Coconut oil may be the latest, hottest, all-natural trend for humans, but pet parents are also exploring it as a beneficial supplement for their four-legged companions. And far from being a fad or an overnight craze, it may prove true. It provides many benefits for dogs, says Dr. Colleen Smith, DVM, CVA, CVCP of the Chattanooga Holistic Animal Institute.
Coconut oil can aid dogs with everything from itchy or bumpy skin to digestion issues. But is this oil all that it's cracked up to be, and are there risks that pet parents should be aware of?
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is extracted from mature coconuts and takes the form of an edible oil that is used in food and beauty products. It is high in saturated fat and medium-chain triglycerides, which are thought to be behind the touted health benefits for both humans and dogs.
How Coconut Oil Benefits Dogs
So what exactly makes coconut oil so beneficial? Coconut oil can increase energy levels, improve skin and coat, improve digestion, and reduce allergic reactions, says Smith.
Dr. Katie Gryzb, a Brooklyn-based veterinarian, explains that coconut oil can potentially slow cognitive dysfunction in dogs. Fatty acids are helpful in cognitive function, which has been medically proven, she says.
In addition, Dr. Pema Melu, DVM, of Holistic Veterinary Healing in Germantown, MD, explains that medium-chain fatty acids, like coconut oil, help with physical and digestive ailments because they are directly absorbed in the GI tract and go directly to the liver where they are metabolized into utilizable energy. Besides the overall health benefits, coconut oil can be used as a coating on pills to help dogs swallow them, and it can be applied topically to smooth and freshen a dog's coat.
How to Give Coconut Oil to Dogs
Coconut oil can generally be given to dogs 1-2 times a day with meals. How much you should give your dog depends on his size. Many veterinarian recommend starting slow with the coconut oil. A good starting dose is teaspoon daily for small dogs up 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon daily for big dogs. However, if you have an obese or overweight dog, it's suggested that coconut oil be provided no more than once a day because of its high fat content. Any dog who is receiving coconut oil should be closely monitored for weight gain.
Coconut oil can also be used as a base for dog treats, explains Smith. She suggests mixing turmeric and vitamin D in with coconut oil for optimum snacks. Turmeric works as an anti-inflammatory, while vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Be careful that you don't give too much vitamin D to your dog, however. Over-supplementation can cause kidney problems.
To find the best coconut oil, understanding the labels can make all the difference. Smith recommends pet parents use organic, virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil.
Topical Application of Coconut Oil for Dogs
Coconut oil can add moisture to your dog's skin and prevent flaking. It also helps freshen up a dog's coat if used with a light touch. To use it topically, simply rub a very small amount onto your hands and then gently pat the coat, run your fingers through the fur, and massage a little down onto the skin. Since coconut oil can be given orally, you don't have to worry if dogs lick themselves after it's been applied to their coats.
Coconut Oil Concerns
While coconut oil is generally safe for dogs, some canines may have an allergic reaction to the supplement. Additionally, giving a dog too much coconut oil in the diet could result in diarrhea. Smith warns against giving coconut oil to dogs prone to pancreatitis, as it can be a risk due to its high fat content.
And not all veterinarians are convinced that coconut oil is beneficial for dogs at all. Dr. Ken Tudor notes that coconut oil may possibly raise bad cholesterol levels in dogs and adds 120 calories for every tablespoon without adding any appreciable nutritional value.
Coconut Oil Alternatives for Dogs
If your dog has an allergic reaction to coconut oil, or there are simply no improvements seen by adding coconut oil to your dog's diet, there are alternatives. Cold water fish oils, like salmon oil, and to a lesser extent, flax seed oil, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that can provide some of the same benefits of coconut oil. Of course, with any supplements, a dog's intake should be monitored and it's best to consult your veterinarian when it comes to any health issues with your pet. Giving coconut oil or similar supplements to dogs is not a guaranteed cure-all or magic fix.