Everywhere you look, coconut oil is presented as an all-in-one miracle product. People use it for everything from heart health to jet fuel (seriously), but are there real results to back all of these claims and uses?
More importantly for our purposes, is this ‘miracle oil’ something that can help our dogs?
We’re exploring the idea of coconut oil for dogs in this article, giving you some food for thought as you find new ways to improve your pooch’s health. It turns out that coconut oil has some really vital ingredients that our dogs need more of, but there’s a catch.
We’ll get to all of that and more below.
Can Dogs Have Coconut Oil?
In relatively small amounts, coconut oil is safe for dogs. There's nothing inherent in coconut oil that is unsafe for your dog, although using too much coconut oil could contribute to high cholesterol and heart issues.
Coconut oil shouldn't be a staple of your dog's nutrition, but it can be present in small amounts. The "healthy amount" changes depending on the size of your dog. Small dogs will be more sensitive to a teaspoon of coconut oil than large dogs, for example.
You don't want to give them too much because coconut oil has a high volume of saturated fats such as lauric acid.
Still, fats are an important part any mammal's diet. Even saturated fats (which get a bad reputation) are important, although they should only account for roughly 5% of daily calories. Saturated fats come primarily from meat and dairy, but are present in coconut oil as well.
As a result, it's best to use coconut oil for dogs in small amounts. Using it as a carrier oil for an active ingredient such as hemp or chamomile essential oil is a good option. In those cases, your dog will consume enough coconut oil to get the potential benefits, but not so much that it could cause problems.
So, is coconut oil good for dogs to consume? The answer is yes. It should be used in moderation, however, as excess coconut oil could raise cholesterol.
Is Coconut Oil Safe for Dogs' Skin?
Can you put coconut oil on dogs' skin and coats? Yes, Coconut oil may actually be more beneficial when used as a topical aid for your dog's skin & coat. The benefits of coconut oil for dogs are real, but they're probably not the miracle solution you're hoping for.
At the very least, it's a helpful ingredient to be ingested in conjunction with other active ingredients. As a topical agent, however, there are some really exciting possible results. Let's discuss those results in detail after looking at two things to watch out for.
Start with a small application, and look out for:
1. A skin reaction. Some dogs could be averse to coconut oil, although it's very unlikely.
2. Any allergic reaction. Although coconut oil may have the ability to ward off the severity of some allergies in dogs, there's a small chance that your dog is allergic to it.
These risks are minimal, but it's always very important to test the waters before diving in. Give your dog a small application of coconut oil on a specific part of the body, and give it a day or so to make sure there's no reaction.
Potential Benefits of Topical Coconut Oil
The key benefit of topical coconut oil on your dog's skin & coat is hydration. If your dog is prone to flaky dry patches or their coat is getting a little rough in winter, coconut oil might be able to help.
Here's a video of a man describing how to cook down and apply coconut oil to help your dog's skin & coat. The oil absorbs cleanly into the skin and can actually provide an anti-bacterial barrier.
One study showed that rats with skin conditions healed much faster when their dermatological issues were aided with virgin coconut oil (1).
Is Coconut Oil Truly Healthy?
It turns out, there are plenty of applications for coconut oil (2). The health impacts are generally positive, but the main thing to watch out for is using too much, as coconut oil is high in saturated fats and that can be bad for heart health - that goes for dogs and humans alike.
Ironically, one of the most popular claims about coconut oil - that it helps heart health - happens to be the most contested. Keep in mind that humans have the tendency to dive right into food trends, using coconut oil to cook, clean, wash, and garnish everything they do.
A little coconut oil is likely to provide myriad benefits, many of which with a net positive effect on heart health. A lot of coconut oil day-in and day-out, however, might not be the best idea.
Let’s dig into the benefits for dogs a little deeper, illuminating the key actors in coconut oil, fats called “MCTs.”
Understanding Coconut Oil's Fats
You’ve heard the phrase “healthy fats” before. Your mind jumps to omega 3s, omega 6s, and maybe even the mental image of an avocado or olive oil. It’s true that healthy fats are essential and beneficial, but what makes them different?
Fats are essential to the function of your dog’s cells, absorption of vitamins, hormone management, inflammation, and more. They’re also a key player in the production of energy.
Without getting too scientific, let’s suffice to say that fats depend upon chains of carbon atoms. (No need to harken back to high school science, it’s sufficient to think of a few atoms connected in a row).
"MCT" stands for medium-chain triglyceride. These are also known as short chain fatty acids.
This is a type of fat, and the "chain" aspect is important for a couple of reasons.
First, the length of the carbon atom chain adjusts the way that the fat functions in your dog's body. Longer chains take different metabolic pathways. In other words, they're digested differently and take longer to turn into energy.
Plus, long-chain fatty acids are more likely to be stored as fat. Excess fat can be damaging for a number of reasons, contributing to an overweight dog and leading to insidious issues like osteoarthritis, diabetes, and more (3).
Second, the shorter the chain, the easier the fat is to be absorbed into your bloodstream. MCTs are broken down a lot faster, sent through the blood into the liver, which turns MCTs into ketones.
Those ketones help the cells of the liver and can even work out toxins. The leftovers return to the blood to be turned into energy. So, rather than taking the scenic route and getting stored as fat, MCTs short cut and become useful very quickly.
There are also short-chain triglycerides (SCT) which are produced by healthy bacteria in the gut.
Lauric Acid in Coconut Oil
One of the most controversial MCTs in coconut oil is one called "lauric acid."
It's listed as an MCT, but it actually has a 12-carbon atom chain. This is the very highest number of carbons that a fat can have before it's considered long-chain. The sneaky thing is that lauric acids constitutes 47% of the fatty acids in most coconut oils (4).
Its chain is so long that it's digested as a long-chain fatty acid, taking the aforementioned "scenic route" with a tendency to get stored as fat. Lauric acid is also being researched in dogs, and the results are conflicting.
You'll find resources saying that its helpful, and others claiming that it contributes to a chain-reaction of inflammation and other health issues, particularly in the gut.
However, there's a loophole for those looking to get the benefits of coconut oil for their dogs without the perils of lauric acid. It's called "fractionated" coconut oil.
Fractionated Coconut Oil: The Solution?
Fractionated coconut oil is heated above its melting point, and this eliminates the long-chain-triglycerides including lauric acid (5). What's left are MCTs only.
This allows your dog to digest and use the fatty acids in coconut oil without the possible hiccups and health hazards caused by an excessive number of LCTs. This makes it an optimal carrier oil for things like hemp oil.
If you're interested in trying a fractionated oil and hemp oil product, explore Lolahemp products by clicking the banner below. Further, for an exploration of the safety of hemp and CBD for dogs, take a look at this veterinarian-written guide on the subject (6).
So, What's The Verdict on Dog Coconut Oil?
It appears that coconut oil is a mixed bag of benefits and potential risks. The benefits are brought forth by fatty acids called MCTs, while the risks are posed by fatty acids called LCTs.
The riskiest aspect of coconut oil is the presence of lauric acid, which happens to be an MCT with a long carbon-atom chain, making it function like an LCT. Topical coconut oil seems to be a safe and effective way to improve and hydrate your dog's skin and coat, where as excessive pure coconut oil in the diet could be damaging.
Fractionated coconut oil, on the other hand, omits lauric acid and leaves only a handful of beneficial MCTs. If you can find a fractionated coconut oil, our suggestion is to select it over other oils that don't remove lauric acid.