As a dog owner, chances are you always feel a pang of guilt when you witness your dog’s anxious and terror-ridden face. You know the look well: enlarged eyes, a quiet whimper, perhaps even shaking. You’ve seen it during the ear-busting 4th of July fireworks, and you’ve seen it every time you leave your dog alone at home while you go to work.
Unfortunately, you can’t always ensure your constant presence around your dog, which means finding a remedy for their stress is crucial – no matter what it’s caused by. Fortunately, melatonin supplements can alleviate this stress and even aid in the treatment of certain illnesses. As humans, we’ve taken melatonin for inducing sleep on long and treacherous plane rides, and for combating our insomnia. Its benefits for dogs are similar, if not even faster, and it’s all a matter of proper dosage and veterinary consultation.
Melatonin Uses for Dogs
So what exactly constitutes a need for melatonin? Quite a few things, actually. Most dogs have likely suffered from at least one of the following conditions on a recurring basis, which makes melatonin’s versatility an appealing prospect.
Separation and noise anxiety: Loud noises can cause severe stress for dogs, and during thunderstorms, we can often find our furry friends crouching behind the nearest armchair for protection. Similarly, being left alone for long periods of time can cause permanent neuroticism in many dogs. Unfortunately, both of these sources of anxiety are things that owners rarely have control over. Not only can melatonin supplements work as a sedative under these circumstances, activating the hormone’s production in the pineal gland, but they may even cure these fears in dogs through the mere concept of classical conditioning (think Pavlov’s dog, but in a more positive regard).
Insomnia: Inability to sleep is a common condition among sick and elderly dogs. These dogs are often so plagued by chronic pain, they’re used to sleepless and restless nights. While there is an abundance of prescription pain killers for these cases, the natural soothing effects of melatonin will go a long way to finally giving your pet the sleep they need. Melatonin is naturally released in the evenings to regulate and invoke sleep, but certain factors (hormone irregularity, excessive light, etc.) can hinder its production. By taking supplements, regular melatonin levels will be reintroduced and circadian rhythms (also known as sleep/wake cycles) will be regulated.
Alopecia: Hair loss is a frequent occurrence in older dogs, but it can happen to dogs of all ages, especially during certain seasons. When it does, severe itching and discomfort take place, typically in the regions where the hair loss is occurring. Fortunately, no-cone collars are available to prevent the itching in the most comfortable manner possible, but evidence suggests that melatonin can actually assist in curing the condition. Researchers believe that since melatonin encourages sleep cycles, a time during which the growth hormone is produced, this growth hormone then stimulates hair growth, gradually phasing alopecia out of the dog’s immune system. Melatonin is also believed to have antioxidant qualities that make this possible as well.
Epilepsy: Veterinary studies suggest that a small dosage of melatonin in the evening can help dogs that have seizures during the night or the early morning. While its efficacy is a case-by-case basis, many vets suggest it’s worthy of a try and can at least alleviate the postictal symptoms following an epileptic attack if it does not prevent the attack itself.
Cushing’s disease: This endocrine disorder is characterized by an overproduction of cortisol due to a possible tumor on the adrenal or pituitary gland. Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian, states that Cushing’s disease is the most common condition for which she supplies melatonin. According to Morgan, it helps the body in blocking the uptake of excessive cortisone, therefore leveling out the symptoms.
Potential Side Effects
Consulting with a veterinarian before deciding on melatonin for your dog is critical. Used incorrectly, it could result in digestive upset, fertility issues, itching, and confusion. Particularly if your dog is already on certain medications, you will want to be mindful of negative drug interactions. As a guideline, melatonin is not typically recommended for puppies or pregnant dogs. It should also preferably be avoided in dogs with kidney, liver, brain, or bleeding problems unless otherwise approved by a vet.
Melatonin may be available over-the-counter, but that shouldn’t fool you into thinking you don’t need to consult with your vet. Different dosages may be needed based on your dog’s age, condition, and size. However, most professionals will recommend starting with the smallest dose. For a guideline of what dosages usually look like based on size, you can consult the following list:
1 mg for dogs under 10 lbs
1.5 mg for dogs 10-25 lbs
3 mg for dogs 25-100 lbs
3-6 mg for dogs over 100 lbs
A typical rule of thumb is to administer the aforementioned doses no more than three times a day. Melatonin can kick in within 10-15 minutes of being administered and last for 8 hours, hence why it is often given right before bed in order to ensure a full night’s sleep.
Melatonin’s Increasing Popularity
As natural supplements become increasingly popular, it’s no wonder that melatonin is becoming a go-to for more and more veterinarians and dog owners. Safe, natural, and with side effects significantly less harmful than most prescription medications, melatonin’s effectiveness makes it an intriguing option. Furthermore, when it comes to anxiety, there’s no doubt it’s safer and more humane than most tranquilizers.
The convenience of access to melatonin is also a major advantage, as you never have to look farther than your local pharmacy for a bottle (available over-the-counter). It is not only wise for diagnosable conditions, but for aging dogs. The level of melatonin our bodies produce decreases as we age, a fact that is true for dogs too. If you’re caring for an aging dog that has trouble sleeping, you might want to consider a minimal dose just before bed.
Holistic medicine is seen as the future for many, with melatonin being at the forefront of that movement. More and more all-natural supplements previously only used by humans, such as CBD, glucosamine, and magnesium, are being approved for dogs and supported by veterinarians. As a dog owner, educating yourself about these options can not only save you time, but money as well. Melatonin’s breakthrough in the dog market has been received favorably and the supplement is available in many forms, from soft chews to powder to tablets. Choosing melatonin just may mean never seeing your pet in panic again, a huge reward for those of us that love our four-legged friends like family.
Ellie Batchiyska is a writer for Handicapped Pets, known for their best-selling Walkin’ Back Brace and pet mobility products.