Owner’s Guide to Melatonin for Dogs (Uses, Benefits & Side Effects)

This helpful guide will get you up to date on the growing health benefits of this supplemental hormone.

Contrary to popular belief, canine anxiety is a common disorder in dogs. [1]

It can affect all dogs, at any time! And you may be doing everything right, but your pooch hates being left alone or is terrified when there’s thunder.

Your furry best friend may also have social phobias where he gets nervous or agitated when meeting new people or dogs at the dog park! In this article we cover melatonin for dogs, from start to finish; let’s get to it shall we?!

What exactly is Melatonin?

what exactly is melatonin

Melatonin is a tranquilizing hormonal enhancement that may help treat restlessness, hyperactivity, anxiety and other conditions. [2]

It is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland, and pet owners prefer using this supplement for their pets, instead of medications that may contain elements that have damaging side effects.

Melatonin can also be found in some foods. It regulates sleep and wake cycles [3] and also helps to support a healthy immune function. Melatonin is known for protecting cells against free radical damage.

Production & release in the body

Production and release of Melatonin in the brain is higher in the evening, and lower in the morning. Bright light inhibits the production of Melatonin. Melatonin is safely used by humans, dogs and cats for sleep disorders.

Melatonin use in both humans and pets have minimal side effects. Melatonin is produced at a higher level in children and declines after adolescence. It has lipid and water-soluble properties, so it readily crosses the blood-brain barrier.

Reduction in harmful radicals

In certain studies, it has been demonstrated to be more potent than vitamin E in neutralizing harmful peroxyl radicals that induce DNA damage [4].

Although Melatonin research has mainly targeted sleep and wake rhythms in humans, it has been shown to be beneficial in veterinary medicine as an aid for canine anxiety and stress disorders.

Is it FDA approved?

Although the FDA has not approved [5] Melatonin for use in dogs, it is available over the counter. It shouldn’t be administered to your dog without first checking with your veterinarian, as it may react negatively in combination with other medications, make some medical conditions worse, and is dangerous for expectant dogs and puppies.

What can Melatonin be used for?

dog waiting at window

Here’s a list of things typically associated with melatonin usage:

  • separation anxiety
  • noise phobias
  • flank alopecia
  • canine stress
  • chronic dysfunction syndrome
  • social phobia of other dogs and people
  • sleep disorders in geriatric dogs that suffer from painful conditions
  • possible cancer treatment (inconclusive, see study[7]
  • platelet disorders like idiopathic thrombocytopenia (ITP).

Anxiety disorders in dogs

Melatonin is widely used by veterinarians to manage anxiety disorders in dogs suffering from noise phobia related to thunderstorms and fireworks. With so many holistic approaches available today, Melatonin has turned out to be extremely beneficial in helping to reduce canine stress, anxiety disorders, and chronic dysfunction syndrome.

Anxiety symptoms

Dr. Mills explains that signs which could be interpreted as pre-departure anxiety include:

  • an immediate reaction to the owner’s departure
  • urination and vocalization
  • reaction to noises when alone
  • signs of poor frustration tolerance
  • a perceived strong bond with a single person or object
  • and overly enthusiastic greetings when the primary owner returns.

Dr. Mills adds that there are many theoretical reasons besides separation anxiety for such signs, from frustration and fear of external events and pain. “Distress is not a useful sign of differentiating the different forms of separation anxiety. What it is useful for is reflecting how intense the arousal is.”

If your doggo hates being left on her own, try our 10 tips for managing separation anxiety.

Fur and coat disorders

Melatonin also helps with the control of photoperiod-dependent molting in dogs. [6] There are numerous hair-growth disorders in dogs which include recurrent flank alopecia, pattern baldness, and excessive tricholemmal keratinization. These conditions have improved with Melatonin supplementation.

An insomnia treatment

It is also used to help geriatric dogs get a better night’s sleep. Sleep disturbances occur in older dogs from osteoarthritic pain, fear of the dark, old age irritability, and altered sleep patterns that occur in aging dogs.

How do I give my dog Melatonin?

bulldog with medicine bottles

Melatonin has been developed in its synthetic form to provide stress relief in dogs. Sometimes giving medications to dogs can be complicated and problematic.

Even though Melatonin is available over the counter, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian first.

Dosage

Melatonin is supplied in:

  • 300mcg
  • 1mg
  • and 3 mg, tablets.

It is also in implants in sizes of:

  • 2.7 mg
  • 5.4 mg
  • 8 mg
  • 12 mg
  • and 18 mg.

Melatonin dosage for small dogs is at 0.5mg-1mg per dog orally up to 8 hours. For medium- sized dogs, the dose is 1-3mg for up to 8 hours. For large dog breeds, the treatment is at 3-9mg. 3 x daily. Always consult with your veterinarian for advice.

Your dog’s weight, age, general health will all be variables as to the exact Melatonin dosage your dog needs. Melatonin has not been approved by the FDA for use in pets. That said, it may be prescribed for use by a veterinarian as an extra-label drug.

Missed doses

Never double up on a missed dose of Melatonin!

Should you miss the one dose, administer it if there are a couple of hours in between until the next treatment. That said, veterinarians recommend waiting until the next succeeding dose to be given to the dog as scheduled, if the gap between succeeding doses is too short.

Consult with your veterinarian to confirm specific dosing schedules for Melatonin.

Drug interactions with melatonin

Certain drugs may interact with Melatonin, these include:

  • sedatives
  • tranquilizers
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • corticosteroids.

Now you have a much better understanding when it comes to administering Melatonin to canines.

What do the studies say?

what do the studies say about melatonin

According to a 2018 study published in the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMA) [8], 20% of dogs suffer from anxiety. Dr. Daniel Mills, DVM, Professor of Veterinary Behavioral Medicine at the University of Lincoln, School of Life Sciences in England, adds that:

“Separation anxiety has several distinct forms based on a mixture of emotional and motivational states.”

About 20 percent of dogs are affected. Consistently across studies, 15 percent of dogs aren’t responding to medication, and 15 percent aren’t responding to behavioral treatment.”

Melatonin to calm your dogs nerves

Today, natural products like Melatonin can be used to establish a more stable emotional state. A study by Gary M. Landsberg, (BSc, DVM, MRCVS, DACVB, DECAWBM), Director, Veterinary Affairs and Product Development, and Veterinary Behaviorist, adds that both “psychotropic and natural products improve trainability in animals that are anxious, fearful, or overly reactive.”

Drugs might also be useful in the treatment of behavior that is abnormal, pathologic, or lacking impulse control. Also, medications may be indicated to improve compromised welfare.

However, whereas drugs can improve the animal’s emotional state and facilitate new learning, only with concurrent behavior modification can new neuronal pathways be established, new behaviors learned, and fearful responses to stimuli changed to positive ones.” [9]

According to the study, “a variety of natural products have been used to treat anxiety; however, only a few have demonstrated any evidence to support efficacy.”

Side effects of Melatonin in dogs

side effects of melatonin for dogs

There are numerous reasons that veterinarians prescribe Melatonin for dogs. Apart from easing canine anxiety, and noise phobias, it can be used together with other medications.

Melatonin is considered to be relatively safe because it is a natural hormone that is made in the body. That said, Melatonin may have a few side effects, [10] such as the following:

  • behavioral changes
  • itching
  • headaches
  • sleepiness
  • increased heart rate
  • altered female reproductive cycles in dogs
  • confusion
  • stomach discomfort
  • “head-heaviness” in dogs
  • short-lived, canine depression.

As always, the responsibility to monitor for the above rests on your shoulder, no one knows your dog better than you; and your vet of course, speaking of, let’s find out what you need to ask them.

What to tell your veterinarian

what to tell your vet when it comes to melatonin

Before prescribing Melatonin, your veterinarian will most likely begin discussing treatment options. He or she will recommend and advise you about the specific disorder, and the approved drugs that will be needed to treat the disease.

Familiarize yourself with the terminology

You will need to thoroughly discuss with your veterinarian any medications, prescriptions, over-the-counter, or herbal that you are giving your dog. You will also need to inform yourself about how Melatonin works, and any possible side effects that this drug may have on your dog ahead of time.

Most importantly, you will need to prepare yourself in advance should there be any side effects that would require immediate emergency veterinary care. Even if Melatonin seems easy enough to use, or you’ve given this to your dog in the past, it’s still important to follow all instructions carefully. Correct dosages must be administered at all times.

Inform your veterinarian if your dog suffers from seizures

If your dog has a seizure history, gastrointestinal problems, pregnancy, liver disorders or kidney disease, it’s best to ask your veterinarian if it’s safe to use Melatonin.

Keep your pup parasite free with these best dog dewormers.

Final say on giving dogs Melatonin

sleepy dog yawning

With so many holistic approaches today that are safe and effective, melatonin has proven to be extremely beneficial in helping to reduce stress in dogs. Although Melatonin has few side effects, it may interact with some medications, as shown above.

Keep in mind that minimizing stress in your dog’s life has to be top priority! 

Taking a little more time to talk to your veterinarian before the use of Melatonin in your pets will allow you to discuss the potential adverse side effects and their probability of occurrence. Additionally, it will enable you to discuss the pros and cons of Melatonin use overall.

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Another must read: 5 Best Low Protein Dog Foods (Plus a Healthy Treat!)

Resources

  1. Evaluation of treatments for separation anxiety in dogs.” Y. Takeuchi. K. A. Houpt. J. M. Scarlett. August 2000
  2. Bertolucci, Cristiano et al. “Daily rhythms of serum lipids in dogs: influences of lighting and fasting cycles” Comparative medicine vol. 58,5 (2008): 485-9.
  3. Role of melatonin in the induction and maintenance of sleep” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience vol. 4,4 (2002): 395-401.
  4. Reiter, Russel J et al. “Neurotoxins: free radical mechanisms and melatonin protection” Current neuropharmacology vol. 8,3 (2010): 194-210.
  5. de Vries, Lennart J et al. “Sleep Medications Containing Melatonin can Potentially Induce Ventricular Arrhythmias in Structurally Normal Hearts: A 2-Patient Report” Journal of cardiovascular pharmacology vol. 70,4 (2017): 267-270.
  6. Potency of melatonin in living beings” Development & reproduction vol. 17,3 (2013): 149-77.
  7. Li, Ya et al. “Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of cancer” Oncotarget vol. 8,24 (2017): 39896-39921.
  8. Separation anxiety calls for specific diagnosis, treatment – AVMA
  9. Hormonal Therapy for Integumentary Disease – Merck Vet Manual
  10. Negative impact of melatonin ingestion on the photopic electroretinogram of dogs.” J. Lavoie. S. G. Rosolen. C. Chalier. M. Hébert. May 2013

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Claudia

Written by Claudia

Claudia Bensimoun is a hard working, animal loving, dog journalist from sunny West Palm Beach, and specializes in veterinary content. A long-time contributing features writer for Animal Wellness magazine, Fido Friendly magazine, and the United States Dog Agility Association. She's also the author and ghostwriter of more than 50 dog eBooks. She's passionate about canine nutrition, canine health and wellness, and animal rescue/adoption. Her interests include wildlife conservation, animal welfare, disaster/ humanitarian relief, and veterinary research.

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