MELATONIN

 

Melatonin has been found to be helpful when used with dogs who have "thunder-phobia," other noise-related reactions and other stressful situations. Melatonin has been used effectively to reduce seizures in dogs that seize between 11:00 PM and 6:00 AM. Quite a few members of our Canine Epilepsy community have also discovered that it seems to lessen the frequency and/or severity of seizures at other times of the day.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring substance produced by the pineal gland located in the brains of mammals. It is, by definition, a hormone and has been found to be involved in circadian rhythms - those inner cycles that tell all mammals when to sleep and when to wake. In recent years, synthetic melatonin has been marketed for people as a "natural" aid to sleeping.

In the May 2000 issue (Volume 3, Number 5) of The Whole Dog Journal is an article on melatonin and the positive results with noise and thunder-phobic dogs. The article begins on page 3 and is titled "Bring in Da Noise." The article has comments by Dr. Dodman and Dr. Linda Aronson. It does not discuss melatonin and canine epilepsy, but does discuss some of the concerns people might have with use of melatonin and their feelings on it.

Another article with references to the use of melatonin in dogs can be found in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 215, No. 1, July 1999. "Vet Med Today: Animal Behavior Case of the Month" was written by Linda Aronson, DVM, MA; from the Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, North Grafton, MA.

The following is an excerpt from an email sent by Dr. Aronson to one of our Guardian Angels, Rich Brady: "To treat thunderstorm phobia, I use a dose of 3mg for a 35-100 lb dog. Smaller dogs get 1.5 mg, and larger dogs may get 6mg. The dose is given either at first evidence of thunderstorm - dog becomes agitated, distant rumbling of thunder, etc. or prophylactically before the owner leaves the house when thunderstorms are predicted. Dose may be repeated up to 3 times daily. The latter may be used as a dose for animals with more generalized stress related disorders."

Rich has written the following about his use of melatonin with his "pack" of Golden Retrievers: "I have posted a great deal in the past about my successes with melatonin as an adjunct therapy with Jake who had severe cluster seizures every 3 to 4 weeks which we were not able to gain control of until melatonin was added. We have been using melatonin since early 1997. We started with Jake and had good success and give 3mg nightly to our dogs, both the epis and non-epis. We have 6 dogs, currently ranging in weight from 35 lbs to about 90lbs, and 5 of the 6 get 3mg melatonin nightly. Dusty, who we adopted in July 1999, as a special needs Golden Retriever with epilepsy, did get melatonin for a number of months, but it did not seem to be helping him, so I stopped with him. He is a tough case to get control of, but we are slowly making headway. Zay on the other hand who we adopted January 1999, as a special needs Golden with epilepsy is doing great and has not had a seizure since we brought him home over 2 1/2 years ago. Zay was given his first melatonin on the way home in the car 1/99 and has been given 3mg nightly since. We give the melatonin anytime late evening. It seems to take about 30 minutes to start to take effect and help them get to sleep."

Rich recently (May 2002) contacted Dr. Aronson to ask if she had done any further studies with melatonin and/or published any other papers. As Rich says, "It does not benefit all dogs, but it has provided positive results for many, and as always, certainly everyone needs to make their own decisions with what they are comfortable with and what works."

Dr. Aronson's response to Rich follows:
"No, I continue to gather data and continue to find new uses for melatonin, but without research financing, publishing is low on my list of priorities. More and more owners and vets are using melatonin and it is gratifying to know that so many dogs have been helped. No one has done any research to show whether melatonin is safe in pregnant humans, hence the statement on the label, and I have therefore cautioned against its use in pregnant bitches, except in one case where the bitch was absolutely terrified by fireworks being released at the pub next door. Sadly she only had one (very healthy) puppy and he had to be delivered by C-section. However, the owner contacted me after having already gone through a wretched night with a terrified bitch, she feels the fear caused problems with the pregnancy not the melatonin she gave the bitch the next night.

With regard to the other cautions on the melatonin bottle, I have used it, carefully, in dogs with autoimmune disease and also those on MAOIs; none had a problem. To date out of 1000s of dogs taking melatonin (some taking it daily for months and even years) this is the sum of reported side effects: 3 dogs were reported to be hyper. However, two of these belonged to the same owner, who said melatonin had the same effect on her. One dog seemed to become disoriented. He drank copiously and peed in the house (something he'd not done in nine years). The description sounded as if the dog might be mildly Cushingoid, and I recommended this be explored. The owner really just wanted to go ahead and use melatonin but maybe at half the dose, as he was very thunderstorm phobic and on melatonin totally unreactive. All signs of disorientation, and increased drinking and peeing had resolved within 4 hours. One owner reported that her dominant aggressive, dog-aggressive cocker spaniel lay down between obedience exercises, she thought this indicated sleepiness, I think it just meant he was a lot less reactive around the other dogs.

I have had search and rescue dogs successfully given melatonin to combat their fears of flying in turbo prop planes. It was the only treatment that allowed most of them to relax and yet let them perform their duties at the end of the flight.

Success is still running about 80%. Most useful for noise phobias, including thunderstorms, fireworks, gun shot, planes, helicopters, hot air balloons, show site noises, bird song, truck and other road noises. It also seems to help some cases of lick granuloma and separation anxiety.

Please feel free to cross post this information. It seems that melatonin is one of the safest products. Some of the failures I believe result from phobia induced seizure behavior. Others I'm not sure of the reason. Some dogs need to be dosed before the fear is established, others respond even if they are already reacting fearfully to the noise."  -- Linda Aronson, DVM

Guardian Angels Nancy and Tahoe (Australian Shepherd):  have also found that melatonin seems to have some positive effects on Tahoe's seizure activity. Nancy writes: "The brand I buy is by "Natrol"; it comes in 1 mg and 3 mg strengths. You want to use the natural made, vegetarian and not time-released. Generally a dose of 3mg for a 35-100 lb dog. Smaller dogs get 1.5mg and larger dogs may get 6mg. You can give it to your dog about 20 mins before bedtime. Tahoe would also seizure soon after falling asleep. I have seen a big improvement with him and nighttime seizures. I know others who use it for thunderstorm phobia and stressed out pooches."

Joy & Lacey - 56 lb Border Collie/Shepherd cross:  It was suggested by this website to use Melatonin at night if your dog seizes during the middle of the night. That fit Lacey to a T. That was one of the really awful things we had to deal with from the beginning of our journey learning all about canine epilepsy. Lacey always seized in the middle of the night. 

Melatonin has been a lifesaver for us. We are older adults and waking up in the middle of the night was brutal. We went through a very rough period where we were afraid to go to sleep. It may seem silly but we were so worried we wouldn't hear Lacey and wanted to make sure she didn't hurt herself. After using the Melatonin we started to see this pattern change immediately. I give her 3 mg of Melatonin an hour before we go to bed and Lacey started sleeping straight through the night. I will even give her 6 mgs at night if I feel she is twitchy or more than usual restlessness. 

Yesterday was a typical example. We had a really bad weather system pass through Edmonton and the lightening and thunder was severe. A couple of Tornados were sited west of our house and generally Lacey doesn't really react to the storms but the lightening was lighting up the inside of the house and she got scared and started twitching. We gave her some rescue remedy with ice cream and she still was restless and pacing so it was around dinner time so I told my husband to give her a Melatonin. That did the trick. We are very much sold on this product.

Beth and Bailey (Siberian Husky 58 lbs.):  Bailey hasn't had any seizures at night since I started giving him 3 mg of Melatonin an hour before bedtime. Over the week-end I noticed Bailey had been very anxious. I was worried about going to work on Monday, so I set up the video camera. I was gone for about 5 hours and all he did was pace and howl. I gave him a Melatonin when I got home which seemed to help. On Tuesday I set the camera up again, but this time I gave him the 3 mg of Melatonin before I left for work. He slept like a baby all morning. Thank goodness for Melatonin.

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For more information on melatonin, please click here: Melatonin

Melatonin can be purchased in most drug stores over the counter in the vitamin/supplement section. It comes in 1/10mg, 1mg, and 3mg tablets and in liquid form.

General information on what melatonin is, although not canine specific, can be found at:
http://www.melatonin.com