Questions about coconut oil keep coming up, so I thought I’d explain in why I recommend not giving it to their cats and dogs.
Humans have lived with coconut palms for millennia. Primates, including early humans, ate, and still eat, coconuts. Coconut is a natural food for us.
The carnivore’s natural diet is high in both protein and animal fat. Wild animals But there are only three essential fatty acids (EFA) that cats must obtain from their diet: linoleic acid (LA), alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and arachidonic acid (AA). Dogs don’t need AA, only LA and ALA. (In kittens and puppies EPA and DHA are also essential).
Adult cats and dogs can benefit from many other fats and oils, particularly EPA and DHA, but they aren’t necessary for survival.
Coconut oil is very big in human nutrition right now, but it isn’t a good choice for pets. While it contains tiny bit of LA (2%), they have no for need the other fatty acids it contains.
While many miraculous benefits are attributed to coconut oil, it’s likely that most any oil would do the same for skin and coat health and other claims.
The purported benefits of coconut oil are due to its content of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are molecular chains of 6, 8, or 10 carbons. Lauric acid, a 12-carbon chain, is often considered an MCT, but the body actually metabolizes it as a long-chain fatty acid.1, 2
The MCTs are saturated fats. In human medicine, saturated fats cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high cholesterol, and heart disease. Research found that experimental dogs fed a diet containing coconut oil for a year all developed high cholesterol, significant atherosclerosis and a fatty liver.3 In another study, detection dogs tired sooner and were less successful on a diet containing coconut oil.4
According to veterinary experts and proven by science, MCTs have a negative effect on palatability in cats.5 It’s hard enough to get cats to eat something new; why give them something that tastes bad to them?
MCTs may also be a contributing factor to hepatic lipidosis, a life-threatening liver disease in cats. This could be due to a number of reasons. It is possible that MCTs actually harm the liver. Or, it could be that it makes the food taste so nasty that cats won’t eat it… and poor appetite is the primary cause of hepatic lipidosis. Clearly, either scenario is bad news for kitties.
In dogs, MCTs can cause pancreatitis, so don’t be tempted to give it to them either. This seems to pose a particularly high risk to overweight dogs.
Plus, if you add extra fat, that means that other nutrients are diluted. Coconut oil is added to pet food and treats at the expense of protein and usable fats. Protein and healthy fats like EPA and DHA are much more important.
And don’t forget to account for the calories (approximately 116 kcal per tablespoon) in coconut oil; otherwise it will result in weight gain.
Use coconut oil with with extreme caution in overweight pets.
There is no good physiologic reason to give a coconut oil to pets, and little research to support the claims made for it. Commercial pet food is notorious for its use of rancid and poor quality fats; any fresh, good quality oil will improve skin and coat, increase energy, and just make pets feel better! Most of the purported benefits of coconut oil are not unique. Polyunsaturated fats do the same, and are safer and healthier.
If you want to supplement healthy fats, stick to Omega-3s, especially EPA and DHA, which have many benefits, and are deficient in most commercial pet foods as well as homemade diets. (Click here for more information on the types and benefits of various Omega-3 products.)
- Vegetable oil, coconut. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fats-and-oils/508/2
- Motarjemi Y, Moy G, Todd E, eds. Encyclopedia of Food Safety. Academic Press, Dec 12, 2013, p. 96.
- Mahley RW, Innerarity TL, Weisgraber KH, et al. Canine Hyperlipoproteinemia and Atherosclerosis Accumulation of Lipid by Aortic Medial Cells In Vivo and In Vitro. American Journal of Pathology. 1977 Apr;87(1):205-225.
- Altom EK, Davenport GM, Myers LJ, et al. Effect of dietary fat source and exercise on odorant-detecting ability of canine athletes. Research in Veterinary Science. 2003 Oct;75(2):149-55.
- MacDonald ML, Rogers QR, Morris JG. Aversion of the cat to dietary medium-chain triglycerides and caprylic acid. Physiology and Behavior. 1985 Sep;35(3):371-5.