Melatonin Might Soothe Your Anxious Pup

As she ages, and perhaps as her hearing and eyesight fade, Jana has become more anxious and reactive. She gets startled easily and barks when cars come up behind us on walks; we avoid busy streets. She barks at anything wheeled that moves toward us — bikes, scooters, hated skateboards and loathed minivans (and joggers, even though they lack wheels) — but that’s always been true to some extent.

What’s harder to figure out is her evening anxiety. She often (well, it used to be often) would start barking in the evenings. Anxious, high-pitched woofs. The barking sometimes went on for several minutes. Woof. Long pause. Woof woof. Long pause. Etc. Not much fun for me. Or for Cali. Definitely not for the neighbors.

I’ve had some success with the Comfort Zone DAP plug-in. Sometimes a wrap would calm her. But some evenings, nothing worked. When I asked Jana’s personal physician for ideas, stipulating that I wasn’t yet ready for hard-core anti-anxiety meds, she suggested melatonin. A good friend had also suggested melatonin that same week!

With this weird coincidence striking me as a good omen, I decided to try it. It’s not addictive, it doesn’t cause liver damage or other health problems, and it’s not expensive. And, it does seem to help. I started with a single 3 mg. tablet in the evenings, and, with Jana’s doctor’s agreement, recently upped that to 3 mg. morning and evening.

It’s not a miracle cure; Jana’s not a new dog. She still gets anxious sometimes. She still hates skateboards. But the melatonin does seem to take the edge off. She relaxes some evenings. Yesterday, she actually rested her head on my knee and let me stroke her for about 20 minutes. Yes, it really was Jana. No, I did not mix her up with Cali. True to her “no-touch cuddling” credo, she did get up an move after I petted her too many times.

Seriously, though, it is nice to see her relax; maybe a larger dose can relieve more of her anxiety. Maybe she’ll turn into a cuddler like Cali! (OK, let’s not get too carried away…)

Melatonin might have other uses for anxious dogs. The Whole Dog Journal, which tops my short list of highly trusted dog magazines, recommends melatonin for dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms (the linked story might be available only to WDJ subscribers). Some websites (none that I know well enough to put on my trusted list) say melatonin can reduce the number of seizures in epileptic dogs or help with separation anxiety. Fortunately, I don’t have either of those problems, so I can’t comment.

Whatever issue you think melatonin might help your dog resolve, check with your vet first on whether to try it and how much to give.

Also, and this is essential: Check the label. A helpful reader of the xylitol post noted that her brand of chewable melatonin tablets had xylitol! That dog poison seems to turn up everywhere, so reading the label on anything you plan to share with your dog is essential.

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