Is Melatonin for Dogs Safe or Effective? A Vet Weighs In

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It’s nearly midnight on a Tuesday. Snickerdoodle has had her 9 p.m. walk and a day full of running at the dog park, belly rubbing and sufficient treats (#spoiled), but now she can’t seem to just liedown and call it a night. She’s a bit up there in age—fine, she’s a senior, but you’d never know it with that strut—and she has been having difficulty falling and staying asleep for some time now. Call us crazy, but melatonin for dogs is probably your answer.

You might be surprised, but if you asked your vet for a recommendation—like we did when we reached out to Katja Lang, DVM, of Heart of Chelsea Veterinary Group in New York—she’d likely say that the supplement is your best bet for helping your pup sleep at night, and that it has other surprising health benefits too. Melatonin for alopecia? For breast cancer? We’re not barking mad (sorry), we swear!

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So, melatonin is totally safe to give to my dog?

Yes, technically, melatonin is considered a safe supplement for pooches. That said, Dr. Lang warns that the melatonin of the pet world is a lot like the supplements we buy for ourselves from the local pharmacy—not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. “It’s important that the company you get it from is reputable,” she says. While Dr. Lang doesn’t prefer a particular brand, she says to look at the packaging and check for the seal of approval from the National Animal Supplement Council. NASC is a third-party watchdog—no pun intended—that makes unannounced visits to the facilities where supplements like melatonin are made to ensure quality and industry standards.

Great! How much melatonin should I give my dog (And when)?

The rule here is similar to how we determine how much melatonin a person should take. While you wouldn’t give your child as big a dose as you might take yourself, you also wouldn’t give that much to your 91-year-old granny. If your vet advises melatonin for your dog, she’ll also let you know how much Snicks can have based on her weight and age. And just like us, dogs should take melatonin about an hour before bedtime.

How will I know if melatonin is right for my pup?

Dr. Lang says the inability to fall asleep is common in dogs after a certain age because, like people, dogs lose some of their cognitive function that tells them it’s nighttime and it’s time for bed, and melatonin can help them get back into a sleep rhythm. But surprisingly, Dr. Lang advises her patients’ humans to consider giving them melatonin for more than just sleep. It can be used for dogs of all ages who are losing their hair or battling various diseases. Yep.

“Melatonin has also been shown to be effective for any dog with endocrine disease (thyroid or adrenal gland illnesses) and hair-loss disorders like alopecia,” she says, “and it’s even been linked to slowing down mammary (breast) cancer tumors in dogs.”

Melatonin is certainly not an infallible miracle worker for sleep or a cure-all for serious diseases like cancer, but its track record for safety and relative effectiveness is hard to beat. The supplement is safer for dogs than prescription drugs and other medications, Dr. Lang says, so it’s worth a shot to help your dog—and you—get some much-needed shut-eye.