Melanie Leyshon is the editor of Healthy Food Guide magazine. She's a flexitarian and couldn’t get through the week without yogurt and yoga.

Why dogs are really good for our health

A posse of handsome and cute pooches descended on a central London bar for Healthy Food Guide’s first ever healthy doggie event. Were we barking mad?

We invited some of our favourite furry friends to join us for a brunch and to discuss the positive impact dogs have on our mental health.

Healthy drinks for dogs, plus owners’ health and wellbeing were on the menu at our brunch at a glamorous London hotel bar. Twenty high-profile instagrammers, charity heads and celebs brought their dogs to mingle and network at the chi-chi Smith & Whistle bar at Sheraton Grand London Park Lane. Ideal for our purposes as it serves dogtails (cocktails for dogs!).

While two-legged guests feasted on a delicious array of healthy veggie brunch bites, the four-legged ones sipped a dogtail created by dog food nutritionist David Jackson exclusively for the bar. The Poochie Colada is a mix of coconut water with kale and broccoli and promotes glossy coats and healthy joints. Owners, take note, it’s easy to whizz up in a food processor at home (recipe link here)  – no shaking or stirring. Make double and just add the spirit of your choice to your own glass if you fancy.

Poochie colada cocktail
The Poochie Colada is a mix of coconut water with kale and broccoli and promotes glossy coats and healthy joints in dogs

Smith & Whistle is perfectly placed to dog walkers as it’s across the road from Green Park and near Hyde Park. It’s open daily from noon to midnight, with water bowls and other dog-friendly drinks to buy, such as Hound’s Hops, a blend of specially brewed dog ‘beer’ and fresh mint, and Bubbly Bow Bow, a ‘prosecco’ herbal infusion using elderflower, linden blossom and ginseng topped with a blackberry.

As well as healthy eating, we covered mental wellbeing. Radio presenter, podcaster and author Emily Dean talked about her brilliant new book, Everyone died, so I got a dog. It’s funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking. It tracks her life from her fun but not dog-friendly, eccentric theatrical family childhood to when her sister Rachel died in 2012 of cancer at 43, followed in quick succession by the death of her parents. To deal with the loss and grief, as the book title explains, she got a dog Raymond (Ray). This tiny ball of fluff, a shih tzu, has helped her through the darkest period of her life. Emily describes how Ray allowed her to find joy in everyday life again and brought much-needed routine to her life, too.

HFG editor Melanie Leyshon chats to author and presenter Emily Dean and Blue Cross speaker, head of education services, Tracy Genever

You can read more about Emily’s story and other case studies in April’s Healthy Food Guide, out now.

Our second speaker, Tracy Genever, head of education services at Blue Cross, outlined how the charity helps rehome dogs and other pets with owners who have had life-changing events, including bereavement, and depression. It also offers free veterinary care for the pets of those on low incomes. And its bereavement helpline takes thousands of calls each year from those struggling to cope with the loss of a pet – 8,229 in 2018. Tracy said it has long been known that stroking your pet lowers blood pressure and simply being in the same room will release oxytocin, which brings feelings of joy.

HFG dog brunch
Our guest speaker Tracey Genever from Blue Cross with BBC Strictly Come Dancing Stars Katya and Neil Jones, and their dog Crumble.

The atmosphere at our event reaffirmed this research: that well looked after dogs help us stay happy and healthier. Were there any hiccups on the day? There may have been one small incident (cleaned up quickly by staff), but our brunch was as far as it could be from a dog’s breakfast.