or what to watch out for.
Why take the chance?
While most primal pooches know what to do with bone, it still can be a choking hazard. The cardinal rule is “know thy dog.”
Remember, dog sitters don’t know your dog and may not be knowledgeable about raw feeding.
I suggest using eggshells in place of bone for calcium requirements and to keep stools firm.
Before going on vacation, start collecting and storing eggshells in a container or plastic bag. You can grind them up and sprinkle them over your dog’s food if they won’t eat eggshells whole. If they’ll eat them whole, then just throw them in with the food.
If using no bone, I’ d recommend 1/2 tsp per pound of meat. Balance occurs over time; I wouldn’t worry about the exact amount of eggshells. You can always provide a container with extra eggshells if your dog has loose stools and instruct staff members to add more eggshell if necessary.
Obviously, if you’re dog requires more bone than average, feel free to throw extra eggshells in.
I don’t recommend using plastic freezer bags. They always seem to rip. The last thing you want is for your dog sitter or local boarder to decide raw fed dogs aren’t worth the hassle or their time.
Plastic bags filled with raw meat almost always sweat or leak when defrosted (at least in my experience). Sitters or staff members won’t be happy when they see your pet’s raw meals are creating a mess in the fridge and potentially contaminating their lunches.
When I boarded my dog, I visited our local Restaurant Depot (a good substitute is Sam’s club, BJ’s or any other warehouse type store) and found Styrofoam containers or plastic to-go type containers. I spent $20-30 dollars and bought a box of 100 plastic to-go containers that were the perfect size for his meal portions.
I didn’t want Ronnie’s raw food leaking in their fridge. These people may be willing to be slobbered on by dogs all day but probably don’t want to be covered in raw chicken juice. I also chose to go this route so Ronnie could be fed straight from these containers and they could be discarded of afterwards.
Tupperware will work well but then the staff would need to wash them out, which creates more work for them in their already busy day. Having the to-go containers is great because I’ll always have them and can easily package Ronnie’s meals the next time we’re gone.
Pack some extra supplies in case your dog gets a nervous stomach or eats something that doesn’t agree with him or her.
Some dogs get anxious when in a new environment or when being boarded and might get diarrhea at first. I always make sure to provide extra eggshells in case Ronnie has loose stools. I also provide a bottle of slippery elm bark powder capsules with instruction on dosage requirements for Ronnie.
That way if he has an upset stomach, they can pop open a capsule or two and pour it in with his food.
Lastly, be wary of the feelings of others.
You need to work in a mutual partnership with dog boarders. You want them to allow your dog to come back and you want them to respect your feeding style and choice.
Remember, just because a boarding facility accepts raw fed dogs, doesn’t mean the staff member who is tasked with feeding your dog feels comfortable doing so.
Most people are taught that bones, raw meat, and people food in general is dangerous to dogs. You don’t want to make the person caring for your dog uncomfortable – they’re doing you a favor. Plus, we want to educate others and be proponents of raw feeding, right? Remember what it was like the first time you fed raw and make sure to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
The goal is to pick up your furry friend in one piece and be invited to come back!
Hopefully these tips will make the boarding or dog sitting experience pleasant for you, your dog, and the dog sitters.