On recommendation of our veterinarian, I recently started Earl on over-the-counter melatonin to help reduce his pacing and nighttime restlessness.
Melatonin is a neurohormone that is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. Its primary functions are regulating the body’s sleep and wake cycles – the “internal body clock.” Levels fluctuate according to time of day. They rise by evening, remain high during the night, and drop in the morning.
In dogs, melatonin has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including separation anxiety, noise phobias, and sleep disturbances.
You may remember from my post “Safe Spaces” that one of Earl’s primary cognitive dysfunction symptoms is nighttime restlessness. His ability to nap after periods of sustained enrichment and exercise has decreased, as is his ability to settle from early evening until 9 pm. What used to be a time for napping and the occasional puzzle toy or game has turned into a consistent block of pacing and restlessness.
I started giving Earl melatonin a week ago after discussing dosing with our veterinarian. The goal is to help regulate his sleep-wake cycle, and to promote relaxation in the evening. Thus far, I’ve noticed a slight improvement in his ability to nap and sleep peacefully through the night.
In digging for more research on melatonin in senior dogs, I found some interesting morsels:
- According to Dr. Scott Nimmo MRCVS BVMS, “Melatonin has been used to help sleep patterns in pets that are very active at night and not sleeping at the right time. This can sometimes occur in older dogs (sundowner syndrome). Basically it helps re-set the animal’s biological clock.”
- Gary Landsberg, DVM, recommends melatonin as a natural therapy to treat specific clinical symptoms like anxiety and sleep problems.
- Melatonin is shown to have antioxidant properties, furthering its benefits for senior dogs: Kline, 2002 , S Pineda et al, 2014. Diets rich in antioxidants may reduce cognitive dysfunction (Cotman et al, 2007) and improve learning ability in senior dogs.
- For more information on melatonin as an antioxidant: Reiter et al, 2003.
*I am not a veterinarian, and this is not a replacement for veterinary advice. Please consult your veterinarian before starting any new medication or supplement with your dog.
– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.