Funny or otherwise, the holidays always bring plenty of marketing stunts, and 2022 is no exception. Besides special bottles to share with friends and family at the Thanksgiving table this year, many revelers will also be pouring a special drink for their furry friends—or at least that’s what Anheuser-Busch InBev is hoping for. This year, the world’s largest beer company is introducing Busch Turkey Broth Dog Brew, its second big-market beer for dogs since the original pork-flavored dog beer hit the market in 2020.
Available in canned packs of 4, Busch’s Thanksgiving Drink for Dogs is a non-alcoholic drink made with vegetables, herbs, spices, and turkey broth. For a company that sold more than 495 million barrels of beer in more than 150 countries last year, it couldn’t be more than marketing. As reported by Busch, the 2020 beer for dogs sold out within 24 hours, which is hard to imagine as having a meaningful effect on the bottom line.
However, it does point to an interesting phenomenon: more and more, those who like to drink like to drink with their pets. From Belgium to Brazil, dog beers are still hitting the market, even though some of the biggest brands have been around for more than a decade. Many pubs, bars and restaurants now offer dog food menus of dog drinks and treats. Dog-focused bars can be found—like the Omaha Dog Bar in Nebraska and Club K-9 in Louisville, Ky. – Everywhere.
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But pouring beer for your dog isn’t the same as sharing beer with another human: Alcohol is toxic to pets, and hops, a key ingredient in most beers, are also dangerous to dogs. More than that: Even the most adorable dogs can’t actually lift a glass, and most probably can’t say cheers.
So why exactly is this happening?
Selling a dog beer
When she first came up with the idea for best selling beer for dogs in 2008, Jenny Brown was actually trying to sell pretzels to people.
“It was just a fluke. I was actually at a farmers market and everyone kept saying, ‘Okay, I need something for my dog. I need to take something home to someone, and if I take something for the dog, I’ve got you covered. “So I turned it into a pretzel for dogs. Then I thought, Well, what goes with pretzels other than beer?”
With the help of her daughter, Jess Arnett, Brown cooked an initial batch of Bowser Beer in her home kitchen. When the two took that beer to a local pet festival, it quickly sold out.
“From the comments I got, I naively thought, Oh, this is something we can turn into a business,” she says, laughing. “And just doubled.”
It may not get as much attention as a supermarket brand like Busch, but Bowser Beer from Seattle is a hit by any measure: It’s now sold in more than 500 locations across the US, and unlike Busch’s marketing-focused dog drink, it’s available Bowser throughout the year.
Braun remembers having at least one competitor in the early days, but that product eventually left the market.
“So we kept going, and for a long time, many years, we didn’t have any competition,” she says.
This may have been true for a while. But in the years since, a number of other dog beer brands have sprung up. In Montreal, there is Brouff Bière pour Chien. In Texas, Good Boy Dog Beer says it sells Crotch Sniffin’ Ale, an IPA Lot in the Yard, and other beers for dogs at about 200 locations in 39 states.
Rest assured, the “drinks for pets” trend goes beyond beer and dogs. (Fair warning: the pun doesn’t get any better.) Pet Winery offers a catnip-flavored Mëow & Chandon and Purrgundy wine for cats, as well as a “dog champagne” called Dög Pawrignon. Apollo Peak Pinot Meow and White Kittendel list among cat wines, along with Zinfantail and Chardognay wines for dogs.
It is the result of what Arnett calls a booming market.
“Pet ownership, especially during a pandemic, has been on an upward trend for the last 10 to 15 years. So says Pet Spending.” The customer group is really broad. We sell to home improvement stores, we sell to pet stores. We sell to retail stores, we sell to bars and restaurants.”
Pouring turkey-flavored beer for your dog or catnip wine for your cat at home is one thing, but taking your pet outside for a drink is another. By any indication, this is also a growing global trend. Dog-friendly “puppy menus,” like the one Nonina made in Chicago last year, are common. Just last month, the Bundobust craft beer chain launched in the UK treats his own dogWhile in Texas, the Houston Chronicle wrote about the best local bars and restaurants for dog owners.
That’s actually a big part of pet drinks, because good or bad, those drinks — made with beef or poultry broth, salmon oil, or other food flavorings — often feel more like foods than drinks.
Professor of Psychology at the IU Internationale Hochschule in Bad Reichenhall, Germany, Andrea Petz studies human-pet interactions. She believes that much of the drive to drink with pets comes from anthropomorphism, when we attribute human characteristics to something that is not human.
“I think it has to do with anthropomorphism, and it’s not as bad as it sounds,” she says. “In biology, anthropomorphism actually means that you take your own ways of understanding things and apply them. And there’s no other way to do it, because you only have your own mind. You don’t know how a pigeon thinks or how a cat thinks.”
In fact, humans can do a pretty good job of estimating how many animals think, she says, because humans and social mammals share similar brain structures and social mechanisms. Our biology also inspires us to want to take care of pets.
“To successfully provide care for another human being, for another animal, is actually releasing hormones that make you feel good,” she says. A scientific paper I co-authored examined the role of oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” in human-animal interactions.
Feel-good triggers might make us think our pets prefer treats, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“It’s actually only for humans,” she says. “We think things we like, the dog or cat like, because we consider them family or friends,” she says. While this may be true in some cases, it can also lead to misconceptions. In other words, just because we want to eat pasta, it doesn’t mean our dogs want to eat pasta, too.
Although there is no harm in giving a pet a treat, she says, there are many other ways to show our pets that you love them, such as playing or taking them for a walk.
“Personally, I enjoy the most when the person joins the animal in a natural interaction that is really fun for the animal,” she says. “But all feeding, that’s also why we have the problem of pet obesity. And most of our pets are overweight today.”
A board-certified cardiologist and director of the Feline Health Center at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Bruce Kornreich has similar experience with pet drinks. Although he is not aware of any research indicating that catnip-based wines for cats might be problematic for a cat’s health, he says there is no such thing as quality time with your pet.
“Dedicated playtime, dedicated exercise time, and walks,” he says. “I talk mostly about cats. If you really want to bond with your cat, spend 10 minutes playing with it. If you really want to bond with your cat, do some clicker training.”
In some cases, the food-based nature of pet drinks can be an added advantage. Their pet foods and snacks are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, Brown and Arnett say, adding that some of their customers buy Bowser Beer for their older dogs who have lost their appetites, and use it to wet their food and inspire them to eat. Likewise, some hotels stock Bowser Beer to help dogs find their appetite when they’re stressed about travel. When it comes to catnip wine, Kornreich notes that not all cats respond to catnip. For those who do, veterinarian Heather Hoffman writes that catnip can reduce anxiety, relieve pain, and help with separation anxiety.
In addition to the possible practical uses, Arnett believes pet drinks are simply about humans and animals doing something together.
“People love to share experiences with their pets,” she says. “And one of the experiences that I think a lot of people share is that they enjoy sharing a beer.”
But even after 14 years, beer’s appeal to dogs is still a bit of a mystery to Brown.
“When you talk about ‘why,’ I’ve wondered this many times over the years,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot of dog fads come and go. And it resonated and stayed. If anything, it just became more popular.”