You may have heard about the use of coconut oil for dogs and wondered whether there's any potential benefits that could help your pooch, as well as considering the overall safety of the product for dogs.
With many people now turning to coconut oil for its health benefits and healing properties, it’s only natural that you might want to introduce it to your dog. Coconut oil is very versatile for humans, often used in everything from cosmetics to cooking products. It is thought to have natural anti-inflammatory properties, boost the immune system, and aids in weight loss. It can also make an excellent moisturizer when used topically.
Often, coconut oil can be found on the ingredients list of many popular dog shampoos designed to tackle itchy, dry skin, so you may already have the sense of coconut oil being used as a treatment applied to the fur but you might not be aware of full uses and ways it can be given to your dog. Not to mention, that it's important to consider any risks, as well as the benefits, of any treatment designed to help your dog, especially from home. Consider reading our veterinarian guide to dry skin on dogs and consulting with your own vet to ensure your pup is appropriately vetted for treatment.
Here we are going to explore the various uses of coconut oil in dogs, answering whether coconut oil is safe for dogs and uncovering how coconut oil can be used on canines.
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil comes from the pressed flesh of the coconut that grows on coconut palms. Being an oil it contains high levels of fats known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These are “good” fats and have several health benefits, as well as providing energy.
These fats help in hormone production, protect our nerves and internal organs and are needed for growth and development. One of these MCTs is lauric acid, which has some antimicrobial properties and caprylic acid, which has some anti-fungal effects. Coconut oil also contains antioxidants like vitamin E and provitamin A.
Is coconut oil safe for dogs?
Yes, in many cases, coconut oil can be used safely in dogs. As with any supplement, you should use it carefully though and ideally under veterinary supervision.
Be aware that while it can have some health benefits for your dog, it may not be the cure-all product that some websites would have you believe. It definitely shouldn’t take the place of any medications your veterinarian has prescribed. You may need to be careful when using it orally in animals prone to pancreatitis, as its high fat content could trigger an episode in some dogs. Speak with your vet if you aren’t sure.
Is coconut oil good for dogs?
While there are plenty of anecdotal claims, hard research is a bit more difficult to come by. Here are some of the things that coconut oil has been suggested to help with:
- Aiding in some digestive disorders
- Improving cognitive (brain) function in older dogs
- Natural anti-inflammatory properties, helping animals with arthritis
- Some antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties
- Reduces coughing
- Used topically it can help with a variety of issues like itchy, inflamed skin, bites, stings, and hotspots
- May help make dogs’ coats look shinier and healthier
- Can be used to care for your dogs' teeth
Be aware that coconut oil should not be used in place of any medications your veterinarian prescribes. There has been no evidence as to its cancer-fighting properties, or any benefit in helping with serious dental or thyroid disease (though it can be used as toothpaste to help care for your dog’s teeth).
Also bear in mind that there has been no proof that its antibacterial and antiviral properties are strong enough to have a significant effect outside of a lab environment. Coconut oil seems to have the greatest effect when used topically for conditions such as itchy skin and sore paws.
Can you use coconut oil as a flea treatment?
Coconut oil's anti-parasite properties do show promise. Considered a natural home remedy for fleas on dogs by some pet owners, coconut oil does have high levels of a saturated fat known as lauric acid which can repels fleas, but it's important to note that it's not an all-encompassing flea treatment for dogs.
A veterinary-prescribed flea treatment would still be advised. You can find out more about flea treatments for dogs, including our vet's guide to the safest flea treatment for dogs, in our further in-depth articles.
Risks of coconut oil in dogs
If taken orally, adding extra oil to the diet can potentially lead to tummy upsets, but also pancreatitis in some animals. Care needs to be taken in animals that suffer from hyperlipidaemia (high circulating levels of lipids/fat).
Even in healthy dogs, adding coconut oil to the diet will increase their calorie intake which could lead to weight gain and contribute to higher cholesterol.
A slightly obscure risk is that your dog’s sense of smell may be reduced when using coconut oil, which may be a problem in working breeds of dog. More research might be needed into this.
What kind of coconut oil should I use for dogs?
You should choose a coconut oil that is as pure as possible, ideally, an unrefined oil called virgin coconut oil. Cold-pressed oil is even better as this has been processed very quickly, preserving more of the nutrients. It’s also worth noting that different oils have slightly different tastes, with some being very coconutty and others being more subtle. You may need to find one that your dog enjoys the taste of. Never force your dog to eat anything he doesn’t want to.
How much coconut oil can you give to a dog?
If you are using coconut oil orally rather than topically then build up the dose very gradually to ensure your dog tolerates it ok, and in case of any allergies. Ideally add it to your dog’s normal diet, once or twice daily.
Speak to your veterinarian for advice on coconut oil dosage, as there is no established research into the exact amounts that should be used. Be aware that in some dogs increasing fats in their diet can lead to unwanted consequences such as greasy, loose stools, especially if you give too much.
How to apply coconut oil to a dog
If using coconut oil topically on your pet’s skin then apply a small amount to the affected area so that you can gently massage it down through the fur to the skin. Leave to soak for 5 minutes before rinsing. If your dog still feels greasy you may need to rinse again or use a mild shampoo to help wash it out. Alternatively, using a dog-specific shampoo that is coconut oil based may be easiest.
If your dog licks the coconut oil that you have applied to his fur, it will be unlikely to cause him any harm, but it’s best to apply it and then supervise him before rinsing thoroughly. Don’t pour coconut oil into your dog’s ears – always get a veterinarian to examine your pet if they have sore or infected ears.
While coconut oil can have some benefits, it is not a cure-all product. It seems most effective when used as a topical treatment to help with skin complaints. You should only use it under the guidance of your veterinarian, and as with all supplements, never instead of any prescribed medications.
Dr Rebecca MacMillan is a companion animal vet who has always had a passion for writing and client communication. She works in the South West and loves complex medical cases.