Q&A With Dr. Katy: Should I Give My Dog Melatonin?
If you’ve ever returned from vacation to face a bout of jet lag, or occasionally experience difficulty falling asleep, you might have reached for melatonin.
Melatonin, a hormone that is naturally produced by our bodies, is made by the pineal glad in the brain and plays a key role in regulating your circadian rhythm — the natural, 24-hour internal clock that controls sleepiness and wakefulness.
You and your pet have a lot in common when it comes to staying comfortable and guarding against the painful impact of aging.
So if you want to take one big step to help your dog or cat stay healthy, active and playful as the years go by, then please don’t ignore the problem of inflammation.
For humans, melatonin is known for promoting sleep, as it is the most studied natural remedy for insomnia. But for canines, research shows that melatonin may help with a few different conditions. Here are a few health concerns by which your pup may benefit from taking melatonin.
1. Hair Loss
Many dogs experience seasonal hair loss, beginning in early spring or late fall and commonly affecting the dog’s flank and back. Known as canine alopecia, this condition typically lasts for six months before fur growth and thickening resumes.
Research has identified melatonin as useful in promoting fur regrowth. Delivered either orally or by implants under the skin, studies have shown it to be successful in treating 50-75 percent of seasonal alopecia cases.
It’s not certain what role melatonin supplements play in this regrowth, but researchers suspect the relationship between melatonin, sunlight and the body’s circadian rhythm combines to help trigger growth.
2. Weight Gain
Melatonin has also been shown to help promote beneficial weight gain in dogs, such as after surgery, mistreatment or malnutrition, or illness. Researchers suspect the hormone has an effect on regulating appetite, helping to ignite the dog’s interest in healthy eating.
One of the more studied areas where melatonin is beneficial is with the treatment of anxiety — dogs who are chronically stressed, have fears or experience separation anxiety.
In 1999, Dr. Linda Aronson of Tufts University studied melatonin’s role in these issues. In her published findings, she showed evidence that melatonin supplements eased signs of distress in 80 percent of the dogs she treated. Her work has since been referred to for bringing relief from many anxiety related issues, such as separation anxiety, fear of thunderstorms, stress or noise phobias.
Now, it’s important to note that melatonin may be a good option for some dogs, but there are other far more effective natural options to consider when it comes to easing your pup’s anxiety, such as by supplementing your pet’s diet with calming herbs like passion flower, valerian and chamomile, as well as with essential nutrients like the B vitamins and vitamin E.
Don’t know how to tell if your dog is feeling stressed? Check out our article 5 Signs Your Dog is Stressed and How You Can Help.
How to Give Melatonin to Your Dog
Although melatonin is a natural substance, always start by asking your trusted veterinarian to make sure some other condition isn’t causing your dog’s symptoms. Your vet is also the best person to advise you on the correct dose for your dog based on weight, age and any other medicines being taken.
Once you get the okay, can purchase any form of melatonin for your dog — you don’t need to locate a canine-specific formula. Be sure to check the label and choose one that doesn’t contain any other substances or additives. Because it is not regulated by the FDA, different brands of melatonin may vary in quality, so purchase from a well known and respected manufacturer.
Some dogs experience stomach distress or sleepiness at the start. Side effects such as these often clear up within the first week or two. Overall, research reports that most dogs tolerate it well.
Natural remedies to boost your dog’s health are always beneficial. If your dog is experiencing hair loss, suffering from anxiety, or needs to put on some healthy weight, talk to your vet about melatonin as a means to manage his symptoms.
Dr. Katy Nelson is the mother of five – two human and three animal – kids, an avid nutrition and fitness enthusiast, and an admittedly rabid Louisiana sports fan. She is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA., as well as the host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. A Certified Veterinary Journalist (CVJ) accredited by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ), Dr. Katy is the Animal Health Reporter for ABC7 News, and serves as “Dr. Pawz” on WTOP Radio. Dr. Katy is also a founding partner of PetsMove.org, a national health and fitness initiative aimed at getting people healthy alongside their dogs, and serves as a media and marketing consultant for numerous pet-related companies and media outlets.
A lover of all animals, Dr. Katy carves out time for many charitable organizations in the DC area and beyond. She is also the co-executive producer on “Tell Them I Am Kind,” a documentary set to air on the PBS Broadcasting network in 2015. The documentary tells the story of the family of Catherine Violet Hubbard, one of the 20 children killed in December of 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and their mission to build an animal sanctuary in her honor.