A dog's life isn't what it used to be. The US's 43 million dog-owning households are being urged to pamper their pooches with bottles of fortified water. FortiFido, now on American supermarket shelves, comes in four flavours, including spearmint to reduce dogs' bad breath, and costs $1.39 (70p) a litre.
Extending the bottled water fad to dogs is a far cry from the trend in Britain, where bottled water is coming under attack not only from the Cabinet Secretary, Gus O'Donnell, who wants Whitehall to make do with tap water, but even from the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, whose traditional Budget speech nip of whisky was this year replaced by a glass of plain London tap. On average, British drinkers consume 37.6 litres of bottled water every year.
Although the US economy is tipping into recession, Cott Corporation, one of America's largest soft drinks bottlers, still believes it's time to extend bottled water to dogs. Charles Calise, the company's director of innovation, has spent the past 18 months and $80,000 testing flavoured water on 100 thirsty canines.
"We began with beef, liver and chicken flavours," he said. "But as the water would be served in bowls in kitchens, they were rejected as too strong and objectionable. We also turned down fruit, wood, logs and mushroom."
Calise found that the sense of smell and taste in dogs is so acute that only a small amount of flavour was enough to attract them. After trying a range, he settled on peanut butter FortiFido with calcium for strong bones; parsley with zinc to promote healthy skin; spearmint to freshen a dog's breath; and lemon grass to maintain supple joints.
Extending vitamin water to dogs seemed an obvious thing to do at Cott, though it is the first to offer it to American consumers. "Ten years ago it became OK for humans to walk around carrying a bottle of water," Calise said. "Now they are responsive to giving their dogs bottled water, too. If it is good enough for them, it is good enough for their dogs. Retailers recognise we've hit on something big."
When FortiFido was given its first outing at the Global Pet Expo in San Diego, California last month, the response from dogs was overwhelming. "At our stand we had the press asking whether dogs really liked FortiFido, while behind us dogs were noisily lapping it up. It was the best form of advertising," recalls Calise, whose three-year-old standard poodle, Porsche, is a convert. "She absolutely loves it," he said.
Other dog owners such as Stephen Silverman from Lower Manhattan, master of Jack, a Jack Russell, aren't so sure. "If we lived in Los Angeles, where even I don't drink out of the tap, I might opt for bottled water. But the water coming out of New York City taps is fine. Jack will have to suffer eau ordinaire," he said.
Nor is he impressed with additives for dogs. "The organic chicken strips I serve Jack contain herbs that reputedly do wonders for his hips, eyesight and attitude. This doesn't prevent his being arthritic, myopic and often cross. But then, so am I," he said.
Calise insists the dog water is so safe that it can be drunk by humans. "Because it is deemed an animal food, it is subject to more stringent hygiene standards than bottled water for humans." But even if people take to drinking FortiFido in a big way, there still will be no vitamin water for cats. "Cats do not drink a great deal. They get most of their liquid from the food they eat," he said. "And even when they do drink, they usually drink from the dog's bowl."