If you’re keeping up with the latest human health trends, you may feel like I do… every wellness recommendation includes coconut oil. It seems to be the panacea of the 2010s.
Many animal health sites tout the benefits of coconut oil too. I was with a friend recently who told me her holistic vet prescribed it for several of her dog’s ailments.
That got me thinking… is coconut oil everything it’s cracked up to be? Are there benefits to using this oil with our pets? And are there risks?
Well, there are some definite benefits to using coconut oil. But also many unfounded claims about its effectiveness. And there can be risks.
Coconut oil comes from mature coconuts. It is edible, so it’s used in food. And these days you can find coconut oil in many beauty products.
This oil is high in saturated fat and is made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). That’s where the supposed health benefits are.
The fatty acids that make up MCTs travel directly to the liver. The liver absorbs those fatty acids and uses them for energy. They’re not stored in the body.
MCTs contain lauric acid, which is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. They also contain capric and caprylic acids, which are antifungal.
So how can coconut oil help your pet? It can be very beneficial when used topically.
If your pet has dry, itchy skin, cracked paw pads or a dry nose, you can rub coconut oil into the skin. It’s great for elbow calluses too. Here’s a link to a recipe for paw balm you can make yourself.
But you don’t have to get fancy. You can use the oil straight up with no additions. If you’re using it on dry flaky skin, rub the oil directly into the skin.
You can also use it for a shinier coat. Take a small amount of oil in your hands. Rub them together and pat the coat. Run your fingers through the fur. Not only will coconut oil improve the look and feel of your pet’s coat, some say it will also help if your pet smells.
Coconut oil is often touted for its antibacterial use on sores and minor cuts. Be careful with this one. If your dog has hotspots, using coconut oil can make the problem worse. Hotspots are self-inflicted when a dog licks obsessively. If they like the taste of coconut oil, using it on their skin can exacerbate the licking and worsen the hotspots.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that coconut oil has antibacterial benefits but no studies have yet been done on animals.
If your pet has a skin problem, be sure to talk with your vet before using coconut oil to be certain you’re treating the underlying problem. They may recommend you use the oil as part of a treatment plan that includes other medications.
Coconut oil may be helpful as a parasite repellent. A small study in 2004 found that a coconut oil-based remedy was effective for repelling sand fleas and reduced inflammation from fleabites. But tests have not been done on the cat and dog flea… the ones that love your pet.
Most veterinarians suggest, if using coconut oil, combining it with traditional repellents.
A 2015 human study found rinsing the mouth with coconut oil every day reduced plaque and plaque-caused gingivitis. You could make the leap and say it would help your dog’s dental health too. But the study involved swishing the coconut oil around the mouth and it’s hard to get a dog to swish.
Many dogs like the taste of coconut oil and it may help with dental hygiene… and bad breath too. So if you’d like to brush your dog’s teeth with coconut oil, it probably won’t hurt.
Does your pet have a hard time swallowing a pill? Here’s another use. Coat the pill with coconut oil. It will be easier for them to swallow and they generally like the flavor.
The unsubstantiated claims
Coconut oil is promoted as a cure or prevention for everything from digestive problems to cancer. Some say it improves cognitive function in older dogs. Others say it helps with allergies and weight loss. None of these claims are supported by science. There have been no studies.
That’s not to say coconut oil can’t be helpful for some of these ailments. But there just isn’t scientific proof yet.
If the anecdotal evidence is enough for you and you want to try coconut oil with your pet, speak to your vet first. They can monitor the effects and educate you to the downside. Because the high saturated fat content can make some conditions worse. Pancreatitis for example.
The high fat content is also a problem if your dog is overweight. Some veterinarians say it adds a lot of calories with little nutritional value. And there’s concern this oil can raise cholesterol levels and block the arteries too.
Although coconut oil is well tolerated by most pets, some may have an allergic reaction. And too much can cause diarrhea.
Remember too that coconut oil does not provide the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids your pet needs in their diet. So be sure you’re still giving your pet salmon or flaxseed oil, besides the coconut oil.
How much and what kind?
If you give your pet coconut oil, use only the organic virgin cold-pressed kind. Easy to find at any health food store.
Start slow to be sure your pet isn’t allergic and to avoid diarrhea.
Start with ¼ teaspoon a day for small dogs and 1 teaspoon a day for big dogs. Work up to 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight per day.
If you have a cat, start with 1/8 teaspoon a day for an average size cat. Work up to ¼ to ½ teaspoon once or twice a day.
What I’ve learned about coconut oil is that it has some proven benefits. And it may even have greater benefits yet to be studied. But I would proceed with caution.
Coconut oil is not a cure-all. Take the advice of your veterinarian before adding any supplement to your pet’s diet.
Do you use coconut oil for your pets? How have they benefitted? Have they had any adverse reactions? Share your experience with us at the top of the page.