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This blog post was originally published May 2016; it was updated in November 2018.
When I started writing about better nutrition for my dogs, I wrote a post listing coconut oil as an alternative to fish oil. This week, I learned that not only is it not an alternative, but there are many people who don't believe there is a benefit to feeding coconut oil to our dogs. Nearly everyone agrees that the topical benefits are still outstanding, but not everyone is sold on the dietary benefits. This gave me pause and I realized that I've been adding coconut oil to my dogs' diet without a clear understanding of why – so I started down this rabbit hole to figure out if coconut was good for my dogs.
Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil for Dogs
I will admit that I drank the Kool-Aid. Other raw feeders were doing it, so I started doing it too. However, it's easy enough to do a quick Internet search to find the many benefits of coconut oil for dogs.
- Coconut oil is rich in anti-oxidants.
- Improves nutrient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
- Prevents the spread of cancer cells and enhances the immune system.
- Regulates the immune system.
- Repels mosquitoes and fleas.
- Soothes and heals cuts, wounds, hot spots, bites, and stings.
- It’s antimicrobial and kills yeast and clears ear infections.
- It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and helps with arthritis.
- Prevents hairballs because it’s rich in fiber; and because of the fiber, coconut oil also is great for pets with anal gland issues and helps to keep pets regular.
- Freshens breath and makes an effective toothpaste.
- Coconut oil is a thermogenic oil that stimulates the metabolism, helping a dog lose weight.
- Great for the brain and nervous system; liver converts MCTs into Ketones and is the ideal food for the brain, preventing cognitive decline in aging pets.
- Allergies are due to an overactive immune system and you can regulate the system by adding lauric acid to a dog’s diet.
Source: My notes from the CocoTherapy presentation at the 2018 Raw and Natural Dog Summit
When reading this long list of benefits, how can I question the benefits of adding coconut oil to our dogs' diet? But I wasn't finished with my homework; I now wanted to learn why some people feel that dogs don't need coconut oil. I've seen so many passionate discussions on this topic in groups (in some groups, mentioning coconut oil can lead to being banned) that I became curious.
Is Coconut Oil a Fad with No Benefits?
When I was new to raw feeding, when Dr. Karen Becker makes a recommendation, that's enough for me. But over the years, I've become more and more curious when conflict arose on social media surrounding topics discussed by Dr. Becker and Rodney Habib. When I read claims that coconut oil was a fad and today's new snake oil – I began to wonder, are they right?
On the site HealthySkin4Dogs.com, many of the claims made about coconut oil are challenged.
- Claims that coconut oil will boost skin and coat health are “completely unsubstantiated clinically.”
- “Dogs fed coconut oil lost less weight and had more body fat than dogs on diets with other sources of fat.”
And on SkeptVet.com, I read…
“There are some theoretical reasons to think the types of fat found in non-hydrogenated coconut oil might have health benefits in humans, but there is no conclusive research to support this. There is virtually no research on coconut oil in dogs and cats, apart from some studies looking at topical use for treatment of parasites. Therefore, the health effects, both risks and benefits, are unknown and supported only by unreliable anecdotal evidence.” Source: SkeptVet.com
Should We Stop Feeding Our Dogs Coconut Oil?
Whenever I see the phrase “anecdotal evidence,” I get my panties in a bunch, because I've often read and heard this regarding the benefits of raw feeding. I find the phrase condescending and dismissive. Little to no evidence of the benefit of a diet didn't stop me from switching my dogs from commercial dry dog food to raw dog food. And it won't stop me from adding coconut oil to my dogs' diet – or will it? But I understand that the phrase “anecdotal evidence” is valid. Too many times, I've added supplements to my dogs' diet simply because people in a group said that they were beneficial and they were unnecessary. I've learned that anecdotal evidence is fine, but I still need to do my homework for the benefit of my dogs.
Myths of Coconut Oil for Dogs
Coconut oil is a saturated fat, which is bad for dogs and humans.
- Medium chain fatty acids don’t go to your lymphatic system, and they don’t add to your adipose tissue (fat in your body), and it doesn’t make you fat. In fact, coconut oil is a thermogenic oil, which boosts the metabolism, helping you lose weight. Coconut oil causes heart disease.
- Coconut oil raises the HDL and lowers the LDL: HDL ratio Most oils have very little cholesterol; butter and lard, on the other hand, have a high amount of cholesterol, but dietary cholesterol doesn’t increase your cholesterol levels.
- Animals naturally have higher levels of HDL as compared to LDL.
Coconut oil cause fatty liver disease in cats.
- Fatty liver disease may also occur when a cat suddenly stops eating over a period of time.
- When a cat becomes undernourished, the body automatically moves fat from its reserves to the liver to be converted to energy – THIS is why cats develop fatty liver disease, not from eating coconut oil.
- When a cat is in starvation mode, the liver is not efficient in processing fat, and much of the fat is stored in the liver cells, resulting in a fatty and low-functioning liver. THIS is why cats develop fatty liver disease, not from eating coconut oil.
Coconut oil is harmful to animals with pancreatitis and other lipid disorders.
- Coconut oil doesn’t need pancreatic lipase to be digested, so the pancreas isn’t stressed.
There are no studies that show the benefits of coconut oil.
- There are over 10,000 document studies about coconut oil; visit PubMed.gov to search for the studies.
- Another source is www.coconutresearchcenter.org by Dr. Bruce Fife; he has all of the coconut oil studies on his website.
Let's Talk About Fats
Saturated Fats (vegetable and animal fats)
- short chain; produced when dietary fiber is fermented in the colon (grains, beans)
- medium chain; coconut oil, palm oil
- long chain; beef fat, butter, cream
- Omega 3 – ALA, alpha-linolenic acids (flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnut oil), EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid (fish oil, krill oil), DHA, docosahexaenoic acid (fish oil, krill oil)
- Omega 6 – LA, linoleic acid (soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, corn oil, safflower oil)
- Omega 9 – OA, oleic acid (olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, almonds)
Why is Coconut Oil Healthy?
Coconut oil is a saturated fat, a medium chain fatty acid, that is nearly 50% lauric acid. “When lauric acid is digested, it also forms a substance called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi. For example, these substances have been shown to help kill the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (a very dangerous pathogen) and the yeast Candida albicans, a common source of yeast infections in humans.” Source: Healthline.com
Lauric acid from virgin coconut oil metabolizes in your liver as monoglyceride monolaurin which is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal; similar to breast milk. Source: My notes from the CocoTherapy presentation at the 2018 Raw and Natural Dog Summit
If you read up on fats, you may come across statements that medium chain fatty acids lead to increased cholesterol by raising your LDL. However, it also raises your HDL, which helps to remove the LDL. And “epidemiological studies find that groups of people who include coconut as part of their native diets (e.g., India, Philippines, Polynesia) have low rates of cardiovascular disease.” This can due to the coconut oil or other parts of their lifestyle or both. Source: Harvard.edu
How to Choose a Good Coconut Oil
- It's important to note that the levels of lauric acid in coconut oil varies greatly between the many brands available on the market.
- We need to ask: where are the coconuts grown, what types are used to make the oil, and are the coconuts tree ripened when harvested or are they scavenged from the ground?
- More questions: when are the coconuts processed, how are the coconuts processed, are they processed using the cold pressed or expeller pressed, how is the coconut oil extracted?
- Cooking-grade coconut oil is what we find in grocery stores and at Costco. Cosmetic-grade coconut oil is used in lotions and other beauty products. Therapeutic-grade coconut oil is virgin, has the highest amount of lauric acid, and is used in the pharmaceutical industry to make medicine for Alzheimer patients (for example).
Coconut Oil Terminology
- Like with the term “natural” some of the terms to describe coconut oil, like “cold pressed,” don't mean what we think, so don't stop there when shopping for coconut oil for your dog.
- Virgin means unrefined; there is no FDA definition of virgin so folks can slap this term on their products despite it going through a refining process. And, by the way, there is no such thing as extra-virgin coconut oil; this is a marketing ploy.
- As long as 90-95% of ingredients are organic, then you can use the USDA certified organic seal. However, this leaves room for 5-10% non-organic ingredients and there are companies claiming “organic,” just like there are companies that claim “all-natural.”
Coconut Oil Checklist
- What country did the coconuts come from? What type of soil – beach, volcano?
- What is the age of the coconuts? Are the tree-ripened or scavenged off the ground?
- Who makes the coconut oil?
- Is the facility free of dairy, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, or wheat?
- Are the coconuts 100% organic?
- Are the coconuts are free from pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers?
- Are the coconuts non-GMO Verified?
- Are the coconuts free from bleach, hexane, sulfites, and solvents?
- Are the coconuts oil 100% unrefined?
- How is the oil made?
- Buy coconut oil in a glass jar, not plastic. The plastic will leach into the coconut oil.
- What is the potency of lauric acid?
- Is the oil free of toxins, contaminants, and heavy metals?
- Ask for a certificate of analysis and a product spec sheet.
How I Use Coconut Oil with My Dogs
I used to alternate coconut oil with fish oil, but in my research on the benefits of coconut oil (see, we gotta do our homework), I learned that this was unnecessary. Coconut oil isn't the same as fish oil. My dogs do get their Omega 3 fatty acids through fish oil, raw sardines, and fermented fish stock. I add coconut oil to their diet as follows:
- Golden Paste: to alleviate joint inflammation and pain associated with arthritis (plus loads of other benefits). Click here for the recipe.
- Weight Loss: I add a melon ball scooper size (melted) to Sydney's meals along with non-glycemic, fermented vegetables to help her feel full on a low-calorie diet while also providing her with a natural source of probiotics, fiber, and antioxidants.
- Detox: coconut oil serves as a natural detox (along with many other benefits) so once a week, three of our dogs enjoy a melon ball scooper size as a treat.
I also learned that some CBD oil brands use coconut oil as the carrier for the CBD. The CBD oil brand I prefer for my dogs uses hemp seed oil.
Topical Uses of Coconut Oil
- Coat Conditioner: In a small Rubbermaid container, mix 3-4 melon ball size scoops of coconut oil with 1-2 drops of Lavender essential oil to create a coat conditioner. Our dogs are bathed every 4-6 weeks and I use this DIY coat conditioner between baths.
- Paw Salve: I rub coconut oil (no essential oils added) on our dogs' paws to soften the pads and heal any cuts or itchiness (for Rodrigo). It works great overnight.
- Toothpaste: Our dogs only get raw meaty bones and recreational bones on nice days in the Spring and Summer. They dine on their bones outside and I supervise while reading a book. Fun times had by all. During the rest of the year, I use a finger brush to clean and coconut oil to clean their teeth. They love it.
My Bottom Line on the Benefits of Coconut Oil for Dogs
Once again I was reminded not to take everything I read at face value. It's important to explore all sides of an issue, to help us make a more educated choice about our dogs' health and diet. If I choose to give my dogs coconut oil every now and then or every day (which I do through the golden paste), I feel that I'm doing it with a lot more information rather than because everyone else is feeding it to their dogs.
And when someone asks me why I feed my dogs coconut oil, I feel more prepared to respond with an educated response.
Fish Oil Supplement I Recommend
More About Coconut Oil
- CocoTherapy Coconut Oil; you can purchase on CocoTherapy.com and it may be available at small, independent pet stores.
- Curious why I switched to CocoTherapy when a plastic tub of coconut oil at Costco is so much cheaper? Read about the difference on CocoTherapy.com.
- 22 Uses of Coconut Oil by Dog Moms
Read More About Raw Feeding for Dogs
- The Pros and Cons of Raw Feeding for Dogs
- Alternative Proteins for a Dogs Allergic to Chicken and Beef
- Health Benefits of Sardines for Dogs
- Are Raw Fed Dogs at Risk for Hyperthyroidism?
- 10 Simple Raw Food Recipes for Dogs