Coconut Oil for Dogs and Cats: The Good and the Bad
My Experience Using Coconut Oil for Pets
In the past, it was my staunch opinion that all pet owners should have a jar of cold-pressed, organic virgin coconut oil on hand for use with their pets' health regimens. The substance is touted as having multiple benefits that are well-known among alternative medicine enthusiasts and nutritionists, and such benefits have been backed by both anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence. I still find coconut oil to be of value for animals, just like other natural products such as honey (used for wound care).
Since writing this article, I've reversed my opinion regarding recommendations for the use of coconut oil on pets (and humans). You may still choose to read about my experience using coconut oil for my pets' various ailments—but do note that the results are purely anecdotal.
The Truth About Coconut Oil
While some clinical studies involving coconut oil have been conducted, many of them are small and inconclusive. Other studies that show benefits are in vitro studies, which means that the mechanism has been demonstrated in a petri dish and not in actual subjects.
Studies that have used live subjects used lab animals, but few have used dogs and certainly not the exotic pets I speak about in this article. This means that such studies demonstrate the possibility of an effect in other species (pets and humans, unless your pet is the species of lab animal used), but they certainly do not prove or provide sound evidence for the exaggerated claims in my articles and others.
I'm inclined now to agree with Dr. Daniel Hwang, a research molecular biologist specializing in lauric acid at the Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis:
“There are a lot of claims that coconut oil may have health benefits, but there is no concrete scientific data yet to support this.”
If we know very little about the long-term consequences of coconut oil on human health, we certainly should be concerned about the consistent use of the product on our pets. I have used coconut oil on my pets and have witnessed no problems with it to my knowledge. Nevertheless, despite the fact that coconut oil may have resolved my pets' problems, this evidence is inadequate and purely anecdotal.
I no longer recommend any medicine considered "alternative." Any medicine that is proven to work can simply be called medicine. The word "alternative" is generally code for "unproven and likely ineffective." So, do not rely on coconut oil for any major illnesses your pets have.
Coconut Oil for Cats and Dogs
Coconut oil certainly has its place for use with animals, but claims of its extraordinary health benefits are dubious at best. There are very few, if any, "miracle cures." Although dogs and cats do not eat coconuts in the wild, that shouldn't necessarily stop owners from supplementing this healthy food in the proper amounts. (Pets will usually take it directly from a spoon and tend to enjoy it.)
I'll describe how I successfully used it for my pets' mild ailments below. Keep in mind that any change in an animal's behavior should be addressed immediately—so never skip out on proper veterinary care.
Uses for Coconut Oil
Coconut oil may offer several medicinal benefits for the following conditions in certain species:
- Bacterial infections
- Digestive upset
- Skin conditions
- Parasitic infestations
- Immune system disorders
In most cases, this oil can be used alongside prescription medications for sick animals or to improve and enhance the health of healthy animals. It can be used in the early stages of minor health issues to try to resolve the abnormality before it worsens. Always check in with your vet.
How to Administer: Dosing Recommendations for Dogs
The serving recommendation for Petpost's coconut oil is 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil per 10 pounds of body weight daily; increase the dose over a week to 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds (1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight daily or 1 tablespoon per 30 pounds).
Beginners can start with around 1/4 teaspoon a day for small dogs and 1 teaspoon per day for large dogs. I use coconut oil as a moisturizer for my animals, and while it is okay for them to ingest in small amounts, I do not feed it to them.
Tip: You may choose to use coconut flour for baking dog treats if your dog is sensitive to wheat.
My Spotted Genet's Health History
One disadvantage of owning an animal that very few people own is that you cannot go to Google and find numerous posts by other owners listing and explaining the symptoms that pertain to your species. I've never owned a cat, but I have a close exotic cousin or feliform—a spotted genet. Over the full year that I've had him, he has succumbed to a few issues with his health, and coconut oil appears to have resolved all but one of them.
When an issue arose, a vet visit would most likely mean a lot of tests that may not provide insight toward the problem (it would be stressful for my genet as well). So, I've always opted for a shotgun approach first—which coconut oil is great for—as it provides a stimulating level of high-quality nutrients and antibiotic properties.
The following information is purely anecdotal and does not substitute for advice from a veterinarian.
Coconut Oil for Diarrhea
My spotted genet's first health complication occurred before I even obtained him. On the day he was scheduled to be sent to me by plane, he developed a case of diarrhea and developed a raw spot under his tail.
As do many exotics, these animals need to be bottle-raised by their permanent owner as early as possible for bonding purposes. For that reason (a week later), even though the issue wasn't fully resolved, he was sent to me with a portion of amoxicillin, an antibiotic that the breeder had been administering. A few days after giving him the antibiotic as instructed, while observing no improvement, I decided to put a mix of coconut milk and coconut oil into his bottle.
The Problem Resolved
The problem resolved quickly after that. I observed that his poop had solidified (I didn't know of its usual consistency before I acquired him) and that the raw spot had sprouted fur rapidly. It's possible that time could have resolved the issue as well, but I'm convinced that his condition was improved by the inclusion of the coconut products.
Coconut Oil for Skin Ailments
Another incident occurred a little while later. My genet mysteriously had patches of fur missing from his arms; they appeared as little scrapes that seemed inflamed (they did not appear to be self-inflicted and have not re-occurred).
I found this spots to be very concerning and thought about the possibilities: discomfort from a skin condition that resulted in an attempt to relieve it through chewing/self-mutilation; psychological discontent; or a nutritional deficiency that could also have led to one of the other conditions.
The Problem Resolved
I applied the oil to his arms in case it was a skin condition. He rapidly licked it off (he also loves the taste), so he also ingested a small amount. The problem resolved, again, quite rapidly. The fur grew back and no more bald spots appeared afterward. It was a big relief.
Coconut Oil for Inappetence
The last problem he experienced was even more mysterious since he's always had an insatiable appetite. One day, his behavior was very "off": He wasn't being active at his usual time and he was being very affectionate. (He had been affectionate before when he was sick from "accidentally" consuming the carpeting in the past.) He also wanted to sleep next to me instead of in his hanging ferret hammock per usual.
The Problem Resolved
Although he was eating, I assumed he may have been affected by something he ate, so I served his wet cat food with flax seed (hoping to improve the intestinal lining and aid digestion) and coconut oil. He resumed his typical behavior the next day.
Reptiles and Other Pets
I have used coconut oil in the "gut load" for my panther chameleon by including it in his overall health-promoting mixture while he was suffering from kidney disease, and I have used it externally on my green iguana as an excellent moisturizer to combat dry skin and potential infection.
Skin Ailments in Reptiles
Reptiles tend to suffer from external skin problems such as difficulty shedding. Coconut oil is a great way to provide soothing and healing relief while any errors in husbandry (such as improper humidity levels) can be fixed.
Coconut oil can also be applied to superficial wounds, external fungal infections, and cuts to ward off infection after they are thoroughly cleaned with an appropriate solution such as Nolvasan or sterile saline.
It always pays to experiment with very small amounts of a new substance and to carefully observe for any changes in the animal's behavior or worsening of the condition.
A Summary of Coconut Oil Health Benefits in Pets
Both my dog and genet love the taste of coconut oil. Since it is such a heavy nutrient, I believe it can be useful for feisty animals that might be recovering from illness (with its potential anti-bacterial properties) or malnutrition. Coconut oil can add essential nutrients into the diet of compromised animals that are otherwise lethargic or have a poor appetite.
One study (contrary to some claims), showed that dogs gained more weight with coconut oil included in their diet. However, I would use it sparingly, since it is 90% saturated fat (not as bad as other animal-based saturated fats) and dogs are certainly prone to conditions like acute pancreatitis.
Coconut oil seems to be reasonably safe as a non-toxic topical for pets and has some properties that might help aid animals with minor external ailments. I do continue to use it for these purposes, but I recommend using extreme caution.
Coconut oil often causes diarrhea in people. Although this attribute is undesirable, this means that the substance might possess some antibacterial properties. While I no longer view coconut oil as a miracle cure, I sometimes use it with carnivorous or omnivorous animals that are experiencing probable bacteria-related illness, but only after they've seen a vet or while waiting to see one (e.g. I stop administering it 1–2 days before the vet as to not interfere with any prescribed medication).
Is Coconut Oil Healthy for Humans?
Contains Lauric Acid, Capric Acid, and Caprylic Acid
90% of coconut oil consists of a naturally occurring saturated fat, which is composed of medium-chain fatty acids (vegetable oils are composed of long-chain fatty acids). While the term "saturated fat" may have a negative stigma attached to it in human health studies, coconut oil is said to be very healthy because it also contains the health-promoting compounds lauric acid, capric acid, and caprylic acid.
It Is Stable at High Heat
Unlike most oils, coconut oil is not damaged by high heat, making it ideal for cooking and frying. High heat causes "rancidity," which makes the artificial trans fats found in many processed foods harmful to one's health. Therefore, coconut oil is said to lower high cholesterol and combat heart disease, stroke, and the hardening of the arteries in humans.
It Has a Variety of Applications
Numerous benefits have been attributed to coconut oil—from healing skin conditions to even assisting recovery from diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Weight loss, increased immunity, hair health, bone strength, improved digestion, improved vitality, and blood pressure stability are some additional alleged health benefits of this coconut derivative.
Health Benefit Claims in Humans
- Increased metabolism
- Weight loss
- Immune system support
- Antioxidant properties
- Anti-fungal, antibacterial, anti-protozoan, and anti-viral properties
- Improved heart health
- Thyroid support
- Faster healing times
- Improved digestion
How Does It Work?
Coconut oil possesses anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-microbial properties that are so effective, the oil is used by some clinicians to combat illnesses like AIDS. University of the Philippines Emeritus professor of pharmacology Dr. Conrato S. Dayrit explains that the substance has been shown to reduce the viral load in affected patients:
"Initial trials have confirmed that coconut oil does have an anti-viral effect and can beneficially reduce the viral load of HIV patients."
The lauric acid content in the oil may be metabolized by the body, which results in the release of monolaurin, a fatty acid that acts as an antibiotic by disrupting the lipid membrane of envelope viruses, inactivated bacteria, yeast, and fungi. Therefore, it is easy to see why using coconut oil could have potent healing abilities for multiple ailments.
Dosing in Humans
A dosage of approximately 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons daily is recommended (to be consumed in separate portions before meals). Sufficient time should be taken to acclimate the body to the oil. Start with smaller portions and work up to the desired dosage over the course of a few days. Decrease the dosage amount if diarrhea or other complications occur. Always check with your overseeing physician first.
- Carandang E.V. 2005. "Health Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil Explained." Philippine Coconut Research and Development Foundation.
- Nevin KG, Rajamohan T. 2006. "Virgin coconut oil supplemented diet increases the antioxidant status in rats." Food Chemistry [2006, 99(2):260-266]
- Assunção ML, Ferreira HS, dos Santos AF, Cabral CR Jr, Florêncio TM. 2009. "Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity." Journal Article, Randomized Controlled Trial. Lipids [2009, 44(7):593-601]
- Marina A.M., Che Man Y.B., Amin I. 2009, "Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation." Trends in Food Science & Technology Vol. 20 481-487.
- Intahphuak S., Khonsung P., Panthong A. 2010. "Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil." Pharmaceutical Biology. Vol. 48, No. 2, Pages 151-157.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
My cat has a possible Anal mast tumor. I do not want to do a biopsy since it is possible the procedure would make the tumor spread if it's cancerous. Would it be healthy (and possibly cure the tumor/mass) to apply coconut oil on the exterior portion of the mass?
There is no evidence that topical application of coconut oil will reduce tumors and there probably never will be. A biopsy is your best bet; I don't think cancer spreading from biopsies is common at all. You can ask for the tumor to be removed for a biopsy, but without wide margins, this will not cure it if it is cancerous.Helpful 7