Is coconut oil good for dogs? If you’ve been tempted to give your dog coconut oil for dogs itchy skin, dog yeast infections, canine cognitive dysfunction, or even cancer, but you’ve heard conflicting information online about whether or not coconut oil is safe for dogs, read on!
Coconut oil has long been a controversial fat, not only for pets, but for humans as well. Just do an online search on coconut oil safe for dogs, or coconut oil for dogs, and you’ll get a slew of contradictory information.
So, before you say no to coconut oil for dogs, or worry is coconut oil safe for dogs, let’s take a look at three of the most common myths or misconceptions about virgin coconut oil for dogs and look at what science says about coconut oil.
MYTH #1: Coconut Oil is bad for your dogs (and you), because it’s a saturated fat.
The problem with this statement is that it assumes that all saturated fats are the same. Scientific research now shows that the kind of saturated fat in coconut oil differs markedly from both dairy saturated fatty acids and beef saturated fatty acids, both of which are long chain fatty acids. However, coconut oil is mostly comprised of unique fats called medium chain fatty acids.
Saturated fats are divided into various types based on the number of carbon atoms in the molecule. Depending on length, they differ distinctly in their metabolism, absorption, and effects on lipid profiles.
Although coconut oil is primarily comprised of saturated fat, the saturated fatty acids (SFAs) in coconut oil are drastically different from other dietary sources of SFA. The medium-chain fatty acids like Lauric Acid are absorbed and metabolized very differently from long-chain fatty acids found in animal fat. Again, all saturated fats are not created equal.
That being said, veterinarians agree that dogs and cats are able to consume saturated fats in their diets without undue risk of coronary artery diseases and other lipid diseases that affect humans.
In contrast to humans, dogs and cats are physiologically resistant to the development of hypercholesterolemia, high triglyceride, or high blood pressure.
In his study, “Facilitative and Functional Fats in Diets of Cats and Dogs”, Dr. John Bauer, DVM explains it well:
"Although the concept of good and bad fats is appropriate for human health, dogs and cats are able to consume both types of fats in their diets without undue risk of coronary artery diseases, heart attacks, or strokes to which humans succumb. The simplified reason for this is that they have more good cholesterol (HDL) than bad cholesterol (LDL) to begin with, no matter what types of fat they consume. Second, in contrast to humans, dogs and cats typically are resistant to the development of hypercholesterolemia and atherosclerosis, even when they consume amounts of dietary fat that would typically turn human blood into sludge.
The fact that good cholesterol concentrations are higher than the concentrations of bad cholesterol is part of the mechanism that protects them from cardiac diseases that may affect humans. In addition, although saturated fats (and possibly trans fats) may cause modest increases in blood cholesterol concentrations in dogs, these dietary components do not appear to impart any increased risk of arterial diseases in dogs, which is in contrast to their effects in humans.
Thus, it is not advantageous to classify the various types of fats as good or bad in dogs or cats, although definitive data for cats (other than the fact that cats have high HDL cholesterol concentrations) have not been obtained. In view of these metabolic differences, it is proposed that the types of dietary fats for dogs and cats should be classified as functional or facilitative, rather than good or bad, respectively."
“Facilitative and Functional Fats in Diets of Cats and Dogs” - Dr. John Bauer, DVM, PhD, DACVN.
MYTH #2: Lauric acid is not a medium-chain fatty acid, nor does it act like a MCFA when metabolized by the body.
If you search online about lauric acid, the predominant MCFA in coconut oil, you may find articles that state that lauric acid isn’t really a MCFA, but is a long chain fatty acid instead. They argue that lauric acid follows the same metabolic pathways as the long chain fats in animal saturated fats, and thus need pancreatic lipase, bile acids, and chylomicron transportation directly into the blood stream. Because of this, they claim lauric acid may increase blood lipid levels (causing hyperlipidemia) or harm dogs with pancreatitis.
The truth is, lauric acid (also known as dodecanoic acid) is a saturated fat with a 12-carbon atom chain. Lipids classified as a MCFA, has many properties of medium-chain fatty acids and the body metabolizes lauric acid as a MCFA. The most abundant natural source of lauric acid is virgin coconut oil (which has an average of 50% lauric acid). The only other abundant source found in nature is human breast milk.
A 2014 study published in the Philippine Journal of Science sheds further light on the unique properties of lauric acid. According to lead researcher Dr. Fabian M. Dayrit,
"Based on biochemical and nutritional evidences, lauric acid (C12) has distinctive properties that are not shared with longer-chain saturated fatty acids: myristic acid (C14), palmitic acid (C16), and stearic acid (C18)." The study goes on to explain that, "lauric acid makes up approximately half of the fatty acids in coconut oil; likewise, medium-chain triglycerides which contain lauric acid account for approximately half of all triacylglycerides in coconut oil."
For these reasons, Dr. Dayrit concludes that coconut oil should be classified as a medium-chain vegetable oil. He also points out that there is no link between lauric acid and high cholesterol.
The American Oil Chemist Society and chemistry databases (ChEBI, PubChem, ChemSpider) all classify lauric acid as a MCFA, based not only on its chemical structure, but how it is predominately metabolized by the body as well. Read more and see studies that explain why lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA).
MYTH #3: Coconut oil is inflammatory, can cause leaky gut in dogs, or can cause metabolic endotoxemia.
Another misconception is that coconut oil is inflammatory and is not good for dogs, causing inflammation. Several online articles about coconut oil for dogs question whether or not coconut oil safe for dogs, and claim that it’s best to “just say no” to coconut oil.
However, there are many scientific studies on coconut oil and inflammation that prove otherwise. Unlike polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils, such as corn, soy, safflower, and sunflower oils), the saturated fats in coconut oil do not have any missing hydrogen atoms or double-bonded carbons. This means coconut oil is not vulnerable to oxidation and free-radical formation, making coconut oil an effective anti-inflammatory fat, protecting the body from oxidative stress from free-radicals.
Studies show that virgin coconut oil has natural anti-inflammatory properties that help heal injuries in the digestive tract and prevent chronic inflammation. Coconut oil is especially effective at healing injuries in the mucosal lining of your pet's intestine that can lead to leaky gut syndrome. In her article on leaky gut in dogs, Julie Ann Lee, DCH RCSHom, recommends giving coconut oil to dogs to supply beneficial medium chain fatty acids. And as we know, MCFA are easier to digest than fish oils without the risk of rancidity.
Coconut oil's antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties also promote healthy digestion, and the medium-chain fatty acids in the oil prevent undue strain on the digestive tract. Furthermore, coconut oil does not cause metabolic endotoxemia (a condition where high levels of endotoxins circulate in the blood). On the contrary, coconut oil has been shown to kill gram-negative bacteria in the gut and favor beneficial gut bacteria, supporting gastrointestinal health.
The bottom line is, benefits of coconut oil for dogs is well-known as coconut oil is a unique medium chain saturated fat. Many holistic veterinarians know that coconut oil is a valuable fat for supporting animals who have lipid disorders or can’t digest fats.
When supplementing your pet's diet with coconut oil for dogs, make sure to choose a high-quality oil such as CocoTherapy Virgin Coconut Oil, which contains high levels of MCFAs such as lauric acid – the healthy fats that promote digestive health.