Many dogs suffer from anxiety, whether from separation, fireworks, or other cues.
Most dog owners try non-chemical solutions like positive reinforcements or anxiety vests, but some situations call for administering medicinal help to your furry family member.
Pet stores carry treats and concoctions to help calm your dog, all of which vary in their success as widely as in their ingredients. But for those looking to help your dog relax with an all-natural, human grade solution without breaking the bank, melatonin may be the right choice.
What is melatonin?
You may have heard of melatonin in connection to helping humans sleep, and tests are showing that it serves a similar function for dogs. Melatonin is a hormone secreted naturally by nerve cells to help regulate our circadian rhythms (our bodily rhythms of wakefulness and sleepiness). When given to your pup, though, it allows them to relax rather than fall asleep. Melatonin works as a calming agent, not a sedative.
According to articles from veterinarian Linda Aronson and the Whole Dog Journal, melatonin has been used to treat dogs suffering from fear of noises, epilepsy, even hair loss. Dr. Aronson first observed the positive effects of melatonin in her own dog: her Bearded Collie was terrified of thunderstorms, and no therapies seemed to help. But when she administered a small dose of melatonin to her dog, she was able to remain calm and ignore the thunder completely. Under her later study, about 80% of dogs responded well to melatonin treatment for anxiety issues.
Any thoughtful dog owner at this point likely has the same question: but does it have any side effects? Because melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, it has very few side effects for dogs. Melatonin has been noticed to cause upset stomach or itching in a few dogs, as well as brief episodes of confusion or increased heart rate. However, side effects are rarely observed in dogs that receive the proper dose; problems mainly occur with over-medication.
Ensure that any melatonin pills you purchase have no added ingredients like xylitol that may be toxic to your dog. As always, talk to your vet before giving your dog any new medication, especially if your dog is on other medications that may interact with the hormone.
How do I use melatonin for my dog?
Melatonin can be purchased at any drugstore or even large grocery stores, in a wide variety of strengths. Make sure that you purchase plain melatonin tablets (usually round and white) rather than time-release tablets, capsules, or other forms. Buy the appropriate strength for the right dose for your dog’s size.
Dosing by sizeLess than 30lbs: 1.5 milligrams
30-100lbs: 3 milligrams
100+ lbs: up to 6 milligrams
Melatonin tablets can be administered to your dog like any other pill: wrap in a favorite soft treat, crush and sprinkle over food, or give directly by mouth. If possible, give the tablet(s) to your dog half an hour before you anticipate them to grow anxious for maximum benefit. After the medicine has been administered, your dog should grow relaxed and be able to ignore any instigator of fear or anxiety. If your dog displays any abnormal behaviors, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Emalie Cockrell is a writer and dog mom living in northwest Arkansas. She holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas. She and her husband, Connor, take their rescue pup Karhu out on the trails for camping, hiking, backpacking, running, and rock climbing any chance they get.