You and your primal pooch are loving life together. Your furry friend is raw fed, healthy, and happy. But there’s something inevitable looming around the corner. 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 even 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 over protective pet parent – something that’s not health for either of you.
Here are some of the options for finding a dog sitter for your next trip.
Staying with a Family Member, Friend, or Other Raw Feeder
The first option would be to leave your dog with a family member, close friend, or other experienced raw feeder. If you know anyone you can trust, then consider that first. It’s the more affordable option and your dog will most likely receive one-on-one attention.
Of course if this person has other dogs, you want to ensure the dogs get along and that you provide a crate for the person watching your dog. You can’t trust that your dog will get along with other dogs even if they’ve played well together before. Your dog is going to be entering another dog’s pack and territory. It’s important you provide something so that the dogs can be separated when they’re not being supervised. Even more importantly, if your dog is staying with other dogs who aren’t fed raw, they could become interested in your dog’s meal and issues could arise. You want to make sure your dog will be able to enjoy his meals without the pressure of competition for food.
Make sure you trust this person, their other pets, and their judgement. And most importantly, make sure they are understand and are familiar with your raw feeding regimen. The benefit of having a close friend or relative watch your dog is that you trust these people and they respect you, your dog, and are aware of his/her dietary restrictions.
Hiring a Dog Watcher or Using DogVacay
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.
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 knowledgable and caring. Of course this isn’t always the case.
Make sure you call around and talk to several of the facilities nearest you. Be aware that they may be under staffed. 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 awhile. 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 the staff doesn’t allow you to tour the facility, I wouldn’t even waste your time. But do remember, looks can be deceiving; your dog doesn’t care how “cute” the place is. I would say having a caring and knowledgable staff is far more important. In regards to 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 picked 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.
1. Check that your dog sitter or boarder will feed raw
It’s very important that you make sure any friend, family member or dog sitter has agreed to feed raw. 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
You need to ensure that the friend, family member, dog sitter, or facility has enough fridge or freezer space to store raw meat. Don’t assume they will. You won’t be happy to find out there was inadequate space, your meat spoiled, was discarded, and your dog was fed something you don’t approve of. Most boarding facilities probably have a fridge for employee lunches where they can also store your dog’s meals. If there isn’t adequate fridge or freezer space, you can pack coolers with ice and raw meat. Make sure the staff is aware that they’re responsible for the upkeep of your pet’s food, this means replacing ice when necessary and making sure the cooler stays at the appropriate temperature.
3. Make it easy for them!
I can’t stress this part enough. Any friend, family member, or dog sitter will still have a job, a life, and other obligations while your 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.
4. Buy in Bulk
Make sure to stock up on meat a few a 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.
5. Pack Extra
Make sure you include a few extra meals beyond the number of days your dog is staying. Flights or travel can get delayed and you don’t want your dog running out of food at the boarding facility. If this happens they 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.
6. Forgo the bone
If you’re having an experienced raw feeder watch your dog, then you can probably ignore this statement. However, chances are your dog is staying with someone who’s familiar with your feeding program or doesn’t mind feeding raw. This does not mean they are raw feeding experts. 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 be 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 knowledgable about raw feeding.
7. Bone Replacement
I suggest using eggshells in place of bone for calcium requirements and to keep stools firm. Before going on vacation, start collecting and storing egg shells 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 egg shells in.
8. Packaging is Everything
Make packaging simple and easy for those caring for your dog. I don’t recommend using plastic freezer bags. They always seem to break. 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 always seem to 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 meat is 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 be forced 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.
9. Provide Extra Supplies for Nerves
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 egg shells 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.
10. Be Considerate of Non Raw Feeders
Lastly, be wary of others feelings. 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. Please share your comments, I’d love to hear how you deal with boarding your raw fed, primal pooch.