Melatonin for Dogs

Sarah Robinson, DVM

This week’s guest post comes from Dr Sarah Robinson. Sarah attended veterinary school at Oklahoma State University receiving a DVM in 2008. Sarah’s longtime interest is to help people to better communicate with their pet companions, and in doing so, to help them to strengthen their relationships with their dogs and cats.

Does your dog suffer from an anxiety-related disorder or have difficulty sleeping at night?

If these problems ring a bell, then one option that may be useful to settle your dog is an over the counter supplement called melatonin. The benefits of melatonin for dogs include that it is a non-prescription product, with a low risk of side effects, and it can help your fur-friend to relax.


Then let’s look in more detail about the melatonin dosage for dogs and the possible effects.

melatonin dogsWhich Dogs might Benefit from Taking Melatonin?

First up is to see if melatonin for dogs is something that should be on your shopping list. It may interest you that melatonin is most commonly used in people to help with jet lag or sleeping relating problems. So how is this relevant to dogs?

Excessively Anxious Dog

Unfortunately anxiety in dogs is far more common than you might suppose. Indeed many antisocial activities, such as barking at strangers, are actually a manifestation of anxiety. This is because the dog that feels insecure decides to keep that person at paws length by barking at them.

Other dogs may be afflicted with a more general fear of life. This is commonly the result of inadequate socialization as a pup and lack of exposure to different people and places. This is especially distressing as it is linked to puppy mills and puppies that were kept isolated in cages for the early weeks of their life.

Another form of anxiety that can be extremely difficult to live with, for dog and owner alike, is separation anxiety. This is where a dog forms a strong bond with the pet parent, and then when the owner has to leave the dog alone, the latter has an anxiety attack. This can take the form of defecating and urinating in the house, destructive behavior such as chewing furniture, or constant barking that makes you unpopular with neighbors…even a block away.

Building these distressed dogs’ confidence takes time, patience, and a protocol put in place by a trained behaviorist. However, in the short term you may feel that the dog is so unhappy that they need a ‘first aid’ treatment. This is where melatonin for dogs may have a use to take the edge of the dog’s anxiety and help them rest more peacefully.

The Night-time Waker

melatonin dogs

If your dog has anxiety or one of the other issues mentioned in this article, check with your veterinarian to see if melatonin may help

Some elderly dogs have disturbed sleep patterns because they have lost the knack of sleeping at night and waking during the day. This can lead to the dog asking for food, walks, or play in the small hours of the morning when the whole house should be slumbering.

Melatonin may be helpful in that it works by telling the brain it’s time to sleep (For this reason melatonin is nick-named the “sleep hormone”) so giving a low dose may reset that time clock. However, this should only ever be attempted after your dog has had a thorough check over by the vet and any underlying health issues corrected.

Bear in mind that a sore joint, toothache, or the need to toilet are all real problems that could wake a dog and need sorting out in order for the dog to get a good night’s sleep. Giving melatonin in these cases is unlikely to work and may actually cause the dog to be uncomfortable for longer if the <a href=””>underlying problem</a> is ignored.

Alopecia X (Genetic Baldness)

Alopecia is the scientific term for baldness, and this often dramatic looking form of coat loss principally affects the Pomeranian. Unfortunately, despite extensive research these bald buddies often remain that way because no definitive reason for their fur falling out has been identified.

However, what has happened is that various therapies have caused an improvement in some cases, although there seems little rational explanation as to why. Melatonin is one of those therapies. Some dogs that were given a melatonin supplement went on to develop a new growth of plush fur. Scientists aren’t sure why and are inclined to say it was a coincidence. Whether you give this a try for your dog with Alopecia X will depend on whether you prefer the evidence of tried and tested science or are prepared to take a punt.

Poor Appetite

For some dogs taking melatonin has the side effect of stimulating their hunger. Whilst this isn’t great news for an overweight hound on a diet, if your dog is a poor eater then the extra interest in food could come as a relief.

As with those dogs that wake at night, be sure to get your pet pal checked by a vet, since any health problems that cause the dog to lose their appetite much be redressed.

Melatonin: What is it?

This all sounds very interesting but you’re left wondering what melatonin is. We’ve already mentioned it has the nickname the “sleep hormone” and this is because it’s a naturally produced hormone that is especially plentiful in the blood during sleep. The pineal gland in the brain pushes out melatonin at night, which leaves the question: Is this the chicken or the egg? Do high levels of melatonin make us sleep, or do we produce it because we’re asleep?

Whichever way round the explanation is, people take melatonin to help readjust their sleep patterns after a long haul flight or the irregular hours of shift work. It is for this reason that giving melatonin supplements made the jump of being given to dogs.

Is Melatonin Safe for Dogs

You want to help your dog, not harm him, so it’s wise to know can dogs take melatonin or not. Indeed, because melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body, it is considered a supplement rather than a drug. In this respect it is generally considered safe and relatively free from side effects.

When they do occur the side effects tend to be mild and wear off quickly as blood levels go down once the melatonin is stopped. The main side effects to watch out for are:

  • Vomiting and / or diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • An increased heart rate
  • Confusion or increased dullness
  • Tiredness or sleepiness

When wondering “Can I give my dog melatonin and see what happens?” just remember that any underlying problems that might wake your pet or explain the symptoms, should be corrected first. As with any medication or supplement you’re thinking of giving to your dog, first give your vet a quick call and check it’s OK to do.

Factors to Bear in Mind

Before we get carried away it’s important to understand the melatonin in dogs is considered experimental. There are no scientifically tried and tested benefits, and no guarantee that taking melatonin will help your dog. Indeed, many scientists argue any apparent results are just a coincidence…so make your decision to dose or not, with an open mind.

Melatonin for Dogs Dosage

With no formal clinical trials into the melatonin dosage for dogs, the recommendations are based on extrapolations for the dose given to people. This also means that it’s best to play it safe and not give it to those dogs that are more vulnerable such as:

  • Pregnant female dogs
  • Dogs nursing puppies
  • Dogs with liver disease
  • Dogs with clotting problems

Indeed it should be noted that melatonin seems to be linked to blood clotting problems in some patients, and so should not be given with:

  • Aspirin
  • NSAIDs medications such as carprofen or meloxicam

Again, always check with your vet first.

Oral Tablets

Melatonin tablets come in a variety of strengths from 1mg to 10 mg. Typically; around 3 – 6 mg per dog is advised, given two to three times daily. The tablet form is widely available from pharmacies and health food outlets, without prescription.

Injectable Implant

For dogs with Alopecia X a slow release form of melatonin is ideal in order to stimulate hair growth. The implant, Dermatonin, can be injected by your vet in the skin under the dog’s scruff. Each implant works for about four months at a time.

And finally, know that melatonin is not a magical answer to your dog’s sleeping or anxiety disorders, but may help as part of a wider program to retrain or get to the bottom of health issues. On the other hand, when melatonin is easy to obtain and relatively free from side effects, you may decide this is a case of what have you to lose by giving it a go?

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