If you believe the hype, coconut oil is a miraculous cure for everything. Arthritis? Weight loss? Infection? Memory? Bad day? Taxes? No problem – coconut oil to the rescue! That one ingredient finds its way into everything from smoothies to face creams. And the claims pile up on social media. With so much praise, you might wonder: is coconut oil good for dogs? Is this miracle product just as effective in the canine world?
Coconut Oil 101
Coconut oil gets processed from the meat of coconuts harvested from palm trees. The oil itself consists of 80-90% saturated fats. That’s A LOT of fat! In comparison, butter only contains 63% saturated fat, and pork lard (do people eat that?) has just 39% saturated fat. So while people tout the wonders of coconut oil and weight loss, you get more fat than you would from other sources.
People justify the consumption of coconut oil – for people and dogs – because most of that saturated fat consists of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). MCTs count as “good” fats – the ones that provide fuel and energy. There are also claims that MCTs have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. However, those “facts” come from research with test tubes – not real-world data. So keep some healthy skepticism.
The MCT Controversy
People think coconut oil is good for dogs because of the “healthy” MCTs. (Even though all that saturated fat is still grossly unhealthy for overweight dogs.) What most people fail to understand is half of MCTs come from lauric acid. Lauric acid counts as an MCT, but it behaves more like a long-chain triglyceride (LCT) – the BAD kind of fat. This means it tends to go into fat STORAGE (which no one likes).
In 2018, epidemiologist Karin Michels issued a warning on YouTube about the dangers of coconut oil consumption for humans. She cited the high levels of saturated fat in coconut oil, claiming it was “one of the worst things you can eat.” Her video’s current views top ONE MILLION, and the backlash was ferocious. People didn’t want to accept the warning.
Coconut Oil and Dogs
So is coconut oil good for dogs? It’s a grey zone, similar to cats and bread. In the loosest terms, feeding your dog coconut oil is safe, but there are consequences. Using coconut oil topically poses less risk. Is it wrong to give your dog coconut oil now and then? Again, it’s a grey zone. You need to understand the risks.
Risks of Coconut Oil and Dogs
The ASPCA advises AGAINST coconut oil and dogs. Why? The biggest concern is a risk for inflammation of the lining of the intestinal tract. This can result in:
- Abdominal pain
- Hunching of the back
- Reluctance to lay down
- Refusal to eat
What causes that irritation? Those saturated fats. Fat, in general, causes inflammation of the gut and pancreas. Frequent consumption of coconut oil (say, daily) can lead to a condition known as leaky gut in dogs (and people).
Coconut Oil, Dogs, and Leaky Gut
The lining of the intestinal tract consists of a single layer of epithelial cells. That lining decides what stays within the stomach and what needs to pass through to the bloodstream. When spaces between the cells widen due to inflammation, leaky gut results.
Now, instead of microscopic toxins and waste products passing through the lining, undigested food particles get through. You don’t want such things in your dog’s bloodstream; they cause havoc. If the gram-negative bacteria (which produce endotoxins) found in the stomach leak through, they trigger immune responses throughout your dog’s body. Now your dog is subject to inflammation in other organs, resulting in a condition known as metabolic endotoxemia.
Continued use of coconut oil and dogs with leaky gut have the potential to suffer from:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
As holistic veterinarian, Dr. Jean Hofve states, “There is no good physiologic reason to feed coconut oil to pets, and little research to support the claims made for it. Most of the purported beliefs of coconut oil are not unique. Many other fats will do the same, but are safer and healthier.”
Alternatives to Coconut Oil and Dogs
Coconut oil’s MCTs lack crucial omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential for dog coat and brain health. They also calm inflammation (which is why you often find them in glucosamine supplements). If you want to provide the most health benefits for your dog, consider these alternatives to coconut oil. They’re high in omegas and LOW in saturated fat:
- Fish oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Olive oil
- Sunflower oil
Coconut Oil and Dog Safety
That said, many people – including the AKC – still believe coconut oil and dogs are a safe combination. You CAN use coconut oil. But keep the warnings in the back of your mind. If you notice any adverse reactions, STOP immediately. Your dog’s health is NOT worth the risk.
Feeding Your Dog Coconut Oil
When selecting a coconut oil for your dog, the type IS important. Unrefined coconut oil (also labeled virgin coconut oil) is better. If you want the best option, select cold-pressed coconut oil. This method processes the oil immediately after harvest to preserve the nutrients. Each version has a different smell, texture, and taste, so be aware your dog may not like the option you present.
NEVER give your dog coconut oil on its own. Always mix it into their food. And monitor their weight closely. Remember, you’re adding A LOT of saturated fat into their diet. You’ll want to increase their activity level appropriately.
- 1/4 teaspoon ONCE a day for small dogs
- 1 tablespoon ONCE a day for large dogs
If your dog tolerates that dose, you can gradually increase the amount to 2 teaspoons/10 pounds after TWO WEEKS. As soon as you see any GI upset, though, STOP!
Coconut Oil and Dog Coat Health
Dr. Kathy Boehme, at the Drake Center for Veterinary Care, admits there are beneficial uses to topical coconut oil and dogs. Some owners see improvement in their dog’s skin conditions. However, she cautions it’s NOT the miracle product people rave about.
Once a week, integrate coconut oil into your dog’s grooming routine:
- Apply the coconut oil to their coat. Run your fingers through their fur and massage it into their skin.
- Allow the oil to sit for five minutes.
- Rinse ALL of the coconut oil off.
- If you feel residual oiliness, consider bathing your dog.
An alternative is to look for dog grooming wipes or shampoos that contain coconut oil in the ingredients.
Miracle? Not So Much
There are NO credible studies proving coconut oil cures thyroid disease, gum disease, tooth problems, aids in weight loss, or prevents cancer. The hype sounds impressive, and we love our dogs so much, we want to believe the claims. And while coconut oil is technically safe for dogs, there are risks to keep in mind.
If you’re set on using coconut oil for your dog, your best bet is to confine the use to a topical application. It’s the option with the least concerns. Otherwise, monitor their weight, appetite, and GI status with an eagle eye. And keep tabs with your veterinarian at ALL times.