When you have trouble sleeping, you may reach for a melatonin supplement to ease yourself off to dreamland. But what about your favorite four-legged friend? Can you use melatonin for dogs, and will it help them sleep? While it’s important to speak with your veterinarian before giving your dog medication of any kind, here’s what to know about melatonin and man’s best friend.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone. In humans, it helps regulate the natural sleep cycle. In dogs, melatonin has sedative and calming benefits, which means it has a few clinical uses. It may be prescribed by a vet to treat:
- Seasonal alopecia, a hair disorder
- Anxiety, phobia and nervousness relating to noise or disorientation, including separation anxiety
- Sleep disorders, particularly in elderly dogs
In humans, natural melatonin production declines with age. The same is true with dogs, which can cause insomnia.
Is Melatonin Safe for Dogs?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), melatonin is generally very safe for dogs. But while it can be used safely for many dogs, there are exceptions. “It should not be used in dogs with autoimmune diseases or in breeding dogs,” cautions Dr. Ross Elton, DVM and owner of Advanced Veterinary Care. “Melatonin is also thought to change the effectiveness of steroids if being given together.”
Can Dogs Overdose on Melatonin?
It’s possible, if your very small dog managed to get into an entire bottle of melatonin supplements, for example. But if you follow your vet’s dosage recommendations, overdose risks are quite low. “Because there is such a wide margin of safety, the risk of overdosing is very minimal,” says Elton.
It is important to check with your vet about the right melatonin supplement before administering it to your dog. “Some melatonin products have xylitol in them, which is a product toxic to dogs,” he says.
How Does Melatonin Affect Dogs?
Melatonin appears to have a calming effect on dogs, much the same way it does with humans. One study from 2019 found that dogs treated with melatonin prior to surgery were calmer, leading researchers to conclude that melatonin could be used to minimize a dog’s excitement level before general anesthesia, which reduces the required dose.
For dogs, melatonin is usually given in the form of pills, drops, capsules, or powders and liquids mixed into food. Some forms of melatonin for dogs, such as those for skin treatments, are applied in creams or lotions.
Does Melatonin Help Dogs Fall Asleep?
Melatonin has calming and sedative effects on dogs, which can help them relax enough to fall asleep. In mammals, melatonin is the sleep hormone. It has a regulatory role on sleep-wake cycles and serves as a “signal of darkness” that tells the brain it’s time to rest.
Melatonin Side Effects in Dogs
According to current research, there are very few side effects of melatonin in dogs. However, some dogs may still exhibit symptoms of side effects, including:
- Upset stomach, including cramps
- Increased heart rate
When Should You Give Your Dog Melatonin?
Current research finds that melatonin may be beneficial for dogs experiencing severe anxiety, which could affect sleep duration. Senior dogs experiencing insomnia may also benefit. According to Dr. Danielle Rutherford, DVM, and consultant for Bausch & Lomb’s Project Watson, melatonin is one medication vets may prescribe to treat sleep issues.
“Dogs that suffer from night wakefulness due to cognitive dysfunction or other sleep disorders may be prescribed antihistamines such as benadryl, melatonin, or sedative medications such as trazodone, acepromazine or gabapentin to encourage sleep,” she says. “Dogs that are suffering from insomnia related to pain, anxiety or another medical condition should be treated for the underlying condition to relieve barriers to acquiring sleep.”
Melatonin Dosage for Dogs
Melatonin dosages for dogs vary, so you’ll need to speak to your vet. Dr. Shelby Baker, DVM and owner of Damonte Ranch Animal Hospital, says that standard dosing for dogs is between 3 and 6 milligrams per day.
However, the right dosage for your dog will depend on their age, weight, and the condition being treated, as well as any other medical conditions that your dog may have.
Why You Should Talk to Your Vet Before Giving Your Dog Melatonin
Before giving your dog melatonin, it’s best to speak with your vet and schedule a check-up to identify what’s causing the sleep issue. That way, you can avoid treating a symptom of what might be a larger health issue.
“Depending upon the underlying cause for the lack of sleep, these medications can be appropriate,” says Elton. “But in certain cases when there are other underlying causes, these medications may worsen the other causes.”
If your vet feels that melatonin is appropriate for your dog, he or she can also advise on the best type of melatonin to use, as well as dosing guidelines.
The Last Word from Sleepopolis
Many vets prescribe melatonin for dogs who are experiencing conditions like anxiety, nervousness, phobias, and sleep disorders. It’s generally considered very safe for dogs. But before giving your dog melatonin for sleep, see your vet. A dog experiencing changes in sleep patterns may have an underlying health condition that should be addressed.