In our increasingly health-conscious society, coconut oil has become very popular. Coconut oil taken orally or used topically is used to treat a variety of human conditions, and not surprisingly, many people are eager to see if it's helpful for their dog as well, but is coconut oil safe for dogs?
Is coconut oil safe for dogs?
The answer is a little bit complicated. Most veterinary resources indicate that coconut oil is something that is safe for dogs if fed in very limited quantities, however it is important to be aware that coconut oil is a supplement that you will want to discuss with your vet before starting to discuss risks, as well as the possible benefits of using it as part of your dog's grooming or overall care. Relevant to note is that although many believe coconut oil in very limited quantities is safe for dogs, the ASPCA lists coconut oil as a food to avoid feeding your dog. The ASPCA explains that although small amounts are unlikely to be harmful to your dog, upset stomach and diarrhea are both possible symptoms of feeding coconut oil or coconut products to your dog, and so they advise against it.
Are there any benefits of feeding coconut oil to dogs?
There are a lot of unsubstantiated claims about the medicinal and healing properties of coconut oil, from fixing behavioral problems to curing cancer there aren't a lot of facts to back up most of those claims. The AKC notes that generally veterinarians and scientists are cautious and skeptical about the claims that are made regarding the uses of coconut oil.
One of the main benefits of coconut oil for dogs when given orally is the presence of Lauric Acid. The American Kennel Club (AKC) notes is an anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and has antibacterial properties. As a result, it's possible that coconut oil could play a part in help your dog to fight off illnesses resulting from bacteria and viruses.
Coconut oil is also rich in a form of fatty acids known as Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). These are generally considered the good kinds of fat, and could theoretically provide some benefits for dogs specifically around increasing mental functioning in senior dogs. If you want to try feeding coconut oil to your dog talk with your dog's veterinarian first. The AKC advises that doses must be small and intentionally gradually built up to avoid side effects that include diarrhea. Dosage should be decided on and monitored by your veterinarian.
Experts at Purina note that commercially, coconut oil contents vary considerably, and it's unlikely that your dog will see any noticeable benefits. Additionally, there isn't significant current research about how beneficial MCTs from coconut oil are for dogs. Instead, if you are concerned your dog isn't getting a balanced diet, it is more helpful to talk with your dog's vet about the right food for your dog to meet their nutrition needs based on age, breed, size etc.
Coconut oil for skin conditions
One of the more common and widely accepted reasons to use coconut oil on dogs is to support the treatment of skin conditions, or soothing irritated skin. Because coconut oil is moisturizing, if applied topically in small amounts to your dog's coat and skin it is believed that the coconut oil may help prevent skin irritations from developing. In addition, coconut oil may provide soothing relief for dogs who are struggling with dry skin conditions, flaking, and irritation resulting from bug stings or bites, allergic reactions or other irritations. By soothing your dog's skin you may be able to prevent itching which can lead to sores including hot spots. Coconut oil when applied topically may also help to improve your dog's overall smell, and the softness, sleekness, and shininess of your dog's coat. Talk with your vet before applying coconut oil to your dog's coat, how often to topically apply, and when it should be rinsed off.
In summary: proceed with caution and ask your vet first
Ultimately, there are a lot of claims about what coconut oil can treat or cure, but there isn't a lot of research to back that up. If you want to feed coconut oil to your dog, it's important to consult with your vet first to discuss benefits, possible side effects, and to determine what an appropriate dosage for your dog will be. Topically, coconut oil can potentially be helpful with treating and preventing skin conditions in dogs and promoting coat health. However, you'll again want to discuss this with your veterinarian to determine if it is an appropriate option for your dog and what a proper topical dosage would be for your dog.
For more information on what "people food" is safe for your dog, check out our list of everything your dog can and cannot eat.