If you own an anxious dog, you may already know about melatonin and its benefits. Although still very much in an experimental stage the growing interest in its health and behavioural benefits is gaining momentum.
So, what is it, how does it work and can I give my dog melatonin?
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally in all animals, including us. It’s produced by a tiny pinecone-shaped organ called the pineal gland that’s hidden deep in the brain.
Sometimes called the hormone of darkness as it’s only produced at night. Melatonin plays a vital role in regulating our internal clocks or day/night cycles.
As the sun goes down, melatonin production prompts nocturnal animals into activity, while in contrast promotes sleep in diurnal (active during the day) animals.
Melatonin levels fluctuate through the year too, and these levels trigger seasonal actions. Basically, it’s what tells the bears to go hibernate. It’s also why we have trouble getting out of bed in the dark winter months. Not only that but melatonin also plays a role in reproduction, coat growth and behaviour.
How does it work?
Although it’s a relatively new area of research for dogs. The link between melatonin and sleep in humans has been well known for a long time.
Supplements of melatonin were first used to help people with chronic insomnia and to alleviate the effects of jetlag.
As a side effect of treatment, it was noticed that melatonin produced a calming effect. Because of this, a number of studies have been testing its usefulness, with one study suggesting its use as an anti-anxiety measure for captive animals.
Interest has grown rapidly in its potential to help anxious dogs, and some dog specific supplements are now available.
What can melatonin help with?
Melatonin has the potential to help with a lot of canine-related issues. But the most common uses are to help ease anxiety and to treat seasonal flank alopecia.
However, it may be prescribed for any number of problems including;
- Aid to weight gain
- Separation anxiety
- Behavioural issues
- Canine cognitive dysfunction
- Aid to healing
Research into melatonin for dogs is still in its infancy, and while melatonin is relatively risk-free, you should always consult your vet before giving it to your dog.
Although melatonin for humans is readily available as a supplement, dog specific options are only obtainable, without prescription in the USA and Canada. Despite this, when prescribed correctly melatonin can help your dog feel calmer, healthier and happier.
Dogs with anxiety
Because melatonin has sedative properties, it’s used to treat dogs with anxiety. Dogs become anxious for any number of reasons. But separation anxiety and dislike of loud noises are two of the most common.
Even dogs that are stressed in new situations can benefit from the calming effects of melatonin. In fact, melatonin is often prescribed instead of tranquillizers as a safer and more natural anti-anxiety medication.
Melatonin for hair loss in dogs
Seasonal hair loss is common in dogs and is connected to lower melatonin levels. During the spring and autumn dog’s fur falls out at a much faster rate than at other times of the year.
But for some dogs, the fur loss becomes so extreme that they develop seasonal alopecia and are left with bald patches on their flanks.
Melatonin promotes hair growth and is used to treat both alopecia and hair loss as a result of Cushing’s disease
Helping dogs sleep
Melatonin levels fall as both our dogs and we age, so it’s not unusual for older dogs to get out of step with their regular sleep cycles.
Not only that but as our dogs are living longer, they are experiencing more cognitive challenges like Alzheimer’s and doggie dementia.
One of the effects of this is something known as Sundowner Syndrome that disturbs the natural awake/sleep cycles. Melatonin can help promote sleep and ease insomnia associated with a health issue like these.
How much melatonin should I give my dog?
Dosage for any drug is essential to get right. Although melatonin occurs naturally in the body too much can still lead to an overdose.
As melatonin is absorbed quickly but excreted slowly, the hormone stays in the body for some time before it passes out through urine.
Typical symptoms of an overdose include;
So always consult with your vet who will take your dogs size and health history into account. As a guide doses are small around 1milligram per ten pounds of weight
- Dogs under 10 pounds – 1 mg
- 10-25 pounds – 1.5 mg
- 25-100 pounds – 3mg
- Over 100 pounds – 3.6 mg
Depending on the reason your dog is taking melatonin determines whether they take it continuously or just as needed.
Dog melatonin side effects
One of the good things about melatonin is that side effects are rare. Nevertheless, melatonin has been known to cause;
- Upset stomach
- Stomach cramp
- Elevated heart rate
- Changes in fertility
- Disorientation and pacing
- Excessive drowsiness
If you notice your dog showing any of these signs stop using melatonin immediately and consult your vet.
Are there dogs that can’t take melatonin?
Despite the limited side effects and relative safety of melatonin, there are reasons why you shouldn’t give it to your dog.
So talking it through with your veterinarian first is vital to protect your dog’s health. Melatonin should be avoided if your dog has any of the following;
- Kidney problems
- Liver issues
- Bleeding disorders
- Is pregnant
- A puppy under twelve weeks old
- Already taking other medications
Can I give my dog Melatonin?
For owners that have fearful dogs, melatonin may seem like a miracle cure. Watching a dog struggle with a noise phobia or anxiety is distressing and frustrating.
But while melatonin is regarded as safe for most dogs, it’s still important to consult your veterinarian before giving it to your dog.
Although supplements are available in the USA and Canada specifically for dogs, they are not currently on sale in the UK.
Despite this, most melatonin supplements have the same active ingredients. And because of this, it’s tempting just to go out and buy the most popular brand.
Not all supplements are suitable though. Some have added ingredients like Xylitol that is potentially deadly to dogs so talk to your vet first who can recommend safe options.