Is Coconut Oil Safe for Dogs?

mini poodle with coconut and coconut oil

 

ThamKC / Getty Images

Coconut oil is a supplement that has been growing in popularity over the past few years. There are many purported benefits to its use. It stands to reason that some pet owners are starting to wonder if coconut oil is not just safe for their dog, but could it benefit their dog in the same way it may benefit people?

What Is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil comes from mature coconuts and can be used in both food and health products for humans. 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 researchers 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 dogs. It may reduce coughing and help to get rid of hairballs. Some owners that have dogs suffering from skin conditions such as hot spots or itchy, dry skin have seen an improvement in their dog's symptoms when using coconut oil topically. These owners use over the counter shampoos made with organic coconut oil and recipes for DIY paw balm to not only achieve these results but also to help give their dog a shiny, glossy coat. It may also help with metabolic functions, aid in weight loss, and alleviate pain from arthritis as well as improving bone health. All of these potential benefits 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 dog's as well.

So, Is Coconut Oil Safe for Dogs?

So here comes the downer: There has only been limited research into the benefits of coconut oil in humans and even less in pets. So while all the benefits listed above are reported by owners, it is all anecdotal evidence. 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 dog, there is really no way of knowing whether it will have the same effect on your dog or not.

How to Administer Coconut Oil to Your Dog

First, consult your veterinarian before using coconut oil—they will have specific instructions and advice for how you can incorporate it into your routine with your dog. Topical uses are typically safer and easily administered. You can use an OTC shampoos with organic coconut oil or you can even just apply it straight to the skin weekly, allowing it ample time to soak in before rinsing your pup off. If you accidentally went a little overboard with the coconut oil slathering and your dog still feels a little greasy after their rinse, you can follow it up with a light shampoo and rinse.

If you're wanting to give your dog coconut oil orally, you should 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 dog has a history of pancreatitis, is prone to gaining weight, or if your dog 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 dog, always get unrefined (sometimes called virgin) oil over refined. If you can fine 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 dog to see what kind he/she likes best, if giving orally.

While much research and testing still needs to be done to know exactly how and if coconut oil can benefit your dog, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that it might help those that suffer from skin allergies or arthritic pain. Of course, your veterinarian should help you determine if coconut oil may be beneficial for your dog, so if you're wanting to try it out, schedule an appointment before you do anything else.