Don't be surprised if you start noticing some cute new patrons at your local happy hour. There's been a curious development in the pet products market-- beverages. Dog beer and cat wine have quickly become popular among animal lovers. Good news for Fido: These tasty tonics are non-alcoholic. Yet without that element, which serves as an incentive for humans to imbibe, the question is, why would anyone bother getting their pet fake-drunk?

Jennifer Brown, founder of Seattle-based 3 Busy Dogs and maker of Bowser Beer, has a theory: "In this digital world, people are looking for connection, and dogs provide that connection."

But she's not just talking about snuggling on the couch. People are starting to bring their dogs everywhere. Businesses are changing their rules in the wake of city and state laws allowing dogs on patios at bars and restaurants. Dogs have their own Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. And instead of just providing the unconditional love these furry friends are known for, dogs attract a community of animal lovers. In other words, if you appeal to pets, chances are you'll appeal to pet owners, too.

"This reflects changing attitudes and behaviors of humans," Brown says. "Pets are part of the family."

This is where a novelty product like Bowser Beer comes in. You can buy this non-alcoholic, meaty liquid online and feed it to your dog at home, but Brown says the bulk of her new business is coming from bars, breweries, hotels, and restaurants where people want to come together and socialize--and bring their dogs.

Drinking establishments have started hosting dog happy hours, and offering dog menus to attract new customers and keep patrons' furry friends happy. Rather than risk having pet owners feed their dogs real beer in an attempt to include them in the fun, Brown wants to educate pet owners on the health risks of hops and carbonation and offer a safe alternative.

Bowser Beer, which contains a meat broth (chicken, beef, or pork), malt barley, and glucosamine for joint health, can be lapped straight from a bowl or poured over food. Some fans have gotten creative--posting Instagram photos of Bowser Beer ice cubes, perhaps containing berries or chunks of salami. A local dog-treat-and-coffee truck called the Seattle Barkery pours Bowser Beer over crushed ice to make what it calls a Slush Puppy.

Brown says Instagram has been the best tool for boosting awareness of her brand. Dogs have their own Instagram accounts on which conversations flow between people who have never met. They are connecting over pets and becoming a sort of social network and emotional support group--that then extends into real-world meetups.

At this point, cat lovers might be feeling left out. But fear not, cat wine is also very much a thing. And the difference is that cat wine, sold by Denver-based Apollo Peak, contains catnip.

"Getting cats to look like they're drunk is hilarious," says founder Brandon Zavala. "But knowing that actually ingesting alcohol is bad for them, we wanted to make something that would mimic the effects but was good for them."

Pinot Meow and Moscato both contain catnip--the initial smell of which can cause spastic behavior, but then produces a mellow effect when ingested.

Apollo Peak is currently taking presale orders for its dog wines. Chardognay contains chamomile extract for a mellow result, and Zinfantail uses peppermint leaf extract as a digestive aid.

Like Brown, Zavala says he's observed an uptick in the trend of humanizing pets in the past few years. "People are treating their dogs and cats more like roommates than pets, in both food quality and quality of life," Zavala says.

The company plans to capitalize on what Zavala says is a largely untapped pet beverage market from the company's new brewery in downtown Denver. It's designed to look like a brewery for humans, but Zavala hopes to make it a place for animals lovers to hang out--and drink--with their pets.

When asked about expanding the company's offerings, Zavala says his next project is something for the active dog. "Hiking is a big thing here, and people will carry tons of water for their dog. We want to make something like a Gatorade for dogs." Though ingesting too many electrolytes is not good for dogs, Zavala says he wants a drink that will keep active pooches hydrated.

While Zavala says he sells about 10,000 bottles of cat wine every two to three months, he doesn't expect dog wine to be as popular. Both Brown and Zavala agree that cat people and dog people are different markets. They predict the former prefers wine while the latter is more likely to go for a beer.

Published on: Aug 12, 2016