Beer for Dogs

The bottles may contain something better than alcohol.

Erik de Castro / Reuters

On summer weekends, as shadows stretch over the fresh-mown grass, and the flag hangs torpid in the swelter, it’s only natural to want to share a beer with your dog.

At least, that’s how the ad copy might read—although politically correct “veterinarians” will tell you that dogs should never be given beer, because their livers don’t metabolize alcohol in the same way humans’ do. Other ingredients like hops, too, can reportedly “cause violent reactions in many canines.” It’s clear from information at that “no matter how much they beg, alcoholic beverages should be off limits to pets.”

So it’s none too soon that this month a company called Woof and Brew released a beer specifically for dogs.

It has no alcohol, or hops, or carbonation, but it’s otherwise meant to recreate the beer experience as closely as possible in a way that’s safe for the digestive tracts of dogs. The formula contains barley malt, dandelion, flax, and “chicken flavoring”—like so many good beers.

The point is not to mimic the flavor, though, but to foster social bonding and ritual, explains Steve Bennett, managing director of the U.K.-based Woof and Brew, “so that human can share a beer of their own and a beer for their dog as well.” This is Bennett’s first attempt at dog beer, though the company has been making herbal teas and tonics for dogs since 2013.

“There’s a huge move to more healthy products for dogs—in tandem with the human move to more healthy products,” Bennett said. His company has an eye to new global distribution partnerships for its dog drinks. “I think all of this is linked to the humanization of our pets, and ensuring that what we feed them is healthy, not just something we’ve designed for ourselves and hope is healthy for dogs.”

This carries a sense of urgency and legitimacy in that, just like humans, he notes, obesity and diabetes are pervasive problems.

Is there an herbal drink that's supposed to help with those?

“No,” he explains. But the company is coming out with an “anxiety blend” that has lavender and rose petal, which he believes are both very good for calming dogs—during fireworks, for instance, or when traveling. In addition to these isolated triggers, The Merck Veterinary Manual notes that dogs can also be diagnosed with “a more generalized anxiety, in which the fearful reaction is displayed in a wide range of situations to which a ‘normal’ pet would be unlikely to react.” And as it becomes common for such dogs to be prescribed anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium, it’s predictable that a market for non-pharmaceutical products would arise.

But just as in humans, this beer is not recommended as a treatment for anxiety.

“It's very much to enjoy time with your dog,” Bennett emphasized.

Though this, in its own way, has merit in alleviating anxiety. It’s certainly a more appealing way of bonding than lapping rainwater out of a human version of a dog bowl.

So while the dog beer may not be inherently healthy, time spent bonding with a pet is clearly valuable to the health of humans. Last year in Science, for instance, researchers reported that simply gazing into a dogs eyes produced an oxytocin surge similar to when a parents bond with infants. Animal therapy programs have been shown to improve health outcomes inside and outside of hospitals. Approaches like these are worth emphasizing in a health economy obsessed with high-tech solutions and wanting for social mechanisms to decrease stress that can seem beyond our control.

“Is this going to compete with a headline about Trump?” Bennett asked with a laugh from across the ocean.

I said I was sure it would compete with a lot of headlines.

He regained composure, steering the conversation back to American politics. “It’s embarrassing,” admonished the man who makes beer for dogs.