It’s no secret that getting a good night’s rest is a basic human need, and sometimes people need help falling asleep – from gentle bedtime yoga to warm milk, there are dozens of ways to get ready for dreamland. One natural sleep aid that’s garnered attention in recent years is melatonin supplements. Created to mimic melatonin – a hormone made by the pineal gland, a pea-sized gland located in the center of the brain – these supplements are typically used for individuals suffering from insomnia. The human body produces this hormone to signal when it’s time to go to sleep, as well as when it’s time to wake up. Available in pills, chewables, liquids, and even gummies, melatonin supplements are available in both synthetic and natural forms. The natural versions are actually derived from the pineal gland in animals.
But did you know that melatonin is also a naturally-occurring hormone in dogs, too? Serving the same purpose as it does in their human counterparts – mainly regulating a pup’s sleep schedule, and to some degree, his feelings of canine anxiety or stress – melatonin is part of a canine’s physiological make-up. However, many pet owners may be wondering: can my dog have melatonin? Read on to learn if melatonin is a safe supplement for dogs, why it may be recommended by a vet, and other important information for pet parents.
Can My Dog Have Melatonin?
While the FDA has not approved its usage for dogs, melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter (OTC) in most pharmacies and supermarkets. Regardless, owners should never administer melatonin in any form to their dogs without first consulting with the animal’s veterinarian, since it may potentially worsen existing canine health conditions, react adversely with some medications, and pose health risks for pregnant canines or puppies.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), some pet parents prefer using natural dog supplements such as melatonin versus chemical medications; however, it’s best to consult with a trusted vet before using it as a treatment. Although quite rare, side-effects of melatonin usage in dogs may include:
On the other hand, the AKC notes that if you and your vet decide that melatonin is a good option, it might help to treat a wide array of dog health issues. A variety of evidence has shown that melatonin may successfully treat several canine conditions, including separation anxiety, noise phobias, and even some types of hair loss (canine alopecia) in dogs.
Melatonin For Dogs: Uses & Benefits
Research has indicated that there are numerous uses – and benefits – for melatonin in dogs. As a general overview, by supplementing the naturally-occurring neurohormone, melatonin supplements essentially act as a sedative, allowing pups to de-stress, relax, and sleep. Below are a few common uses of melatonin for canines.
Anxiety: Numerous studies have shown that between 20–40% of canines suffer from some degree of separation anxiety. In addition to the stress it causes dogs, it may also lead to a variety of unhealthy coping mechanisms and behavioral issues. Whether a pet parent comes home after a long day of work to discover their pooch has chewed up the corner of the sofa or your dog is obsessively licking his paws, separation anxiety is a very real issue for many dog owners and their pups.
Another form of anxiety – known as situational anxiety – can also become routinely problematic. For example, some dogs have a fearful reaction to thunderstorms, trips to the vet, long car rides, a visit to the groomer, or loud noises. In turn, the dog will develop a phobia of certain situations, and display signs of anxiety, fear, panic and nervous behavior.
No matter what the cause or type of anxiety, melatonin supplements have shown to be beneficial in easing the symptoms. In addition to helping dogs chill out in stress-triggering scenarios, it may also help to lower negative behavior or unhealthy coping techniques. Other evidence suggests that it may be used to treat hyperactive dogs or those who suffer from canine epilepsy.
Insomnia: As mentioned earlier, people aren’t the only ones who suffer from insomnia. Dogs may also struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, too. Besides leaving a pooch fatigued, not getting a good night’s rest can also lead to other health issues, including canine lethargy and anxious behavior.
Oftentimes, canines who struggle with insomnia typically have cognitive dysfunctions that disrupt their natural biorhythms – that is, their body’s ability to wake and fall asleep on its own. Many older dogs suffer from such disrupted sleep patterns. Specifically, some conditions such as CDS, or cognitive dysfunction syndrome (a condition that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans) can make it difficult for geriatric dogs to fall asleep.
Whether it’s a cognitive dysfunction, anxiety disorder, health condition or other issue disrupting a dog’s sleep patterns, melatonin may be a useful form of vet-approved therapy to help regulate his biorhythms and assist him in getting a good night’s rest.
Cushing’s Disease: A disease that takes place when a dog’s body is overproducing the hormone cortisol, hyperadrenocorticism – more commonly known as Cushing’s disease – is one of the most common endocrine disorders affecting canines. This disease typically affects middle to older-aged animals. While normal levels of cortisol help to regulate a dog’s stress responses and the immune system, an overproduction of the hormone can lead to an array of health issues, including decreased energy, lethargy, muscle weakness, skin conditions, and frequent urination. Studies have indicated in some cases that melatonin may help reduce the symptoms of Cushing’s disease. For example, if the disease is caused by a tumor on the pituitary or adrenal gland, melatonin supplements can potentially block the uptake of excess cortisol production. Due to the severe side-effects of other pharmacological medications, many veterinarians will opt for a melatonin-based regimen first when treating dogs with the disease.
Alopecia: While there’s no scientific proof that it works, melatonin supplements have also been used in some instances to treat canine alopecia. During the winter months, some dogs may undergo a condition known as seasonal flank alopecia, a disorder that is noted by hair loss in patches by the backside near the tail region. However, this specific form of alopecia isn’t accompanied by any other skin disorders, which makes this strange phenomenon even more baffling. Although the reasons for this strange disorder are mostly undetermined, some vets have been known to prescribe melatonin to treat this condition. And although the hair usually grows back for canines put on a melatonin regimen, there’s no conclusive evidence that it wouldn’t have grown back without the supplement. On the contrary, it’s a relatively harmless form of treatment for most dogs, and if approved by vets, can provide owners comfort in knowing they are trying to help their dogs reduce the effects of alopecia.
What Are The Side Effects Of Melatonin In Dogs?
As long as melatonin is administered to dogs correctly and as advised by a veterinarian, there have been very few side effects reported. In many cases, this low instance of side effects has made it a preferred choice among vets and pet owners alike versus tranquilizers or other medications.
Nevertheless, there are still a few side-effects that owners should be aware of if they are giving dogs melatonin supplements as directed by their vet. In the instance that any of these side effects are noted, be sure to contact your vet’s office immediately, as they may recommend lowering the dosage or advise another course of treatment.
Some side effects of melatonin in dogs may include:
- Fertility changes
- Tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
- Upset stomach and cramping
Another important factor to keep in mind: always read the labels carefully on melatonin products. Some melatonin supplements contain dangerous ingredients such as xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is toxic to canines. It should also be noted that pregnant dogs or puppies should not take melatonin as a general rule.
Additionally, be sure to discuss any medications your dog is currently taking, since melatonin may not interact well with certain drugs. Based on the dog’s medical conditions, his vet will be able to determine if melatonin is the best course of treatment for him. Finally, discuss any questions or concerns with regard to melatonin as a treatment, including the proper dosage and time to administer supplements. No matter what the dosage the vet prescribes, dogs should never be given melatonin more than three times per day. Moving forward, be certain to track the dog’s progress, including his reaction to the melatonin, as well as any side effects. In the instance any side effects are apparent, consult a trusted veterinarian right away.
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2) Reisen, Jan. “Melatonin for Dogs: Uses, Benefits and Dosage.” American Kennel Club (AKC.org), August 22, 2016, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/melatonin-for-dogs-uses-benefits-and-dosage/. Accessed June 18, 2020.
3) Clark, Mike. “Melatonin For Dogs: Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects.” Dogtime.com, (no publish date), https://dogtime.com/dog-health/59583-melatonin-dogs-uses-dosage-side-effects. Accessed June 18, 2020.
4) Sullivan, Megan; Travis, Helen Anne. “Melatonin for Dogs: Is It Safe?” PetMD.com, March 13, 2017, https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/melatonin-dogs-it-safe. Accessed June 18, 2020.
5) “Can Dogs Have Melatonin: Uses, Benefits, and More.” Wild Earth.com, (no publish date), https://wildearth.com/blogs/dog-knowledge/can-dogs-have-melatonin-uses-benefits-and-moreAccessed June 18, 2020.
6) de Cardenas, Cecilia. “Cushing’s Disease in Dogs.” PetMD.com, October 7, 2008, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/endocrine/c_dg_hyperadrenocorticism. Accessed June 18, 2020.