Coconut oil has become a popular supplement for people. In humans, some evidence suggests that consuming coconut oil in limited amounts may offer possible benefits, including boosting the immune system, aiding in weight loss, acting as an anti-inflammatory and antifungal agent, and improving cognitive skills in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Today, many experts debate how helpful eating coconut oil may actually be for people.
But pet owners are asking — can coconut oil be beneficial to dogs? The answer is “maybe.” But that doesn’t mean you should immediately feed your pet coconut oil or apply it to their skin. Here’s what you need to know about coconut oil and dogs.
Science Behind Coconut Oil
Coconut oil comes from the meat of coconuts harvested from the coconut palm tree. Coconut oil consists of at least 90% saturated fats, most of which are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Besides coconut oil, MCTs are often found in palmer kernel oil, butter, yogurt, milk, and cheese.
What are MCTs? MCTs are fatty acids that can be considered “good” fat. When consumed in moderation, MCTS can provide several benefits, including reducing skin inflammation. MCTs also metabolize quickly and provide an immediate source of energy. MCTs in coconut oil may help battle fungi and infection, support brain health, and lower cholesterol.
Can Dogs Have Coconut Oil? Pros and Cons
Can dogs eat coconut oil? It’s possible consuming some coconut oil may offer internal benefits for dogs. The main MCT in coconut oil is lauric acid. Lauric acid has antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Coconut oil also has amounts of capric and caprylic acids, which are known for their antifungal effects. The oil also has both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated (fatty acids that support brain health and help lower cholesterol). Some research indicates that coconut oil may be helpful in aiding canine digestion, improving brain activity and mental function, and assisting with weight loss.
But is coconut oil good for dogs? These benefits don’t mean you should go out and feed your dog coconut oil without veterinary approval. There hasn’t been extensive research proving that coconut oil will definitively aid in many aspects of canine health. Vets may also debate how widely applicable (or relevant) these studies’ results are. Furthermore, feeding your dog coconut may work against some of the same conditions coconut oil is said to cure. For example, instead of helping with digestion, the fats in coconut oil can cause upset stomachs or diarrhea in dogs.
Additionally, coconut oil doesn’t meet your dog’s daily fat requirements. The acids in MCTs don’t have enough omega-6 and omega-3 acids, and what it does contain isn’t processed very efficiently. As for claims that MCTs protect against bacteria, viruses, and fungi, while the lauric acid in MCTs does kill germs in lab tests, there is no clear evidence that it can be used in sufficient quantities to offer dogs much protection.
When Applied Topically
You may be asking, “Can I put coconut oil on my dog?” In fact, applying coconut oil to your dog’s skin may be helpful. Coconut oil can help soothe irritated areas like hot spots or restore moisture to itchy, dry skin. If your pet has dry, cracked paws, try a DIY paw balm with coconut oil as one of the ingredients.
To add some shine to your dog’s coat, try using shampoos formulated for dogs that include coconut oil as an ingredient. A moisturizing dog shampoo containing coconut oil is ideal for hydrating dry fur, while a dog conditioner with coconut oil will help soften the hair.
Can I Use Coconut Oil as a Topical Antifungal Treatment?
If you think your dog may have a fungal issue, talk to your vet immediately and follow their recommended course of treatment. While coconut oil does have antibacterial and antifungal properties, “it is unclear how well this translates to canine skin disease,” Dr. Linda Simon says. The vet’s treatment will depend on the species of fungus causing infection, how serious or widespread the infection is, and the age and health of the dog, notes Dr. Jamie Whittenburg. She explains that “most mild to moderate fungal infections can be treated topically with a combination of shampoos and creams.”
If your dog has a musty smell or greasy skin (resulting from an overgrowth of yeast), your vet may recommend using a medicated wash. For severe or widespread fungal infections, especially in dogs with immune system dysfunction, your vet may prescribe oral medications. “These medications can cause liver issues, so serial blood work should be performed to monitor the pet’s health,” Dr. Whittenburg adds.
Your vet may recommend coconut oil as part of a “skin supplement regime to strengthen the skin barrier and reduce itchiness or dry skin,” according to Dr. Simon. Dr. Whittenburg adds, “In most cases, there’s no harm in utilizing topical coconut oil on a dog. However, it is messy, can clog pores, and may cause the dog to lick the affected area more, leading to increased pain, inflammation, and infection.”
How Can I Safely Give Coconut Oil to My Dog?
Before applying coconut oil topically or giving your dog some to eat, discuss these options with your vet. If they approve of you giving coconut oil to your pet, choose unrefined coconut oil, also called virgin coconut oil. Better yet, look for cold-pressed oil, which uses a method to preserve nutrients.
If you’re feeding it to your dog, be aware that oils have different smells and tastes. Some have a bold coconut taste, while others are bland. Some are buttery and smooth, while others are nutty. You may have to experiment a bit to find one your dog likes. Alternatively, your vet may recommend trying coconut oil skin and coat supplements designed specifically for dogs.
If you do put a small amount of coconut oil on your dog and they lick it off, that likely won’t cause much harm. “But feeding it to them can definitely lead to both weight gain and gastrointestinal disturbances,” Dr. Whittenburg says. Dr. Simon agrees, explaining that long-term feeding of coconut oil can lead to obesity in dogs and even trigger pancreatitis (a potentially life-threatening condition caused by inflammation of the pancreas). In the short term, your dog may experience greasy stool or diarrhea.
To use coconut oil topically, apply it to the skin about once a week, and let it be absorbed for a few minutes. After five minutes or so, rinse your dog off. If they still feel greasy or oily to the touch, you can follow up with a light shampoo and rinse.
Because of the potential risks associated with the topical or internal use of coconut oil, Dr. Whittenburg doesn’t recommend that dog owners select products specifically for their coconut oil content. In the case of hardened noses or paw pads, for example, using soothing products made with coconut oil can help soften.