Tails wag, tongues drool for gourmet dog food at hotels

With an increasing number of pet owners bringing their four-legged friends on the road, hotels throughout North America and Europe are responding with tail-wagging gourmet menus fit for a king (or a Cavalier King Charles spaniel).

Fifi can feast on Zen Yo ($11), a hearty vegetable stir-fry with poached eggs and steamed brown rice that's designed to help pets adjust to jet lag and altitude, at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix. Or down an organic Buddy Burger hamburger with cheese ($5) at Los Angeles' Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, which offers an organic and locally sourced in-room dining service doggie menu with cooked-to-order items. Or start with an appetizer of chicken liver pâté ($7) before moving on to the braised New Zealand lamb served on a bed of rice ($15) at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

In April, the Wyndham Orange County in Costa Mesa, Calif., unleashed its Paws and Claws breakfast, held every weekend on the hotel's lakeside patio. For $15.50 for adults, human guests can enjoy the buffet and for no additional charge share their food with their pooches, who eat off pet china. There's a "Bubbles and Bones" Champagne bar ($4) that features unlimited Champagne for adults, and for pets, wine-shaped bottles from Bark Vineyards ($16.99) of "Sauvignon Bark," "Barkundy" or "Pinot Leasheo," which contain a gourmet, alcohol-free au jus made with chicken or beef stock that can be poured over their food.

"It's really neat to see how it has significantly changed the spirit in the building," says Wyndham Orange County general manager Thomas Smalley. "Everybody is in such a different mind-set when they bring their dogs with them. During the week, the corporate travelers and leisure travelers aren't rushing to their rooms to call home. They have their home with them in some cases, and their spirits are a lot different."

The latest National Pet Owners Survey taken by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association shows that 63% of U.S. households, or 71.1 million homes, own a pet, and that 19% of dog owners and 3% of cat owners take their pet with them when traveling for at least two nights. AAA lists more than 13,000 lodging options in its 2008 pet traveling guide.

No wonder hotels have responded. All 18 Loews Hotels throughout the USA and Canada offer a menu that includes Bow Wow Tenderloin of Beef, made with filet mignon, eggs, brown rice and bread, Whisker Licking Liver and Kitty's Salmon Supreme.

"The Loews brand promise is to offer healthy meals for all of our guests, whether they arrive on two legs or four," says Loews spokeswoman Emily Goldfischer.

The James in Chicago throws dogs real bones ($12) from David Burke's Primehouse, on the hotel's lobby level, and offers a salmon and tuna tartare tower with crème fraiche ($15) and grilled chicken paillard with liver "snaps" ($15). Menu items were tested on employees' pets, says Patrick Hatton, general manager at The James.

"To an increasing number of our guests and team members, pets are a real, valued part of the family," he says. "We wanted to cater to these pets by offering menu items that are sophisticated enough to be considered a treat, yet made of high-quality ingredients that pets will actually enjoy eating."

There's no need for pampered pets to suffer with dry or canned food while outside of the USA, either. In Los Cabos, Mexico, Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort, offers The Rin Tin Tin (braised beef short ribs with farro risotto and gravy for $19), a "Ruff" con Pollo (chicken breast with rice and tomato, $19), The Claw Cleaner (albacore tuna, chopped egg and sour cream, $4) and Tomcat's Favorite (a selection of seafood, $3.50).

"The pet menus started as a special service for our many celebrity guests who frequently bring their pets and want them to enjoy the same upscale, healthy diet they have at home," says Lionel Álvarez, managing director of Las Ventanas al Paraíso.

"In today's world, pets are truly part of the family, and guests expect them to experience the same level of luxury and pampering."

Traveling trans-Atlantic? At ME Madrid in Spain, chef Jaime Renedo created a pet menu that includes Laika's vegetable risotto ($25), Rex's filet mignon ($39) and suckling pig with couscous ($32). Celebrate with a turkey birthday cake ($62) at the Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice, Italy. Farther down the boot-shaped country, the Rome Cavalieri Hilton offers pâté of tuna fish and sardines ($22) and soup with rice, vegetables and meat ($23) — all on Gucci dishware.

Even in these trying economic times, PetTravel.com has seen no visible signs of a downturn in luxury travel for pets, says Jerry Hatfield, who has been in the business for 11 years.

"Whether economic times are good or bad, people's pets come first," Hatfield says. "Mom may have to forgo remodeling the kitchen and Dad may wait on buying that new car, but you can be sure their pampered pet will continue to receive the best that life has to offer."