People seem to add coconut oil to everything, from food to skincare products. Coconut oil for cats has even popped up on ingredient lists of pet foods. Humans may tout coconut oil as a miracle health and beauty product, but is it the same for our feline friends?
According to Dr. Candy Akers, founder of Journeys Mobile Veterinary Services, coconut oil can benefit cats. Still, it should be used in moderation, as it isn’t quite the cure-all it’s made out to be. And it can’t replace visiting the veterinarian when your cat isn’t feeling well.
Here are the benefits of coconut oil for cats and a guide on incorporating it into their diet or routine.
Is Coconut Oil Safe for Cats?
“Coconut oil is safe for cats to consume in moderation,” Akers says, adding that it can be added to a cat’s diet or applied directly to their skin as part of a holistic treatment plan for several feline conditions.
That said, coconut oil is not a substitute for veterinary care. Using coconut oil for a cat’s medical condition should be discussed with your veterinarian first. When choosing coconut oil for your cat, look for organic, cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil, Akers says.
Can Cats Eat Coconut Oil?
Yes, and they typically love the taste! “Two of my cats love coconut oil so much that they follow me around after a shower because I use coconut oil on my skin as a moisturizer,” Akers says.
As a healthy treat, cats can eat a pea or dime-sized amount of coconut oil once or twice a day. Be sure to start small to avoid any digestive upset, and check with your veterinarian before introducing new treats to your cat.
Can I Put Coconut Oil on My Cat?
Coconut oil is also safe to apply to your cat’s skin for certain conditions, Akers says. However, if your cat is experiencing unusual dryness, irritation, or reactions, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian before applying anything to your cat’s skin.
Benefits of Coconut Oil for Cats
Coconut oil may be high in saturated fats but has healthy nutrients like omega fatty acids, antioxidants, and mild antibacterial and antifungal properties .
Here’s how these properties can benefit your cat:
Coconut Oil for Cat’s Skin
When applied directly to the skin in small amounts, coconut oil soothes the skin by reducing inflammation and providing moisture. When cats eat coconut oil, those same healthy vitamins and minerals can create healthier skin by supporting skin cell regeneration and strengthening the skin barrier.
Here are additional ways coconut oil may improve your cat’s skin:
- Reduces shedding: Improved skin health means stronger hair follicles, which can reduce shedding, Akers says.
- Improves coat sheen and gloss: Coconut oil can make your cat’s fur shinier and healthier thanks to its healthy fats.
- Moisturizes and soothes dry skin and paws: Coconut oil has an omega fatty acid called linoleic acid that cats can’t make independently and need to get from their food . This fatty acid can help keep cats’ skin hydrated, reducing dryness, itching, and flaking. Apply coconut oil directly to your cat’s skin or give it to them in their food for these benefits, but always check with your veterinarian first.
- Reduces dandruff: Coconut oil moisturizes the skin and has antimicrobial properties, which may help reduce dandruff in cats .
- Repairs skin damage: Coconut contains saturated fatty acids that support healing and repair body tissues. According to a small study conducted in 2021 on 32 cats with scabies, applying a topical mixture of Aloe vera and virgin coconut oil improved the skin health of treated cats compared to those not treated with the mixture . However, Akers notes coconut oil wouldn’t be her go-to remedy for parasitic skin infections in cats and dogs. So use it only in conjunction with whatever scabies medication your veterinarian prescribes for your pet.
Coconut Oil for Cat Respiratory Health
Akers says coconut oil may improve feline respiratory health when eaten. However, coconut oil is not a substitute for medical care if your cat shows any signs of respiratory illness or distress, such as coughing, sneezing, or rapid or shallow breathing.
Here are some potential benefits of coconut oil on your cat’s respiratory health:
- Reduced inflammation: In guinea pigs and humans, coconut oil can reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract and is especially helpful for the upper respiratory tract, such as the throat, trachea, and bronchioles . Akers says coconut oil may provide the same benefits to cats.
- Stronger immune response: That same study on guinea pigs indicated that coconut oil can help relieve immune system conditions such as asthma and allergies by supporting the immune system.
- Fewer infections: “The direct antiviral and antibacterial activity of coconut oil can result in fewer upper respiratory infections,” Akers says.
Coconut Oil for Cat Digestive Health
When eaten, coconut oil may improve feline digestive health, Akers says. However, coconut oil is not a substitute for medical care if your cat has chronic diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, or hairballs.
Here are a few ways coconut oil may improve your cat’s digestive help:
- Reduced inflammation: “The anti-inflammatory properties of lauric acid in coconut oil can help alleviate inflammation in the digestive tract, which can be beneficial for cats with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), leaky gut, chronic hairballs, gastritis, ulcers, and food sensitivities,” Akers says.
- Hairball management: By acting as a natural lubricant, coconut oil can help pass hair through the digestive tract and prevent life-threatening blockages. Because coconut oil also improves skin and fur health, it decreases shedding and may result in your cat consuming less fur.
- Alleviates constipation: In a 2020 study of 25 rats, virgin coconut oil relieved constipation by increasing the water in feces and acting as a natural lubricant for the digestive tract . It may help relieve mild constipation in cats, too, Akers says.
Coconut Oil Brain and Nervous System Health
Coconut oil may improve brain and nerve functions, here’s how:
- Less anxiety: Coconut oil is 80 to 90 percent saturated fat . However, Akers says coconut oil’s good fats can help maintain stable energy levels for the brain. This, in turn, may contribute to a positive mood and reduce anxiety in cats.
- Never cell repair: Coconut oil may also help nerve cell membranes heal and function better, leading to better brain and nervous system activity, Akers says.
Is Coconut Oil Bad for Cats?
Coconut oil is calorie-dense and could lead to weight gain if given in large amounts. Additionally, coconut oil could cause diarrhea. “I tell pet parents to start with minimal amounts, gradually increasing to the recommended amount,” Akers says.
If your cat is gaining weight after introducing coconut oil to their diet, you might be giving them too much. Talk to your veterinarian for a personalized recommendation on how much to feed your cat and if it’s a good idea for them. If your cat has certain health conditions, coconut oil might not be recommended.
Common Misconceptions About Coconut Oil Uses for Cats
Coconut oil is not a substitute for professional medical care, particularly for the conditions below:
- Coconut oil for feline urinary tract infections (UTIs): The benefits of coconut oil in this situation are likely indirect, Akers says. For example, coconut oil may reduce bladder inflammation or the likelihood of a UTI caused by allergies. However, coconut oil is not a remedy for feline UTIs.
- Coconut oil as a natural dewormer: See your veterinarian for a fecal test and dewormer if your cat has worms. “For coconut oil to have a significant effect on intestinal parasites, your cat would have to ingest a large amount of coconut oil all at once,” Akers says. This could cause digestive issues like diarrhea and other problems.
- Coconut oil for fleas: Rather than lathering your cat in coconut oil, EPA and FDA-approved flea medicines can kill existing fleas, protect your pets from future ones, and protect them from other parasites like ticks.
- Coconut oil for feline gingivitis: It may relieve some redness and swelling of the mouth, but it won’t prevent or treat gingivitis, Akers says. Brushing your cat’s teeth at home with cat-friendly toothpaste and scheduling routine dental exams will keep your cat’s oral health in check.
- Coconut oil for a cat’s ears: Akers says coconut oil isn’t a typical ointment for feline ear cleanings or killing mites. Instead, reach for ear cleaners made for cats and recommended by veterinarians.
- Coconut oil for cats with allergies: Coconut oil doesn’t resolve the underlying cause of cat allergies. According to Akers, the only way to relieve this allergy is to identify and remove the allergen from your diet or environment.
How to Use Coconut Oil for Cats
If you’re considering using coconut oil for your cat, it’s important to remember that it’s not a cure-all solution and may not be appropriate for all cats. Before incorporating coconut oil into your cat’s grooming routine or diet, ask your veterinarian if it’s right for your kitty.
Applying Coconut Oil to the Paws and Skin
If your cat has dry, cracked paws, coconut oil can be a great remedy. Akers says you’ll only need a small amount of oil for all four paws, about half the size of a dime. After rubbing it into your cat’s paws, distract them for about five minutes so that it can absorb. However, it won’t harm your cat if they can’t help themselves and lick it off.
Coconut Oil in Cat Food
When it comes to feeding your cat coconut oil, you want to do it sparingly. By selecting cat food that contains coconut oil as an ingredient, you’re ensuring your cat receives the right balance of essential nutrients, minerals, and calories in addition to coconut oil.
Coconut Oil Cat Treats
Cat treats should account for ten percent of a healthy cat’s daily caloric intake, and coconut oil treats are a healthy choice.
“Any cat suffering from inflammatory conditions is a good candidate for coconut oil treats,” Akers says. “I recommend [coconut oil] treats for cats with severe anxiety, respiratory conditions like asthma, and digestive disorders like constipation or hairballs.”
Cats and Coconut Oil: Expert Safety Tips
Always consult your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet or applying anything new to your cat’s skin. However, these safety and buying tips can put you on the right track.
- Prevent GI upset by throwing away expired or rancid oil. You can identify rancid oil by its unpleasant smell and printed expiration date. Keep coconut oil in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place, Akers says.
- While you don’t need to buy coconut oil for cats in the pet store, Akers says to stick with organic, cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil. Refined coconut oil means heat has been applied and the nutritional value could be compromised.
- Widianingrum, Desy Cahya et al. “Antibacterial and immunomodulator activities of virgin coconut oil (VCO) against Staphylococcus aureus.” Heliyon vol. 5,10 e02612. 20 Oct. 2019, doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02612.
- “The Skinny on Fat: Part 2 – Essential fatty acids and inflammation” (April 2, 2018) Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Retrieved from https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/04/essential-fatty-acids-and-inflammation/
- Rele, Aarti & Mohile, Rashmikant Bhaskar. (2002). Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. Journal of cosmetic science. 54. 175-92.
- Solikhah, Tridiganita Intan, et al. “Aloe vera and Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) accelerate healing process in domestic cat (Felis domesticus) suffering from scabies.” Iraqi Journal of Veterinary Sciences, vol. 35, 4 Nov. 2021, pp. 699–704.
- Vasconcelos, Luiz Henrique C et al. “Virgin Coconut Oil Supplementation Prevents Airway Hyperreactivity of Guinea Pigs with Chronic Allergic Lung Inflammation by Antioxidant Mechanism.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity vol. 2020 5148503. 27 Jan. 2020, doi:10.1155/2020/5148503
- Gao, Meixia et al. “Antioxidant components of naturally-occurring oils exhibit marked anti-inflammatory activity in epithelial cells of the human upper respiratory system.” Respiratory research vol. 12,1 92. 13 Jul. 2011, doi:10.1186/1465-9921-12-92
- Adeniyi, Olasupo & Edache, Moses & Abi, Innocent & Ediale, Richard. (2020). Ameliorative Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil in Loperamide Induced Constipation in rats. Journal of BioMedical Research and Clinical Practice. 309-315. 10.46912/jbrcp.149.
- “Coconut Oil” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/coconut-oil/