Coconut oil has recently been heralded, both in human and veterinary circles, as a new “super food” and attributed with various curative and healing properties. As with so many ideas picked up by the media, very little of what is published about coconut oil is based on fact. Anecdotal evidence and the tireless efforts of companies who stand to gain financially from this idea, have pushed coconut oil into the lime light.
With this article we hope to provide some facts around this product, debunk some myths and educate the caring pet owner about the use of coconut oil as a supplement.
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is derived from the white flesh of the coconut.
The two most common methods of making coconut oil are hydrogenation and cold-pressing, the latter producing a heathier end-product as hydrogenation results in trans-fats in the oil.
Coconut oil consists primarily of saturated fats, especially a fat called lauric acid. These fats range from long-chain triglycerides to medium chain triglycerides and it appears that the benefits of these medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are at the centre of all the attention.
Claimed health benefits of Coconut oil in Dogs
Heart Health: In human nutrition, some studies suggest that coconut oil increases HDL (good cholesterol) and reduces the LDL:HDL ratio which has a beneficial effect on human cardiac health. As heart disease is very different in dogs and arteriosclerosis is a very rare cause of heart disease in this specie, the use of coconut oil to alter cholesterol levels is really of little benefit.
Weight loss: While some studies in Humans suggest that the MCT in coconut oil help with weight loss, this has proven not to be true for dogs.
Studies published by the US National Library of Medicine showed that coconut oil focused diets were ineffective for weight loss in dogs and that dogs fed coconut oil, typically showed less weight loss and maintained a higher body fat mass than dogs eating an unsaturated long chain fatty acid based diet.
The antibacterial and antiviral properties of coconut oil are heralded by many natural medicine websites. Although some studies done in the laboratory, have shown that lauric acid (which is found in coconut oil) can slow the growth of some bacteria in a petri dish, actual animal studies are still lacking.
Coconut oil to treat Ectoparasites and mange: Some studies have suggested that coconut oil based soaps can be effective against mites, ticks and fleas. Unfortunately, theses studies were done by companies who stood to gain financially from selling this product and in very small groups of dogs. We are sceptical as to the validity of these claims.
Skin and Coat Health: Using coconut oil directly to the skin, has been shown to help clear eczema, dry skin and aid in the healing of bites and stings. This appears to be the most practical and beneficial use for this oil.
Various unfounded statements around the use of coconut oil in dogs include:
Coconut oil helps against allergies
Coconut oil helps in diabetes
Coconut oil helps to cure cancer
Coconut oil aids digestion
Coconut oil helps in canine arthritis
The bottom line really, is that although coconut oil is probably safe to use in dogs as part of a healthy, balanced diet, the proven benefits of using it are limited. No controlled trials have been done as to the safety of use in dogs or the appropriate doses to use.
Remember that products used for humans are not always necessary or appropriate to use in our pets.