I have gotten several emails recently asking about the effectiveness of Coconut Oil for dogs. Coconut Oil is certainly a product that has received a lot of Internet attention in the last 8 years. There are numerous websites promoting this product, as well as industry involvement in trying to draw attention to numerous claims, including many incredulous claims, of the health inducing properties of coconut oil.
I have watched these sites and read the claims with casual interest over the past few years, but to date I have not found any independent scientific research or clinical trials that show coconut oil would be of benefit to healthy dogs as a daily supplement.
First, let’s look at the components of coconut oil. It is a blend of fats. Simply stated, 1 tbsp. of coconut oil provides 117 calories, 13.6g fat, 0g carbohydrates, and 0g protein. These fats are saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
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Saturated fats in coconut are comprised of caproic, caprylic, capric, lauric, myristic, palmitic, and stearic acid. Lauric acid is the most dominant of this group. This is a medium chain fat, which may be of benefit to the user if the user has difficulty digesting of fats or needs to gain weight.
The monounsaturated fat in coconut oil is oleic acid. Some research has shown that oleic acid has some tumor suppression effects, based on studies regarding the Mediterranean Diet, but far more research needs to be done to prove this conclusively.
The polyunsaturated fat the coconut oil contains is Omega 6 fatty acids. This is abundant in all foods, and when dogs get too much Omega 6, it can create inflammation, pain and increase cancer cell growth.
There are NO Omega 3 fatty acids in coconut oil and Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil, is the important fatty acid needed by dogs (and humans) to support the immune system, healthy coat and skin, liver, kidney and heart function, as well as neonatal eye and brain development. Omega 3 fatty acids are also important to counter balance the large amount of Omega 6 fatty acids found in most foods. Omega 3 fatty acids are much harder to find in foods. Additionally, dogs need animal-based sources of this fatty acid, as they do NOT have the ability to convert the fatty acids found in plant-based oils (ALA) to a usable form.
I found claims that Coconut oil would kill viruses and bacteria however; the only research I could find was on the Coconut Research Center’s home page, which is of course funded by the coconut industry. You can read in information, but most of the information is old, done in conjunction with feed livestock, or used in reference to helping with weight gain due to the medium chain fat composition of coconut oil. I could not find definitive research that coconut oil could kill bacteria, yeast, or viruses.
There are no current studies available from independent scientists showing these results to date. Additionally, I did not find any current or ongoing clinical trials on the benefits of coconut oil. I also did not find any of the health organizations, other than the coconut industry or retailers selling coconut oil recommend it as a healthy supplement for dogs (or humans) for any of these issues.
Some humans are interested in it for the benefit of heart and cholesterol issues; however, neither of these issues is a concern for dogs as they are carnivores designed to eat high fat, animal protein diets. Dogs do not get ‘hardening’ of the arteries or plaque in the arteries. Again, there are no independent studies to date showing this oil may be healthy for the heart.
There are some claims that coconut helps fight Alzheimer’s disease. This has to do with the ketones found in coconut oil. There may be some usefulness in studying this further, but no definitive research has been completed to date to prove if this is true or not. Various Internet sites tell anecdotal stories. However, they are from promising to disappointing.
My personal take on coconut oil is that it makes far too many claims to be taken seriously. Claims of killing viruses, bacteria, yeast, curing Alzheimer’s disease, being able to treat flu and pneumonia, thyroid disease, obesity and HIV make this a dubious product and these are claims most of us have seen in numerous ‘Internet Sensations’ over the past 20 years. No single product has this capability, although it may be helpful with proper research in a couple of these areas. Is it dangerous? Not really, however, although it is a saturated fat and is high in calories. While this is not an issue for dogs, it could create problems in humans with heart conditions or cholesterol issues. Does it have benefits? Yes, for dogs that may need to gain weight or have a temporary difficulty with digesting fats it can be beneficial. This is because it is high in calories and easy to digest because it is a medium chain fat.
Would I feed coconut oil to my dogs? No way! I would not waste my money. What dogs DO NEED is an animal-based fat containing Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids, which are backed by quality research, do help support the immune system, fetal eye and brain development, coat and skin health and help offset the over abundance of omega 6 fatty acids in the diet.
Dogs also require animal fats. Animal fats give dogs, which are carnivores, not omnivores, energy, help with the dog’s ability to scent well, stay hydrated in the heat of the summer and the cold in the winter. Ask any dog sled professional or performance dog specialist. The best way to provide fat in your dog’s diet is with fresh fat found in animal-based foods such as meat, eggs and dairy. Your dog will appreciate it, and their health will show it!
Be sure to keep your dogs cool during the hot month of August and make sure you always have fresh water for your dogs around the clock!
I will see you in September!