Coconut oil is popular as a superfood or cure-all for people as well as dogs. But is coconut oil really good for dogs?
In short … no. There are many healthful oils for your dog, but coconut oil isn’t one of them. Research now shows it may harm your dog’s gut health.
To understand why, you need to know about different types of fats.
Types Of Fats
When you see the words fats, oils and fatty acids, they’re all describing the same thing: chains of carbon atoms in a chain with a carboxyl group on one end and a methyl group on another.
Carbon chains vary in length. The length determines how the fat is used in the body. There are short, medium and long chain fatty acids.
Which Fats Do Dogs Need?
Dogs need fats, and some are “essential fatty acids” … meaning fats that your dog needs to survive. The body can’t produce essential fatty acids … so they must be in the diet.
Adult dogs need dietary omega-6 (in the form of linoleic acid - LA) and omega-3 (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is necessary for brain and eye health in all dogs, and puppies need it in their diet. Adults can make it from other fats so it’s not essential in the diet. They can also make arachidonic acid (AA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), so they’re important for health but not essential in your dog’s diet.
Coconut oil is not an essential fatty acid and it doesn’t offer the same benefits. Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides.
What Are Medium Chain Triglycerides?
When your dog eats fats, they travel through the blood as triglycerides. Triglycerides are made up of three (tri-) fatty acids and a sugar backbone (-glyceride).
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a good nutritional fat for dogs (and people).
Medium Chain Triglycerides And Your Dog
Here’s what MCTs do for dogs …
- Strengthen good gut bacteria
- Promote a healthy gut lining
- Control hunger
- Support brain health
- Promote sugar metabolism and reduce insulin resistance
- Manage inflammation
- Help with weight loss
- Provide a source of energy for vigorous activity
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides. And medium-chain triglycerides are beneficial. So does that mean coconut oil must be good for your dog? Well … not so fast …
There are three true types of medium-chain triglycerides: caproic acid, caprylic acid and capric acid. Coconut oil contains many different types of fatty acids, including some medium-chain triglycerides. But it only contains between 5 and 10 % caprylic and capric acids.
More than half of the total fat content of coconut oil is lauric acid. So the next question is …
Is Lauric Acid A Medium-Chain Triglyceride?
That question is important, because medium-chain triglycerides are distinguished by how they’re handled by the body.
This gets a bit more technical. Those 3 true medium-chain triglycerides have numbers that describe their length. Caproic acid is C6, caprylic acid is C8, and capric acid is C10. Lauric acid is C12 and in theory that makes it an MCT. But it has a different effect on the body than true MCTs.
The three true MCTs move through the cells that line your dog’s gut (or yours) in the small intestine … then go into the bloodstream and to the liver. Then, they’re metabolized into ketones, which provide a nearly instant burst of energy for cells to use. They can also cross the blood-brain barrier.
But lauric acid acts differently. It’s metabolized like long-chain fatty acids. These are broken down and moved into the lymph system. From there, they go to the chest, and then are absorbed into the circulatory system.
So lauric acid behaves like a long-chain fatty acid (C13-22), and it’s more likely to be stored as fat. It can be used to produce ketones, but this happens slowly.
What Does Lauric Acid Do?
Lauric acid has both good and bad effects. On the upside, lauric acid can potentially have antimicrobial effects and help prevent infections. But the downside is that it irritates mucous membranes. This means lauric acid causes gut inflammation and leads to leaky gut.
Lauric Acid And Leaky Gut In Dogs
Your dog’s gut is lined with cells that have “tight junctions” that stick close together. They allow nutrients into the blood stream, but keep out toxins, undigested food and pathogens. Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions between the gut lining cells get loosened. This increases intestinal permeability, causing leaky gut … and chronic inflammation.
Leaky gut isn’t just about digestive health. It can be at the root of many health problems such as arthritis, allergies and skin issues, or autoimmune disease.
Endotoxins Increase The Damage
The cell walls of some bacteria in your dog’s gut contain lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS is an endotoxin that can create an immune response in your dog. With leaky gut, more endotoxins get into the bloodstream and can cause harm throughout the body. Increased endotoxin absorption can increase the risk for the following conditions:
- Autoimmune problems
Other Problems With Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is high in saturated fats like palmitic and myristic acids. These fats contribute to insulin resistance and obesity. In humans, they increase what’s known as “bad” cholesterol. Cholesterol isn’t usually a problem for most dogs, but there’s research showing coconut oil can cause symptoms linked to heart issues.
In one experiment – dogs whose diet included coconut oil developed fatty liver, high cholesterol and significant hardening of the arteries. Another study showed that detection (working) dogs were less accurate, and got tired faster.
Coconut oil is high calorie. With 40 calories per teaspoon, coconut oil calories can really add up. A small dog that’s only 10 pounds needs to eat about 200 calories a day. If you feed him a teaspoon of coconut oil, you’d need to give 20 percent less other food to manage his calories. So your dog would be missing out on vital protein, minerals, vitamins and nutrients from his food.
But if you don’t reduce food intake while providing coconut oil, your dog could quickly gain weight.
Should You Give Your Dog Coconut Oil?
We don’t recommend feeding your dog coconut oil because of the risk of leaky gut. There are many other ways your dog can eat good fats.
It’s fine to use coconut oil topically on the skin. It’s moisturizing, antimicrobial and soothing. Just don’t use too much, and keep in mind your dog might lick it off so he could end up taking it internally!
But for eating, it’s best to avoid lauric acid.
Coconut Oil Alternatives For Dogs
There are many nutritious, healthy oils you can feed your dog instead of coconut oil. These include …
- MCT oil
- Green lipped mussel oil
- Ahiflower oil
- Hempseed oil
- Grass-fed ghee
MCT oil brings the benefits of coconut oil without the downside. MCT oil is also a medium chain triglyceride, mainly extracted from coconut oil. But it doesn’t contain potentially harmful lauric acid (or shouldn’t …always check the label to make sure).
Green lipped mussel oil is rich in glycosaminoglycans and helps reduce inflammation. It helps with joint pain and is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. There are 90 different fatty acids in green lipped mussels, and it’s an ocean friendly and sustainable oil.
Ahiflower oil is a rich source pf omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Ahiflower oil is a near-perfect omega oil in a sustainable package.
Ghee is clarified butter high in saturated and unsaturated fats that can be fed or used topically. It builds strong bones, lubricates joints, reduces inflammation, improves digestion, boosts immunity and promotes good vision.
Hempseed oil helps with inflammation, can prevent colitis, promote cardiovascular health and more.
With so many good nutritional fats for your dog, it’s best to reserve coconut oil for topical use only.