Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.
The Very Basic Concern
I often think that for my dog, me going for a night out must be like encountering the Incredible Hulk: I leave as a relatively normal, meek human being, doing meek human-being things like making sure the gas is off and all the doors are locked, and I return a rampaging, bellowing beast, flailing around, breaking shit and eating 12 different kinds of leftovers in a single sandwich. Then the next morning, I’ve transformed back into a real human on the carpeted floor of my apartment, waking up to sloppy kisses from my dog, Gus.
Does Gus understand any of what’s going on here? He must know something’s up, because I usually end up rolling on the ground with him and giving him 20-something treats, whereas my sober self would only give him one or two a day. But dogs surely know nothing about how alcohol works, right?
Basically: Do pets understand what’s happening when you get absolutely trash-hammered?
Disclaimer: You should never, ever give real beer — or any other form of alcohol — to dogs, as hops, the main ingredient in beer, can promote a rapid rise in body temperature, which can damage their organs and potentially result in death. Meanwhile, alcohol in general affects most animals similar to how it affects humans, which can obviously end badly, as it often does with us — the difference being, we did it to ourselves voluntarily.
The Expert Advice
Fred Metzler, owner of Dog Bar, a full service bar in St. Petersburg, Florida, with an off-leash dog park and an indoor leash-only space: The majority of our people — and this isn’t my first bar — don’t come here to get really tipsy. They’re with their family members, as crazy as that might sound — their four-legged family. So, they’re generally pretty good about it.
That said — and again, we just don’t deal with much drunkenness here on the regular — certainly people get tipsy on occasion, and that’s why they came up with Uber Pet, which they do now so you can Uber home with your dog. Honestly, I’m going to say, most dogs probably don’t [understand when you’re drunk]. Now, some do. I don’t want to call out a breed, but some of the sharper dogs — some of the ones that are trained to be companion dogs — will sort of hang closer to their parents. Maybe a little less play, and a little more watching mom and dad.
Zazie Todd, animal psychologist and author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy: Obviously, pets don’t understand the concept of drinking alcohol and getting drunk. Alcohol is also toxic to dogs and cats, so it’s important to make sure they never get any, including food with alcohol in it.
So then, the question is, do pets notice if their owners behave differently when drunk? Pets are often quite tuned in to their owner’s behavior, so if you act differently when drunk, it’s likely they’ll notice something. Also, they have amazing noses, so they’ll notice that your breath and sweat smells different from the alcohol. Many pets are quite resilient, but some are more sensitive than others, especially if you’re talking more loudly, gesturing a lot, stumbling or being clumsy — this may make them stressed. If they hide, let them be; don’t go chasing after them for hugs, as this will only make them more stressed.
On the other hand, if you fall asleep, they might be quite happy to cuddle up with you. And pets like their routine, so even if you wake up with a hangover the next day, your dog will still want their walk, and your kitties will still need their litter box to be scooped, even if that’s the last thing you feel like doing.
Jenny Brown, founder and CEO of Bowser Beer, a non-alcoholic beer for dogs: I think animals — and pet dogs especially — are always in tune with how their owners are and instinctively respond to protect them. If you have a mean drunk, I think they’d be very confused with a change in normal behavior, which would cause fear and distrust in the animal. Happy drunks are probably perceived as just an owner who’s more fun — however, as we all know, balance is often affected by alcohol, so a stumbling person could make an animal confused and frightened.
Dogs know when you’re sick or not feeling well; look at the comfort and therapy dogs who instinctively know that a human is in need. That’s why they make such great service animals. A drunk person acts differently than normal, so if his or her behavior is non-threatening or unstable, a dog would probably respond by sticking close and offering a comforting lick in the face. Then, they can go into hangover therapy dog mode — all empathy, no judgment!