Most of us are familiar with the use of melatonin as a sleep aid for humans, but did you know it can be useful for dogs as well? As a matter of fact, it can do much more than help a restless dog rest. It can also assist with anxiety, alopecia, seizures, and even Cushing’s disease in dogs. Melatonin is an important hormone and when levels go out of wack issues can arise. Fortunately, we have supplements to help us and our furry ones avoid this.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is widespread in the mammalian body and is released mostly but not exclusively by the pineal gland. Other parts of the body that produce it in much lower concentrations include the eye, the thyroid gland and pancreas, the gut, the skin, and white blood cells (immune cells). So how does it work in your dog’s body? Well, it interacts with melatonin receptors known as:
- MT-1 receptors
- MT-2 receptors
These receptors sit on the surface of cells and are linked to G-proteins (G protein coupled receptors), through which they have their effects. Both of these receptors are crucial for healthy sleep cycles. As a result, melatonin helps your dog’s sleep-wake cycle stay healthy by telling them when it’s time to go to sleep. There are also MT-3 receptors that have anti-oxidant effects. MT-3 receptors are located inside of cells (intracellular).
Melatonin is naturally made in your dog’s body in response to changes in light levels (where it’s known as endogenous melatonin). Consequently, it fluctuates depending on the levels of light or darkness in the outside environment.
For example, after the sun goes down, your dog’s pineal gland releases more melatonin, with levels reaching their peak between 11 PM and 3 AM. As a result, there is more melatonin in your dog’s body at night than during the day. These fluctuations are responsible for your dog’s sleep-wake cycle, also known in mammalian physiology as the circadian rhythm.
In 1958, A.B.Lerner was the first person to synthetically produce melatonin in a laboratory. Today manufacturers can produce synthetic melatonin in different ways. Generally speaking, there are two sources of melatonin. One comes from the pineal gland of cows or other “natural” sources, however, this can contain contaminants like viruses or bacteria. Alternatively, the widespread source in use is “manmade” synthetic melatonin which has zero contaminants.
Why Use Melatonin for Dogs
There are numerous uses of melatonin in dogs, including:
Dogs are just like humans; they can suffer from anxiety. The number one type of anxiety that dogs suffer from is separation anxiety. However, melatonin can help prevent the onset of separation anxiety as well as keep your dog calm during a potentially stressful event like a car ride or a visit to the veterinarian. Some veterinarians even use it prior to anesthesia for surgeries to reduce dogs’ anxiety.
Melatonin can also be useful in helping dogs stay calm during loud noises like thunderstorms or fireworks. Combining melatonin with other natural calming remedies can boost melatonin’s power to reduce fear-related incidences.
Much like their human owners, dogs can find tremendous relief from insomnia with melatonin supplements. Remember, melatonin is responsible for effectively controlling your dog’s sleep-wake cycle.
Dogs may struggle with insomnia due to:
- Pent up energy
- Nighttime noises (dogs hear everything)
- Emotional turmoil (moving to a new home or environment change)
- Physical problems
- Medication side effects
According to some surprising studies , melatonin is quite effective at treating seasonal alopecia (sometimes known as flank alopecia or alopecia X). This type of canine alopecia is characterized by bald patches and hair loss on either side of the dog’s abdomen (or “flanks”).
Regular treatments for this condition can carry a host of nasty side effects, but melatonin has been shown to be effective in about 40% of cases and is virtually free of side effects. In order to be effective, a nightly dose of 3 milligrams was given to small dogs while bigger dogs received a nightly dose between 6 and 12 milligrams. A veterinarian may suggest two doses a day if one a day shows no effect.
Epileptic dogs that suffer from seizures may benefit from melatonin. There is evidence that it can help prevent seizures and while this has not been studied in detail in dogs with epilepsy yet, some owners report a marked decrease in their dogs’ seizures if treated with melatonin. According to ongoing research, this might be due to a direct effect to decrease the excitability of nerves, as well as effects on the circadian rhythm of your dog. Epileptic dogs typically have seizures at night between 11 PM and 6 AM.
This is a hormonal imbalance where there is an excess of the steroidal hormone cortisol in your dog’s blood. It is usually caused by a tumor in the pituitary or adrenal glands that over-secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The administration of melatonin will help block your dog from the uptake of the cortisol hormone.
As you can see, melatonin has a wide variety of benefits for dogs. But how safe is it?
Is Melatonin Safe for Dogs?
Yes, it is! In fact, melatonin is an exceptionally safe supplement in both humans and dogs. However, there are some rare side effects to be aware of in dogs, including:
- Lower fertility rates in female dogs
- Increase in heart rate
- Gastrointestinal distress/diarrhea
- Insulin resistance in diabetic dogs
If you are planning on giving your dog melatonin supplements, it’s absolutely imperative that you check for the ingredient xylitol. This artificial sweetener is extremely toxic to dogs, so be sure you avoid any supplements that contain it.
There are melatonin products made specifically for dogs and they should only contain safe ingredients, however its always good to check the label just to be sure.
Ultimately, if you are planning on giving your dog melatonin, you should consult with your veterinarian. This is because some veterinary medications may interact poorly with melatonin and certain conditions may actually worsen. Your veterinarian will know how best to proceed to avoid these potential complications.
Finally, you should avoid giving any melatonin supplements to puppies as well as pregnant or lactating dogs.
How Much Melatonin Can You Give Your Dog?
Again, you should check with your veterinarian when determining the dosage to give your dog. This is because each dog will likely have individual needs that can vary due to the nature of their health and underlying conditions.
In most cases, the veterinarian will adhere to a general philosophy of start low and go slow. In other words, they will introduce your dog to a small initial dose and then gradually increase it until the underlying condition is properly treated.
You can use your dog’s size to determine its melatonin dosage. Here are some general guidelines to get an idea of the proper dosage:
- Less than 10 pounds – 1 milligram
- Less than 25 pounds – 1.5 milligrams
- 26 to 100 pounds – 3 milligrams
- Over 100 pounds – 3 to 6 milligrams
These amounts should not be administered more than 3 times a day.
Additionally, melatonin supplements are available in the following forms:
You can administer any of these forms with or without food. When taken on an empty stomach, the supplement should start working in 10 to 15 minutes. With the right dosage, the effects should last up to 8 hours. So, if you want your dog to sleep peacefully through the night, make sure you administer it right before their usual bedtime.
Can You Mix Melatonin with CBD?
Absolutely you can! Not only is this perfectly safe, but melatonin and cannabidiol (CBD) are natural complements of one another.
Let’s take a moment to talk about CBD – it is a cannabinoid extracted from the cannabis plant that does not cause intoxication. This is especially important in dogs since they do not always react well to intoxicating substances and may become aggravated under these circumstances. However, it still has all the medicinal benefits frequently associated with cannabinoids!
So how does CBD work in your dog’s body? Well, the same way it works in all mammals (including humans): the endocannabinoid system (ECS)! The ECS is an incredibly important part of mammalian physiology. It’s a control and regulatory network that is comprised of G protein-coupled receptors (GCPRs) known specifically as:
- Cannabinoid-1 receptors (CB-1)
- Cannabinoid-2 receptors (CB-2)
These are located all over the mammalian body and, together with the ECS, are responsible for controlling a whole host of important processes. These include:
- Inflammation and pain
- Immune function
- Digestion and metabolism
- Body temperature
- Circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles
- Motivation and reward
Melatonin & CBD – Interactions & Similarities
So what do CBD and melatonin have in common? Well, remember those MT-1 and MT-2 receptors that we mentioned above? Amazingly enough, these are also GCPRs, meaning that they are closely related in structure and function to CB-1 and CB-2 receptors.
In other words, melatonin and cannabidiol interact with similar receptors in your dog’s body. They are like natural allies and will help maintain an overall state of healthy balance known as homeostasis.
Furthermore, many people use CBD to create calmness for themselves and their pets. If you have a particularly agitated dog or are struggling with getting them to sleep normally, the combination of the two may work twice as well.
So, there’s no need to wait. Melatonin is safe and effective, it may work even better when coupled with CBD. Dogs of all sizes tolerate both of these supplements well. So pick some up today and help your dog stay calm and happy, even during the worst road trips or thunderstorms!