By Dr. Kathy Boehme

The latest fad in health care, coconut oil has been attributed to numerous benefits in humans, including everything from weight loss to a boosted immune system. It is considered anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal. Some studies show that topical use of coconut oil may help against bacteria and viruses in humans with atopic dermatitis. It has also been shown to be a good moisturizer and increases lipids in the skin with topical use.

But does coconut oil have a place in disease treatment for our pets? There is certainly anecdotal evidence that it can. Like any supplement, however, it is case by case and far from the “cure all” that some internet claims would have you believe.

The most common use for coconut oil in pets is as a supplement for atopic skin allergy. Some even claim that their pets are no longer itchy after several weeks of use. Unfortunately, feeding coconut oil regularly will also increase the overall fat in the diet, which may not be ideal for some pets. Coconut oil can also worsen pancreatitis and hyperlipidemia (elevated levels of lipids or fats in the blood), so its oral use is very controversial.

Coconut oil is also believed to beneficial for pets with inflammatory bowel disease and cognitive dysfunction. Caution should be used, however, for the same reasons stated above.

If you are considering using coconut oil for your pet, it is best to consult your veterinarian first. If your pet has tendencies toward weight gain, abnormal fat metabolism or pancreatitis, it is not an ideal option. If the risk is deemed minimal, starting a low oral dose very slowly and working up is wise. It is safer to try coconut oil topically.

Topical use of coconut oil may benefit dry, itchy, irritated skin as well as crusty noses and pads.

We may eventually find it helpful in pets with other medical conditions, but there are just not enough studies to prove that yet and the risks may outweigh the benefit for many individuals.

Coconut oil claims with no credible basis based on what we currently know include:

  • Cancer prevention
  • Dental calculus and periodontal disease prevention
  • Weight loss
  • Thyroid dysfunction

Claims that may have a credible basis include:

  • Dry skin
  • Wound healing
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lymphangectasia (poor bowel absorption)
  • Cognitive dysfunction

While coconut oil is unlikely to be a true cure, it certainly may benefit individual circumstances and warrants a discussion with your pet’s veterinarian if you are curious about its use. If you already have experience using coconut oil for your pet, we would love to hear what you think!