Melatonin and Lignan Supplements Treat Atypical Cushings in Dogs

Melatonin and Lignan Supplements Treat Atypical Cushings in DogsSince I practice alternative medicine, I get questions all the time about the use of Melatonin and Lignans to treat Atypical Cushing’s in Dogs. How does the treatment work? Is it effective? And are there any side effects to the treatment? These are pretty much everyday questions in my practice!

What is Atypical Cushings in a Dog?

Atypical Cushing’s is just that, not your typical regular type. Regular Cushing’s is characterized by dogs that drink too much, pee too much, are pot-bellied and often have concurrent skin issues. These dogs are diagnosed by a series of tests including but not limited to the low or high dose dexamethasone suppression test, urine cortisol creatinine ratio and Dex/ACTH stim test. Regular Cushings is treated with typical Western drugs such as Lysodren and the newer drug Vetoryl.

On the other hand, atypical Cushings is suspected when dogs exhibit clinical signs and biochemical lab tests indicative of Cushing’s yet these dogs are negative to the general tests mentioned prior. In general, these dogs have the same signs and symptoms as Cushing’s but the lab tests do not support the clinical diagnosis. So, what do you do next?

Testing for Atypical Cushings

The next step is to test for Atypical Cushing’s. These tests are performed at my alma mater The University of Tennessee.

Fundamentally instead of testing for cortisol, these tests are looking for changes in the biochemical profile of the sex steroids. Sex steroids are secreted by a portion of the adrenal gland and can sometimes induce directly and/or indirectly the same syndrome associated with typical Cushing’s Disease.


Sometimes in my practice, when dogs have elevated liver enzymes, specifically ALP, I assume that they may have Atypical Cushings and treat them with Melatonin and Lignans.

Melatonin and Lignan Treatment for Atypical Cushings

The treatment protocol I recommend for Atypical Cushings is Melatonin and Lignans.

Melatonin should be given twice daily, although you will hear different opinions on twice daily vs. daily dosing. I recommend twice daily dosing anywhere from 3-6mg each dose, depending on the dog. Melatonin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland that effectively lowers the deleterious effects of estrogen.

Note: Make sure you read the label and give your dog supplements containing melatonin only. Colorings and additives may be toxic to your dog.

Lignans come from two sources:

  • Flaxseed Lignan Hulls.  Flaxseed lignan hulls come from the USA and the hulls contain more lignan than flaxseed alone
  • HMR Lignans. HMR Lignans come from the pine knots of Norway spruce trees

Lignans are weak estrogens that cause down-regulation of estrogen production from the adrenal gland in Atypical Cushing’s cases. Melatonin works by inhibiting certain enzymes.

In addition to Melatonin and Lignans, I usually also use Eastern Herbals and Food Therapy treatments on the owner and condition of their pet.

While I was doing some research on Melatonin and Lignans, I spoke with Steve Utter of Lignans for Life. I found Steve to be very helpful and knowledgable about Melatonin and Lignans supplementation, and highly recommend his products. 

Read The Dog Owner’s Guide to Cushing’s Disease


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  1. says

    On the advice of an internal medicine specialist we have been treating our 7-year old Beagle with atypical Cushing’s disease (diagnosed by the University of Tennessee’s test) with the lignans and melatonin (from for about a year. We just had the Univ. of TN re-run the adrenal panel, and my dog only had two elevated hormone values this time, as opposed to six last year. The melatonin and lignans must be working! My dog seems better and is happier!