If you are a proponent of natural care for your dog, you most likely have read about the many benefits of coconut oil for dogs.
When you start reading internet articles, the divergent information you find leads you to ask two questions: 1) Is coconut oil safe for dogs, and 2) is coconut oil good for dogs?
That is what I will be talking about today.
Unfortunately, as with many other natural remedies, there have been no clinical trials testing coconut oil’s effect on dogs. Anecdotal evidence, however, is impressive.
From allergies to cracked paws to brain health, stories abound.
Read on to learn about potential benefits and to get a non-clinical (i.e. understandable) summary of concerns that some have raised about coconut oil.
What Makes Coconut Oil Good for Dogs?
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close. I’m just sharing my own personal experience and information I have read. If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
First, let’s talk a little about the beneficial components of coconut oil.
Coconut oil has a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Some of the beneficial fatty components in coconut oil are called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs contain beneficial fatty acids chains called medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs).
Key beneficial fatty acids found in coconut oil MCFAs include lauric acid, caprylic acid, caproic acid, and capric acid.
The most traditional (and scientifically proven) medical use of MCTs (and the MCFAs they contain) is as a fat source for the treatment of fat absorption disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and pancreatitis.
MCFAs are talked about in the natural community for their positive effects on issues like infection, bad breath, weight gain, cut healing, dry skin, immune system health, and digestive issues, to name a few.
Which leads us to the next question, is coconut oil good for dogs?
Potential Benefits of Coconut Oil for Dogs
There is a long list of benefits of coconut oil for dogs. Many of them have studies that have measured the effects, such as measuring antimicrobial or antifungal properties. Other recommendations are based on information that is more anecdotal in nature.
If you are interested in using it for one of these reasons, chances are your holistic vet will have more information about how well it might work.
Disinfect wounds and soothe cracked pads
This makes it an ideal natural topical agent to use on your dog’s cuts, wounds, and cracked pads.
Improve gut health
This is a somewhat controversial topic. Past studies have indicated that coconut oil is beneficial for the gut and supports a healthy immune system.
Recently, a prominent dog blogger published an article suggesting coconut oil may have negative effects on dogs, such as causing leaky gut and chronic inflammation.
I will discuss that claim, the science behind it, and why a leading expert refutes it, later in this article.
Clean teeth and eliminate harmful mouth bacteria
The antimicrobial properties of coconut oil help it eliminate harmful bacteria living in your dog’s mouth, which helps prevent dental disease and the formation of plaque.
Using it as a “toothpaste” is a great way to clean your dog’s teeth. Most dogs love the taste so will look forward to teeth cleaning each day.
Improve skin and fur
Human studies on patients with atopic dermatitis have proven that coconut oil improves skin conditions and helps the skin stay hydrated.
In addition, the anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties help reduce your dog’s itchy skin and make their coat shiny and soft.
I have firsthand experience in the positive effects that adding coconut oil to my foster dogs’ food has on their coat and skin. Dogs that come to me with dry, flaking skin and fur that is stiff and course like straw slowly transform into dogs with thick, soft coats and healthy skin with no flakes.
Just like other natural remedies, it takes a few months for you to see the positive effects on your dog’s skin and fur.
Soothe irritated skin, hot spots, and itchy ears
Coconut oil’s antibacterial and antifungal properties can soothe and heal allergic sores and hotspots, just gently rub on irritated skin.
To heal the root cause of allergies, however, you will want to learn more about natural products for dog allergies. Seasonal allergies are a bit different, read about them and learn about natural remedies for seasonal allergies in dogs.
A bonus feature is that if your dog licks coconut oil off their skin it is completely safe (not so for some of the medications you might put on these areas).
If your dog is being treated for an ear infection, you can gently apply it to the irritated skin on the external ear to relieve irritation and itchiness. Click here to read other home remedies for dog ear infections if your dog is struggling with this issue.
Help improve brain function
Some believe that MCT oil (derived from coconut oil) can improve brain function.
Here is the science behind the theory: when coconut oil is consumed, the MCFAs in the oil are converted into ketones, which are a good source of energy for the brain and promote overall brain function and health.
The studies I could find centered on the benefits of MCT oil in older dogs. The results of this study supported the hypothesis that brain function of aged dogs can be improved by MCT supplementation. In the study, MCT oil was given to provide the dog’s brain with an alternative energy source.
Similar benefits of MCT oil were found in human studies of improved cognitive function in Alzheimers patients.
I found a promising new study that had positive results using MCT Oil in conjunction with seizure medication to reduce seizures in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy.
In this study, MCT oil was given to dogs already on seizure meds for epilepsy. Dogs given MCT oil in addition to their seizure meds showed a significant reduction in seizure frequency and seizure-day frequency.
In another study, MCT oil decreased epileptic dogs’ seizure frequency by 32%, and decreased their seizure-day frequency by 42%.
If you have a dog with epilepsy this would definitely be an option I would discuss with your holistic vet!
Improve digestion and nutrient absorption
The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of coconut oil help it to eliminate common causes of poor digestion (parasites, bad bacteria, and candida (yeast)) from your dog’s intestines.
MCTs also help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
Some claim that coconut oil helps heal digestive disorders like colitis and inflammatory bowel syndrome.
One study showed that a high fat diet reduces gut bacteria and Crohn’s disease symptoms. In this study, mice fed even low concentrations of coconut oil or cocoa butter also had less severe small intestine inflammation.
Get rid of Giardia
Multiple studies have looked at the efficacy of lauric acid (a component of coconut oil) in getting rid of giardia. One study found it to be similar in efficacy to metronidazole, a conventional drug used to get rid of giardia.
Repel fleas & ticks?
I have to say I was a sceptic when I read this.
Not skeptical about if it does repel them, but let’s be realistic: even if it DID, do you really want to rub coconut oil on your dog, and then after the walk have that same dog jump on your couch or rub against your pants while you pet it?
Holy grease stains, Batman. I don’t think so!
Help with weight loss
According to this article on coconut for pets by Dr. Jean Dodds, the MCTs in coconut oil increase your dog’s metabolism, make them feel full, and can’t be stored as fat.
The Controversy: Is Coconut Oil Good For Dogs . . . or Not??
I found many articles about coconut oil for dogs, some written by proponents, some by critics.
They consisted of a LOT of scientific talk in which many words were nearly impossible to pronounce.
I will give a summary of the gist of both sides, as best as I could understand it and translate the medical-speak into regular words.
The anti-coconut oil argument
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which can kill disease causing bacteria in the gut, releasing something called lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS are endotoxins, which means toxins released when a cell disintegrates.
Anti-coconut proponents say this LPS travels throughout the body and causes inflammation.
In the same anti-coconut article, they state coconut oil could cause a leaky gut. It references an academic review discussing the link between western high fat diets and leaky guts. I read the review and it does not mention coconut oil one single time, but instead reviews possible intestinal effects of our western diet high in saturated fat.
In all honesty, most people eating the typical high fat western diet aren’t eating coconut oil, so this didn’t seem relevant, or certainly not a basis to decide that coconut oil “causes” a leaky gut.
The pro-coconut oil argument
Proponents who believe in the benefits of coconut oil for dogs say the above logic is flawed.
Dr. Bruce Fife, certified nutritionist, naturopathic physician, lipid expert, and director of The Coconut Research Center, states that the LPS that is absorbed after consuming coconut oil does not produce an immune response that is strong enough or long enough to cause chronic inflammation or inflammatory disease. In his testing, the increase in inflammation was undetectable.
He explains the science behind his statement:
“The crucial difference is the type of LPS that the MCFAs release. Because MCFAs kill harmful bacteria in the gut, although they still technically raise LPS levels, the LPS in this case are just fragments of dead bacteria. This means that the LPS absorbed after eating coconut oil will not cause chronic inflammation or promote inflammatory disease.”
Read more about this in his interview disputing coconut oil as a cause of endotoxemia in dogs.
How to Add Coconut Oil to Your Dog’s Diet
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Using coconut oil for dogs can be beneficial, but it’s important to remember not to replace other beneficial oils, or feed too much.
For example, if you are feeding fish oil to make sure your dog gets Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s, do not replace that with coconut oil.
Instead, create a healthy rotation of the oils you want to add to your dog’s diet. And remember that moderation is key; too much of anything can be just as detrimental as using none at all.
Feed coconut oil as a daily supplement by adding it directly to your dog’s dinner.
The quality of the coconut oil you add is extremely important. You need to use organic, cold-pressed, extra-virgin (also called unrefined) coconut oil. If you buy processed, refined coconut oil your dog won’t get the same benefits.
I buy huge jars of organic coconut oil from Costco. If you aren’t a Costco member (or don’t need a ginormous jar), here is a good option from Amazon
Coconut Oil Dose for Dogs
Note: Do not give to dogs with hyperlipidemia or who are prone to pancreatitis. In any dog, it’s best to talk to your holistic vet first.
If you are going to give your dog coconut oil, it’s important to start with small doses. Because coconut oil kills viruses, harmful bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites, it can also trigger symptoms of detoxification in your dog.
This means too much too soon could give your dog diarrhea, fatigue, and achiness. If you start giving coconut oil and your dog seems tired, uncomfortable, or has diarrhea, reduce the amount you are giving and work up more slowly.
There are different dosing recommendations on the web. Some websites recommend ¼ teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight daily, others recommend 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight.
Just another reason to work with your vet, that’s quite a big difference in daily coconut oil amounts.
Is Coconut Oil Good For Dogs?
After reviewing the benefits of coconut oil for dogs, I believe coconut oil warrants serious consideration as a remedy that can have a positive effect on numerous health issues.
Of course you should be careful, and if you have the option to talk to your holistic vet – that’s better yet.
Personally I would much rather try coconut oil for something before trying a prescription. If I’m comparing those two options, in my opinion the odds of a negative side effect are much greater for long-term prescription use vs. long-term coconut oil use.
Have you tried coconut oil for your dog? Tell us what you used it for and how it worked!
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