Pet Nutrition Traveling with Fido

posted July 15th, 2010 by
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By Dr. Sean Delany, DVM

Traveling is always a stressful time for anyone. Handling the packing, making the arrangements – the days leading up to the big trip can be overwhelming. But once you hit the open road, all the stress quickly begins to fade away.

For pets, it’s a different story. With new sights and smells, travel can be both exciting and overwhelming for your pet. Whether you’re heading out for a weekend road trip or journeying from the air, traveling with your four-legged best friend can be an adventure for everyone.

For your peace of mind and your pet’s comfort, preparation is key in traveling. Before you hit the open road, check out these useful tips so you can plan and pack for your pet.

Feeding a Traveling Pet

Going into “foreign territories” is stressful for even well-adjusted pets and can lead to drastic appetite changes. Animals are instinctively cautious about eating in unfamiliar surroundings. This reduced appetite cannot only affect bowel movements and energy levels, but even a pet’s overall health. Maintaining her caloric intake should be a primary focus for you.

Make every bite count and travel armed with a tasty diet of foods that are just too good for a pet to pass up. Feeding a highly palatable, highly digestible diet can be helpful in overcoming a reluctance to eat. It is important to introduce your animal to any new foods before heading on your trip. Establishing good eating habits at home weeks prior to a vacation will allow ample time for your companion to adjust.
Foods that are higher in protein and fat are generally more palatable than foods higher in carbohydrates. Therefore, selecting a low carbohydrate food is a simple solution. For many brands, carbohydrate levels are not typically listed on packaging, but can be roughly calculated by adding all the percentages for protein, fat, moisture, crude fiber, and ash, and subtracting the total from 100%. The remainder is an approximation of the percent of carbohydrate in the food.

Dry foods with less than 18% carbohydrate for dogs and 12% for cats would be considered low in carbohydrate. Canned dog and cat foods with less than 2% carbohydrate would be considered lower in carbohydrate.

No-sweat Ways to Stay Hydrated

Hydration is also imperative for pets to avoid overheating when traveling by car or plane. To beat the heat, provide your dog or cat with frequent access to fresh cool water. This can be challenging when pets are physically separated from the rest of their traveling companions, such as on an airplane. Therefore on planes it may be worthwhile to see if the carrier will allow the pet to travel on board with you and if not, to consider using water bottles that can be licked. But remember to train your pet to use them before your trip.

A more convenient way to help with hydration is to feed canned food. The greater water content in canned food (up to seven times as much as dry food) can help meet a pet’s water needs and reduce how much water it needs to drink. Plus, higher moisture foods are often more appetizing to pets, encouraging healthy intake.

Hassle-Free Adventures

During travel most pet parents would like to minimize the amount of pet clean up they need to do. To reduce both the frequency and volume of stools, feed a highly digestible food. Highly digestible foods provide more calories per cup or can which means less waste.
Generally, protein from animal sources are more digestible than those from plants so selecting a food with meats and meat meals among the first ingredients listed can be an additional way to identify foods that may be more digestible.

When outside your normal sniffing grounds, it is always critical that your pet has proper identification through a collar and tag or microchip.
It is also important to pack any necessary medications, bedding, leashes and bowls that your furry friend may need along the way and remember that a health certificate from your veterinarian may be required by some airlines even when you’re traveling domestically.

Treating While Traveling

The more comfortable and satisfied a pet is during the trip, the more enjoyable the entire experience will be for everyone. Help your companion understand that traveling is fun. Provide treats at different points in the trip and make plenty of rest stops to stretch and discover new sights and smells. When packing snacks, choose ones from home that are easily stored and that come in a variety of shapes and flavors. These special pleasures will train your pet to enjoy the ride.

As responsible pet parents, it’s up to us to select the right pet food for every occasion but it is always good to check with your veterinarian before starting your pet on any new feeding plans. With a little planning, new experiences, sights and friends discovered while traveling can be exciting and fun for both pet lovers and their companions.

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