I have started traveling with my dog more often. Whether we take a weekend getaway or leave for a week, I find that a certain French Bulldog finds his way into the passenger seat of my car more often than not. Louie has visited posh hotels, met some famous people, and visited many tourist attractions. Despite being a well-seasoned traveler, however, Louie doesn’t always eat well when he’s away from home.
The very first time Louie went on an overnight trip was for a three-day stay at my parents’ cabin, an hour from home. I took him along because he stresses so badly when I’m not with him, so I figured he could accompany my husband and I on a childless weekend while we recharged our batteries and slept in, with no responsibilities to worry us.
Turns out, I worried about Louie. The dog didn’t touch his food bowl. He didn’t even so much as sniff at it. I’m not a worrier, and I figured he wouldn’t starve himself to a literal death. He’d eat when he was hungry, right? But after two days, I was worried enough to hand-feed him kibble, one piece at a time, just to get him to ingest something. That worked, but only for about 13 pieces. At least it was something, and we were heading home within 12 hours, so I knew he’d be fine.
I attended a pet conference a few months after that, and of course Louie accompanied me to the event. We were gone five days, and I didn’t give food a thought for him other than to pack him a bag of kibble. Louie was much more relaxed on this trip, but still didn’t want to eat a meal. I was fortunate this time, however. The conference provided me with so many samples of amazingly delicious dog food that they enticed Louie to eat.
He was intrigued by this new food. Until this point, he’d only had dry kibble. He was now sampling canned varieties, dehydrated mixes with water added to rehydrate, and all-natural beef treats. He was in little doggie heaven. I mixed his kibble with some of this new food to minimize any upset stomach issues he may experience from the unfamiliar items. This seemed to work well for him, and thankfully he didn’t get sick.
The next pet conference I attended wasn’t such an easy time for us. Louie had decided that living in a posh hotel meant that he must be a person, and not a dog. I was pretty amazed that my country dog wasn’t at all phased by elevators and revolving lobby doors. In fact, he seemed to love elevator rides and finding his own hotel door after a walk down the hall.
He did not want to step off concrete (something he doesn’t even have at home) or get his feet wet in the grass, though. Encouraging him to go potty was difficult, and I wasn’t sure if he just didn’t need to go because he hadn’t eaten much or if he was holding himself because walking in grass was for lesser dogs. (Louie puts on airs when he’s living in a hotel.) Louie had also decided that dog food was for dogs. He was a person. He would only eat what I shared off my plate, and that wasn’t much.
I had packed all of Louie’s favorite beef treats and the dehydrated food mix that he loved. I also packed his dry kibble because I knew by now that he was a picky eater when he was away from home. I thought I was prepared for this trip, but on the third day of Louie’s hunger strike, he was so ill from lack of nutrition that he vomited bile. I knew I had to intervene, and fast.
A pet conference is a perfect place to get help with issues such as this. Other dog owners were abundant and willing to share their tips and strategies. I was willing to try any suggestion, and they were plentiful. In the end, it was my roommate’s stash of canned dog food that saved the day. Louie loved those little pull-top cans of deliciousness and ate as if I’d starved him for the past three days. I limited him to one, and then offered him dry kibble. He had a few bites, then turned up his nose. He insisted on canned dog food the rest of our trip, and I had no choice but to comply. I didn’t want an emergency trip to an out-of-town vet because my dog went on a hunger strike.
Over the past year, I’ve learned a little bit about encouraging dogs to eat when they’re stressed. Here are some great ideas to try in case you find yourself in a similar situation.
1. Canned dog food is always a good thing to travel with
Each dog is different, but the moist food packs a strong smell that dogs find nearly irresistible. It’s a good start, even if you mix it with other food to encourage eating.
2. Take a variety of good dog foods along
Anything new may be exciting enough to encourage your dog to taste a sample. Be sure to include at least one choice that he’s not had before.
3. Gravy packets to pour over food can be a sneaky way to get your finicky friend to eat
It’s different enough to add interest to the kibble he eats at home, and even if he takes just five or six bites, it’s better than none at all.
4. Hand feed your dog
Some dogs will eat anything you hand feed them, even if it’s just their same old dry kibble that they’ve refused to eat for days. It’s worth a try, and while it can be time consuming, it’s definitely worth it if your dog won’t eat otherwise. Again, even a few pieces are better than none at all.
5. Share your dinner
I have a hard and fast rule that the dogs don’t beg for people food. If we have something to share with them, we place it in their food dish, and preferably when they’re not looking. (I also like watching them discover it.)
But when you’re struggling to get your dog to eat, all rules are out the window. Whether you share chicken nuggets, green beans, or steak, it may be just enough to whet your dog’s appetite and make him realize how hungry he really is. If you can mix a few pieces of your dinner in with his food, he may even be encouraged to take a few bites of dog food while picking out your leftovers.
6. Powdered milk is a good option to sprinkle over your dog’s food in a pinch
Whether you use it dry or add water, powdered milk may be enough to make Fido start licking his lips. As with anything that’s out of the ordinary for him, you’ll want to limit how much you allow your dog to eat to avoid upsetting his stomach.
7. Treats can be a good way to get your dog to ingest a few bites of healthy food
While it’s not recommended to give your dog too many treats, having him eat a large handful of those is better than not eating at all. Whether his weakness is the soft and chewy beef jerky types or more of the hard and crunchy baked variety, give him anything he’s willing to eat. Treats are healthy choices that many dogs can’t resist.
8. Take your dog’s own familiar bed, food dishes, and favorite toys
These things make him feel more comfortable when he’s away from home, and may reduce his anxiety enough to allow him to eat. I know some owners have smaller travel-sized bowls and beds for their pets, but it might be worth carrying the larger items to help keep your dog healthy and happy.
9. Try to stick to the same familiar routine that you had at home, if possible
If you’re accustomed to getting up at a certain time and taking your dog outside, do the same when you’re away. You might not get to sleep in while on vacation, but familiarity in routine may be just the thing to help your dog realize that a different environment isn’t all that bad.
10. Be sure to give your dog extra love and attention
If he’s stressed and unsure about what’s going on, comfort and reassurance are going to help. Be patient, and let him know that you’re still his best friend.
I hope your dogs aren’t as finicky as Louie is when they’re away from home, but if they are, these suggestions should help. Happy travels!
Read more Dogster Tips:
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About the author: Karen Dibert is a wife, mom, and dog lover living in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. She has five kids, three French Bulldogs, and a flock of useless chickens. Karen authors a pet column for her local newspaper, advocates for her son with Down syndrome, manages Louie the French Dog’s Instagram accounts, compulsively photographs everything, and lives in the sewing room, filling orders for her Etsy shops, The French Dog, The French Dog Home, and Collar The Dog. A snapshot of her life can be seen on Facebook.