Coconut Oil for Dogs and Cats? The Bad and Good.
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' healthcare and for themselves as well. The substance is touted as having multiple benefits that are well known among "alternative" medicine enthusiasts and nutritionists, having been documented with convincing anecdotal and scientific evidence. I still find coconut oil to be of value for animals, just as other 'natural' products such as honey (used for wound care) or aloe vera can be.
The claims: 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 this word "saturated fat" may have a negative stigma 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.
Coconut Flour for Pet Food Recipes
- The Benefits of Cooking with Coconut Flour for Pets
Coconut flour hosts many nutritional benefits for pets and humans. It's perfect for homemade dog treats and more.
- Unlike most oils, coconut oil is not damaged by high heat (making it ideal for cooking and frying). High heat causes the "rancidity" that makes the artificial trans fats found in many processed foods harmful to health. Therefore, coconut oil is said to improve conditions such as high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, and hardening of the arteries in humans.
- 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 maintenance of blood pressure levels are other alleged benefits of this coconut derivative, with many believing it to be the healthiest oil on Earth. More extensive studies are needed to verify this long and exciting list of benefits, but a few clinical studies exist that mostly verify its impact on some skin conditions.
- As a "nutraceutical," coconut oil may offer similar benefits for many species. Coconut oil can be utilized to address potential issues before they worsen and require a stressful and expensive vet trip.
Health Benefit Claims in Humans
- Increased metabolism
- Weight loss
- Immune system support
- Antioxidant properties
- Anti-fungal, antibacterial, anti-protozoan, anti-viral properties
- Promotes heart health
- Aids thyroid abnormalities
- Speeds healing
- Improved digestion
How does it work?
PLEASE READ: I'm leaving some of the original parts (in italics) of this article up for archival purposes, but I've reversed my opinion and recommendations for the use of coconut oil on pets (and humans).
To read my new opinion, scroll down to "The truth about coconut oil"
Coconut oil possesses anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-microbial properties that are so strong they are used by some clinicians to treat infections 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 may be metabolized by the body, which results in the release of monolaurin, a fatty acid that acts as an antibiotic, 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.
A pet version of coconut oil, great for skin ailments
This coconut oil brand is made especially for pets. The serving recommendation is ¼ to ½ teaspoon of coconut oil per 10 lbs. of body weight daily, and increasing the dosage over a week to 1 teaspoon per 10 lbs.
Coconut Oil for Cats and Dogs: My Experiences
Dogs and cats do not eat coconuts in the 'wild', but that shouldn't stop owners from supplementing this healthy food in the proper amounts. Pets will usually take it directly from a spoon.
Warning, anecdotal information ahead:
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 or aided all but one of them.
My small-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 OTC antibiotic that the breeder had been administering.
My Dog Loves the Taste
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 quickly after that. I observed that his poop had solidified (I hadn't known 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 aided or healed by the inclusion of the coconut products.
Another incident occurred that to this day, I don't know what the cause was. My genet mysteriously had patches of fur missing from his arms and what appeared to be little scrapes that seemed inflamed (*they did not appear to be self-inflicted and have not re-occurred as of 2016). I found this 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.
Photos of the conditionClick thumbnail to view full-size
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. Any change in an animal's behavior should be addressed immediately. A vet visit would most likely mean a lot of tests that could be unlikely to provide insight toward the problem, as well as stress for the animal. So I 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 in case of an infection.
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 afterwards. It was a big relief.
Use Coconut Oil BEFORE (or While Waiting For) the Vet!
The last problem was even more vague. I had had many issues with his 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, that time from 'accidentally' consuming the carpeting. He wanted to sleep next to me and not in his hanging ferret teepee.
Although he was eating, I assumed he may have been affected by something he ate, and 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.
Coconut oil is a great oil to offer dogs, cats, ferrets, and other carnivorous mammals if they appear to have the following:
- A bacterial infection
- Digestive upset
- A skin condition
- Parasitic infection
- Suspected immune system impairment
Coconut oil can also be used alongside a prescribed treatment for sick animals or to improve and enhance the health of healthy animals. It can be used in the early stages of a potential issue to try to resolve the abnormality before it worsens and requires a vet to intervene.
Reptiles and Other Pets
I have used coconut oil in the "gut load" for my panther chameleon, 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. It is probably safe to feed iguanas small amounts of coconut oil, but not recommended due to their sensitivity to saturated fats (they can be fed no animal material either).
It always pays to experiment with very small amounts of a new substance and carefully observe for any changes in the animal's behavior or worsening of the condition. Coconut oil can add essential nutrients into the diet of compromised reptiles and small animals who are lethargic or have a poor appetite.
Reptiles tend to contract external problems with their skin 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 be applied to superficial wounds, external fungal infections, and cuts to ward off infection, after they are thoroughly cleansed with an appropriate solution such as Nolvasan or sterile saline.
How to Administer
For humans, a dosage of approximately 2 1/2 to 3 Tbsp is recommended daily, to be consumed in separate portions about three times a day before meals. Sufficient time should be taken to acclimate the body by starting with smaller portions and working up to the desired dosage over the course of a few days. Decrease the dosage amount if diarrhea or other complications occur. A good dosage for dogs would be around 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight daily or 1 tablespoon per 30 pounds. In my pet's case, I offered a little oil when problems arose but didn't continue a regular schedule.
Beginners can start with around ¼ tsp. a day for small dogs and 1 tsp. per day for large dogs, increasing the dosage every few days until reaching the recommended quantity. Similar ratios can be estimated for cats and other pets. I would start with about a pinch full for reptiles depending on the size and diet of the species.
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, or in other terms, the mechanism has been demonstrated in a petri dish and not in actual subjects. Those that have used live subjects used animal research, but few if any have been canines 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 (both 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 and other articles.
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 with my pets and have witnessed no problems with it to my knowledge. Nevertheless, despite my experiences that seemed to suggest coconut oil was resolving my pet's problems, that is inadequate anecdotal evidence. I no longer recommend any medicine considered 'alternative'. Any medicine 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.
Well-Demonstrated Coconut Oil Benefits
Appetite Stimulant: As previously stated, 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. 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, as it is a saturated fat (not as bad as other animal-based saturated fats). The dosage instructions are in the above italics. Fish oil can also serve this purpose.
Skin Moisturizer: As in the above video, coconut oil seems to be a reasonably safe and edible skin applicant for pets. with some properties that might help aid animals withe minor external ailments. I do continue to use it for these purposes but I recommend extreme caution.
Anti-bacterial?. Coconut oil often causes diarrhea in people who take it because it is said to have anti-bacterial properties. Although this attribute is undesirable, this means that the substance might possess some benefit as an antibiotic. While I no longer view it as a miracle cure, I sometimes use it with carnivorous or omnivorous animals experiencing probable bacteria-related illness, but after they've seen a vet, or while waiting to see one (1-2 days before the vet I stop administering it as to not interfere with any prescribed medication).
There are very few, if any, "miracle cures." Coconut oil has its place in use with animals, but the claims of extraordinary health benefits being made are dubious at best. I will keep this page updated with any recent scientific study or more information.
Please check out this excellent blog
 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.