There are a lot of products making their way into the health scene these days that are touted as the next best panacea. Most of them you have probably seen with flashy labels on the shelves, commercials, articles in health magazines or recommended by your best friend. Once products hit the human health industry, the pet industry is sure to follow. Sometimes for the better since research and use support the claims made but sometimes the results are less than impressive. While you can find coconut oil plastering the local health market, should we be just as excited about it for our canine companions as well? Let’s take a look.
Coconut oil is extracted from copra, or meat of the coconut (Cocos nucifera). One of the first things most people notice about this oil is that it is one of the few oils that is solid at room temperature. This is due to the high content of saturated fatty acids, particularly medium chain fatty acids such as lauric, myristic, and caprylic acids. Coconut oil has been made popular in industry use for its stability, bland flavor, pleasant odor, colorless consistency, easy melting and ease of digestibility.
Saturated fats have been given the bad rap by the American Heart Association due to their ability to raise cholesterol levels which may contribute to increased risk of heart disease or related issues by affected individuals. However, the saturated fats found in coconut oil are medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. These MCTs have become a useful tool for nutritionists due the fact that they are easily absorbed in the small intestine and transported directly to the liver for energy breakdown or storage. This means less stress is placed on the body, most importantly the pancreas and gallbladder, since no bile or additional enzymes are required in the intestine to break down the fats. In fact, since MCTs travel directly to the liver to be burned for energy, they function much more like a carbohydrate (without the spike in blood glucose) than they do a fat. This has become a well known fact in the nutrition world and is used regularly in cases of nutritional malabsorption, obesity, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis.
There has also been some emerging research on the benefits of coconut oil for brain health as well. Since the brain requires a large amount of energy, the MCTs found in coconut oil serve as quick, convenient energy for the brain due to their ability to cross the blood brain barrier. They have also been shown to increase omega-3 concentrations in the brain to benefit maintenance of the nervous system and keep inflammation at bay.
Not only does coconut oil have internal benefits but thanks the presence of MCTs (lauric, capric and caprylic acid) as well as Vitamin E, it has a host of external benefits as well. It’s been used topically for its superior moisturizing effect on the skin and for hair. It is often used for psoriasis in humans or for hot spots and other minor skin irritations in dogs.
We generally talking here about human subjects but luckily these same results have been found in our canine companions as well. It’s easy to incorporate into the diet as since most dogs (and cats!) will like the flavor. However, dogs with a history of digestive issues including IBD or pancreatitis should consult with their veterinarian prior to use. Always start with very small doses and work your way up, generally maximizing at 1 teaspoon per 10lbs or 1 tablespoon per 30lbs given throughout the day. If your dog reacts at any time go back down to the previous amount. You’ll also want to make sure you are purchasing unrefined or “virgin” coconut oil. This can generally be found in the health section at any grocery store or at your local independent pet retailer. It is important to remember that dogs are individuals and react differently. Dogs that are sensitive to fat or prone to weight gain should have fats added slowly into the diet. While coconut oil may help boost energy for metabolism to assist with weight gain, it also adds extra calories to the diet which should be considered in the dog’s overall diet.
Dodds, J., Laverdure, D. (2015). Canine nutrigenomics: the new science of feeding your dog for optimal health. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise Publishing.
Fife, Bruce. (2003). Coconut oil and medium-chain triglycerides. Coconut research center. Retrieved Nov 9, 2015: http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/article10612.htm
Puotinin, CJ. (2005). “Virgin” or unrefined, this healthy oil has multiple benefits for your dog. Whole Dog Journal. October 2005. Retrieved Nov 9, 2015: http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/8_10/features/15754-1.html
Strauss, Mary. (2012). Do you know which plant oils may help your dog and which ones may cause problems? Whole Dog Journal. Nov 2012. Retrieved Nov 9, 2015: http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/15_11/features/Plant-Oils_20645-1.html
My life has gone to the dogs. I've worked in shelters, dog daycares, veterinary offices and local pet food retailers. I've seen all aspects of the pet world and I've got a theme that keeps popping up. Let's get back to basics, keep it simple. In my mind, it all starts with good food and using what nature has to offer.