Dogs have similar circadian rhythms to humans. Like humans, a dog’s wake patterns also follow a diurnal sleep rhythm, characterized by being more active during the day and sleeping during the night. Dogs also experience sleep issues that can disrupt sleep, like chronic pain and cognitive issues.
With these similarities, dog owners might wonder if the melatonin supplements they take for sleep could also help their beloved pet. While the research on the efficacy and use of melatonin with dogs is limited, there is some promising information about helping dogs get the rest they need.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone released in our brains in the evening to signal to our body that it’s time for sleep. Melatonin helps reduce feelings of anxiety and calms the body. Synthetic melatonin is available as an over-the-counter supplement in pill or chewable tablet form, and as teas and tinctures. It’s relatively affordable and often a first step in treating insomnia and other sleep-related issues.
Melatonin seems to have a calming effect on dogs, like it does on humans. In a study of healthy dogs getting ready for a surgery, those that were given melatonin before the procedure were more calm and required less initial anesthesia.
In addition to calming effects, melatonin has been shown to be beneficial in other ways for canines. In another study of dogs, those who were administered melatonin experienced less initial anesthesia compared to those that did not take melatonin. In a separate study, dogs that were given melatonin after castration were better able to regulate hormones that are usually out of balance after castration.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), melatonin is a safe supplement to give to your dog. Melatonin has little risk for harmful side effects. The most common side effect is lethargy upon waking the next morning. However, please ensure that you’re purchasing melatonin free of added fillers or coatings that could be harmful, or the sweetener xylitol, which can hurt dogs.
While there is little risk of serious side effects from melatonin, it may interact with other medications your dog is on. Talk to your veterinarian before starting your dog on any new supplements, melatonin included.
The literature is limited when it comes to the appropriate amount of melatonin to give your dog. According to Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook, the appropriate dose for dogs with sleeping disorders is between 3 and 6 milligrams. If your dog is suffering from anxiety disorders, then Plumb’s Handbook indicates 0.1 milligram of melatonin per kilogram of body weight.
Talking to your veterinarian about the right amount for your dog based on their age, weight, and any other health issues or medications is your best course of action. If your veterinarian recommends giving your dog melatonin, make sure you purchase it in the right amount. Supplement options that are preweighed allow you to easily administer the correct dosage according to your veterinarian.
If you’re going to use melatonin to help your dog relax before bed or feel less anxiety before a procedure, administer the appropriate dose approximately two hours before bedtime or veterinary appointment. This time frame allows for the melatonin to be absorbed into your dog’s body for maximum effectiveness by the desired time.