Coconut oil has been used in cooking for decades but within the past several years its popularity as a holistic remedy has skyrocketed. In fact, it has become so popular, folks are starting to use it in their cats for the same benefits they are seeing in themselves. Well-meaning cat owners should first understand how much of what they are hearing is hype and also how to go about administering the coconut oil as safely as possible.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil comes from mature coconuts and can be used in both food and health products. It is a medium chain triglyceride, saturated fatty acid. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which also includes palm kernel oil, are more readily digested than long chain triglycerides (which includes olive oil, soybean oil, avocado oil, and fish oil). As such, MCTs are a better source for quick energy than long chain triglycerides and are less likely to turn into fat in the body. MCTs can be composed of different fatty acid chains, including caprylic acid, capric acid, (both of which have shown anti-fungal properties in lab studies) and lauric acid (which has shown anti-fungal as well as anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties). Coconut oil can contain caprylic, capric, and lauric acid, so it's understandable that people would be excited about its potential health benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Coconut Oil?
Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties aren't the only potential benefits that may be seen with coconut oil. Some believe that the MCTs found in coconut oil may aid in digestion, heal digestive disorders, and can also help with brain energy and cognition in older cats. It may reduce coughing and help to get rid of hairballs. Some owners feel that coconut oil can improve their cat's coat condition, leaving it soft and shiny, and can also alleviate and dry or itchy skin their cat may be experiencing. It may also help with metabolic functions, aid in weight loss, and alleviate pain from arthritis as well as improving bone health.
Is Coconut Oil Safe for My Cat?
All of the potential benefits mentioned make coconut oil sound like the latest miracle cure all. Of course, folks would get super excited about it and would want to use it, not just for their own benefit, but for their cat's as well. So here comes the downer: There has only been limited research into the benefits of coconut oil in humans and even less in pets. While all the benefits listed above are reported by owners, it is all just that: owner reported—not something that is actually studied in a controlled setting with a large testing population that is repeatable and peer-reviewed. So, while your friendly neighborhood pet supply store employee may swear by a coconut oil remedy that worked on their cat, there is really no way of knowing whether it will have the same effect on your cat or not.
How Can I Use Coconut Oil?
If coconut oil might not be all that it's cracked up to be, how exactly do you go about using it for your cat (if at all)? First, don't use coconut oil on your cat until you speak with your veterinarian, who will be able to tell you which uses are appropriate, and in which amounts. Topical uses are certainly safer right off the bat and can be fairly easy to administer. You can use an over-the-counter shampoo with organic coconut oil (although most cats don't usually appreciate getting a full bath) or you can even just apply it straight to the skin, allowing it ample time to soak in before lightly rinsing off any excess. If you accidentally went a little overboard with the coconut oil slathering and your cat still feels a little greasy after their rinse, you can follow it up with a quick waterless shampoo rinse.
If you want to give your cat coconut oil orally, you should especially consult your vet before starting anything at home. They will be able to tell you a proper dose range to start with, so that you don't accidentally give too much at a time and end up with a greasy, diarrhea mess on your hands. They can also advise you on the risks/benefits of oral coconut oil if your cat has a history of pancreatitis, irritable bowel disorder, is prone to gaining weight, or if your cat has any other disease or metabolic condition that makes them metabolize fat inefficiently, as coconut oil given orally can exacerbate these issues.
Regardless of whether you are wanting to try coconut oil topically or orally in your cat, always get unrefined (sometimes called virgin) oil over refined. If you can find cold-pressed coconut oil, even better. Not all coconut oils taste the same, either. Some may have a stronger coconut flavor while others may be a bit more bland, so you may have to experiment with your cat to see what kind he/she likes best, if giving orally with veterinary permission.
While much research and testing still needs to be done to know exactly how and if coconut oil can benefit your cat, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that it might help those that suffer from skin allergies or arthritic pain. Of course, your veterinarian can help you determine if coconut oil may be beneficial for your cat, so if you want to try it out, schedule an appointment before you do anything else.