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Benefits of Coconut Oil for Dogs

In this post, we look at the many benefits of coconut oil for dogs.

The other day, a veterinarian friend of mine asked me an excellent question: “Why do you always talk about coconut oil?” In response, I began spouting off the benefits of coconut oil for dogs to her. And then it dawned on me that perhaps more people would like to hear my science-backed coconut ramblings. So, I have turned them into a blog post about the health benefits of coconut oil for dogs.

health benefits of coconut oil for dogs

Not all Fats are Created Equal

Coconut oil is a fat, so it makes sense to begin our discussion of the benefits of coconut oil for dogs with a little background on the different types of fats.

Fats, which are a type of lipid, are made up of smaller molecules called fatty acids, which are mainly made up of long chains of carbon atoms linked to hydrogen atoms. A fatty acid is categorized as “saturated” when the bonds between the carbon atoms are all single bonds and “unsaturated” when any of the bonds is a double or triple bond.[1]

Fats serve many functions that are essential for life, including forming the main component of cell membranes, providing the body with energy, keeping skin and hair healthy, helping to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and helping to keep the body warm.[2] [3]

Fats are classified by their degree of saturation, as follows:
  • Saturated fats, which are mostly found in animal foods, such as meat and dairy. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature.
  • Unsaturated fats, which are mostly found in plant oils. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.

Unsaturated fats are further broken down into two types:

  • Monounsaturated fat, e.g., olive oil, peanut oil.
  • Polyunsaturated fat (also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs), e.g., sunflower oil, sesame oil. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are also types of PUFAs.[2] [5]

Saturated fats have been linked to a variety of health issues in people such as obesity, high cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease. Coconut oil, although it is a plant-based oil, is a saturated fat and so for a long time was grouped with other saturated fats and deemed unhealthy. However, this could not be further from the truth. Why? Because coconut oil has a different chemical structure and so does not behave the same in the body as other saturated fats. The reason for this has to do with the length of coconut oil’s fatty acid chains.

Dietary fats are also classified by the length of their fatty acid chains, as follows:
  • Short-chain fatty acids have the shortest chain of carbons (1 to 5 carbons).
  • Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) fall in between short and long-chain fatty acids in length, with 6-12 carbons.
  • Long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) have 14 or more carbons.[4] [2]

Most saturated fats, such as those found in animal products, are comprised of long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs). Coconut oil, however, is comprised mainly of medium-chain fatty acids, or medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

MCTs behave differently than LCFAs. MCTs are more rapidly and easily digested, absorbed and utilized, producing a very different effect on the body than LCFAs.4

Benefits of coconut oil for dogs include:

Readily-available Fuel without the Carbs

MCTs in coconut oil supply a quick and highly bioavailable form of non-carbohydrate energy. MCTs are able to circumvent the normal process of fat metabolism, absorbing directly into the portal vein and circulating to the liver where they are quickly converted to energy. Therefore, MCTs provide a rapid source of energy, much like carbohydrates.[4] However, MCTs do not have the potential negative side effects of carbohydrates, such as creating spikes in blood sugar.[6]

Brain Food for Older Dogs

MCTs provide efficient energy to the brain and are shown to improve cognitive function in older dogs. The brain requires a lot of energy, most of which is received when the body breaks down glucose from food. However, as we and our pets age, we metabolize glucose less efficiently, leaving a gap in the brain’s energy requirement. When this occurs, alternative sources of fuel become important to fill this gap and provide much-needed energy to the brain. This is where medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as those contained in coconut oil, can help save the day:

  • Unlike regular fats, which the body metabolizes slowly, MCTs break down and absorb rapidly into the bloodstream, providing a quick source of non-carbohydrate energy.
  • MCTs readily cross the blood-brain barrier, supplying up to 20% of a normal brain’s energy requirement.
  • MCTs are important for ketone production, which serve as an additional source of “brain food.”
  • MCTs help the body use essential omega-3 fatty acids more efficiently and increase omega-3 concentrations in the brain (a good reason to give your dog both omega-3s and coconut oil).[4] [7]

One study showed that when 24 Beagles who were between the ages of 7.5 and 11.6 years old at the start of the trial were fed a diet supplemented with 5.5% MCTs, their cognitive ability improved significantly. The dogs showed improvement in learning-related tasks after only about two weeks of consuming the supplemented diet, and within one month their learning ability improved significantly. The authors concluded that supplementation with MCTs can improve age-related cognitive decline by providing an alternative source of brain energy.[8]

Fat-fighting Food for Overweight Animals

If your pet is overweight, MCTs may help support weight loss in several ways. First, digesting MCTs creates a higher thermodynamic (heat) effect in the body than LCFAs, which helps your pet’s body burn more fat by increasing his metabolism. MCTs also help your pet feel fuller by sending signals of satiety to the brain, and of course decreasing the desire to eat is a good thing when you are trying to shed a few pounds. An added weight-loss benefit is that MCTs are not stored in the body as fat.[4]

Benefits for Ill Dogs

Because they are so easily digested and assimilated as energy, MCTs may have added benefit for ill dogs, such as those with gastrointestinal issues or those with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, a condition that results in the inability to properly digest fats due to a deficiency of pancreatic lipase, the enzyme that breaks down fats.[4]

Other Benefits of Coconut Oil

Around 50% of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is more lauric acid than is found in any other food. Once ingested, lauric acid is converted in the body into monolaurin, a monoglyceride (type of lipid molecule) that has been shown to destroy lipid-coated viruses,[6] including:

  • Gram-negative bacteria
  • Herpes
  • HIV
  • Influenza
  • Measles
  • Protozoa, such as giardia lamblia [6]

How to Select Coconut Oil

The coconut oil you select should be unrefined (virgin) and expeller pressed or cold pressed. Processed, heat-treated foods lose their natural life-giving nutritional force. If possible, choose organic brands to avoid potential contamination from pesticides. Coconut oil does not need to be stored in the refrigerator, but since it is light sensitive (like all oils), it’s best to keep it in a dark cupboard. Dark glass containers are excellent storage choices.

My recommended dosage is 1/2 tsp of coconut oil per 10 pounds of the dog’s body weight daily. I recommend beginning slowly and working your way up to ensure that the dog tolerates it well. Also, do not give coconut oil to dogs prone to pancreatitis or with liver issues unless you first speak to your vet.

Studies in dogs show that coconut oil fed as 10% or less of a dog’s diet poses no digestive or other health issues.[4]

Do you have something to add to this story? Voice your thoughts in the comments below!
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References

      fatty acid. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fatty+acid.

Mercola, J. (2011). The Science is Practically Screaming…Don’t Make This Trendy Fatty Acid Mistake. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/11/11/everything-you-need-to-know-about-fatty-acids.aspx.

MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health.(2015). Dietary Fats Explained. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000104.htm.

Aldrich, G, 2009, ‘MCTs an overlooked tool in dog nutrition’. Feedstuffs, 81(35) :10.

Dodds, WJ & Laverdure, DR. (2015). Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. Dogwise Publishing. Wenatchee, WA.

Mercola, J (2013). Countless Uses for Coconut Oil – The Simple, the Strange and the Downright Odd. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/11/18/coconut-oil-uses.aspx.

Laflamme, DP, 2012, ‘Nutritional care for aging cats and dogs’. Vet Clin N Am: Sm An Pract, 42(4): 769-791.

Pan, Y, Larson, B, Araujo, JA, Lau, W et al, 2010, ‘Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs’. Brit J Nutr, 103 (12): 1746-1754.

Comments

  1. I have a diabetic miniature schnauzer that is blind, 81/2 years old, female. I was referred to Dr Jean Dodds to get a diet for her. Dr Dodds referred me to you.

    I would love to get the information on how I could get your consultation to feed my sweet girl.
    thanks
    Gin Fagan
    602.295.8243