AUSTIN, TEXAS — Earlier this summer, Pet Honesty introduced its first non-hemp calming supplement for dogs. While the formula features several science-backed calming ingredients, including known and emerging ones, the “hero ingredient” in these new supplements is melatonin, according to Greg Reinhart, Ph.D., vice president of research and development at Pet Honesty.
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the brain. Production of this hormone is linked to the time of day, decreasing during the daylight hours and increasing at night or in darkness, according to Mayo Clinic. In supplement form, melatonin is recognized as a safe way to combat certain sleep disorders, and even anxiety in some situations, in humans. But what about in dogs?
“Humans have been taking melatonin for decades, so it's a very popular search term,” Reinhart told Pet Food Processing. “…This is an ingredient with a plethora of safety and efficacy data behind it. In fact, dogs have been used as a model to generate information for humans on the safety and efficacy of melatonin.”
While hemp-based ingredients — like hemp seed oil, CBD, CBG and other non-THC derivatives of the cannabis plant — have flooded the pet care market in recent years, federal regulators were slow to the draw, resulting in hemp inclusion laws for food and animal food products that vary state-by-state.
This uncertain regulatory environment paints a complicated picture of hemp for pet parents, especially those seeking calming or anxiety relief products for their pups. While Pet Honesty offers a handful of hemp-based calming supplements for dogs, the company wanted to explore different approaches to meet increasing pet owner curiosity for non-hemp calming alternatives.
Why melatonin, and why now?
According to search engine data by Answer the Public, the terms “melatonin to dogs” and “melatonin for dogs” were classified as highly searched within a pool of 450,000 recent search queries. Additionally, search queries comparing hemp-based ingredients to melatonin and their relative safety and efficacy for dogs are also being frequently searched, leading Pet Honesty to the conclusion that melatonin could be a veritable crossroad between pet owner curiosity and product innovation.
“We knew that hemp was a hot topic and we knew that melatonin was coming up more and more, and if you look at search engine terms, those two were very prominent,” Reinhart said. “This data led us to believe that pet parents are seeking out melatonin, or at least they want more information about it.”
Reinhart and his team considered numerous scientific sources related to the safety of melatonin for dogs, including studies involving both chronic and acute ingestion. In its product research and testing, Pet Honesty found its Melatonin Calming Max Strength soft chews — which contain 650 micrograms, or 0.65 milligrams, of melatonin apiece — were well below both chronic and acute safety thresholds.
“Even if, by mistake, a dog consumes a whole jar of these chews, we are way below those thresholds as well,” Reinhart said. “We feel really good about the safety.”
Aside from determining safety, the company also conducted a clinical study on efficacy and taste. The study involved dogs with known anxious tendencies, and Reinhart noted the results “exceeded expectations.”
Ninety percent of pet owners who administered Pet Honesty’s Melatonin Calming Max Strength supplement reported their dogs seemed more relaxed in new environments, which included traveling, a change in environment, or when a pet owner left the house. Additionally, 86% of pet parents reported a marked improvement in anxious behaviors.
“When dogs are left alone or there’s a change of environment that they can sense, sometimes they will find outlets to relieve that anxiety, and sometimes those outlets are destructive — to themselves or to the area in which they live — and this product can really help with that,” Reinhart said.
As for taste, Pet Honesty’s feeding trials for the new supplement resulted in a 100% acceptance rate. Reinhart also shared the company was pleased to offer a calming supplement that wouldn’t simply put pets to sleep.
“It’s not a sedative — it reduces anxiety and brings out the best in your dog under stressful situations,” he said.
With the boxes for safety, efficacy and taste all checked, Reinhart described the innovation as a “win-win-win” for pets and pet owners alike.
“There’s very strong efficacy data with dogs around melatonin’s impact on reducing anxiety and creating relaxation, and it happens as soon as 30 minutes,” he shared. “It’s pretty fast-acting and, while it’s not the only thing in the product, melatonin is our hero ingredient, and we have it at levels that achieve that benefit pretty quickly.”
Other non-hemp alternatives
While melatonin may be the star in Pet Honesty’s latest calming supplement for dogs, the formulation is fortified with several other ingredients touting calming and relaxation benefits. Unsurprisingly, and not unlike melatonin, many of these have been seen in the human supplement space for years.
“There are many, many things that could have contributed to the tremendous clinical results we saw, but the ingredients we call out on the front of the package are melatonin, chamomile and L-theanine,” Reinhart said. “L-theanine is getting more and more visibility and acknowledgment. In the botanical world, it’s found in green tea. Both L-theanine and chamomile are known to cause relaxation.”
Another tried-and-true calming ingredient featured in the formula is L-tryptophan, which is found naturally and in high levels in turkey.
“After a Thanksgiving meal, when people get drowsy, it could be due to the L-tryptophan effects (and possibly overeating),” he said. “When it’s metabolized, L-tryptophan is known to cause relaxation and reduce anxiety.”
The formula also features valerian root, passion flower and ginger root, as well as two emerging ingredients with exciting potential as calming agents — lemon balm and Ashwagandha.
Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, is an herb belonging to the mint family and, according to WebMD, contains chemicals that induce a calming effect. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a classification of plant-based substances with stress-reducing properties, according to WebMD. While both of these ingredients are promising, further research is needed to understand the full benefits they may offer to keep pets calm.
Recent market research has pointed to the growing popularity of calming supplements for dogs as well as cats.
According to a recent white paper by Kerry, roughly 11% of pet owners surveyed reported giving their pets an anti-anxiety or calming supplement. Additionally, historical pet ownership data clocked calming supplement, chew and treat usage among US pet owners at 21% in 2022, up from just 5% in 2018.
This trend is expected to gain momentum, in spite of hemp-based ingredients remaining in regulatory limbo. As further research is conducted on calming ingredients that are safe for pets, the industry is bound and determined to give the term “chill pill” a new meaning.
Read more about Pet Honesty’s Melatonin Calming supplement for dogs here.
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