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Is Coconut Oil Good for Dogs?

Dog at groomer
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  • There is anecdotal evidence that coconut oil is beneficial to dogs. But it's not considered a cure-all.
  • Pet parents should use coconut oil sparingly and avoid overdoing it.
  • With the correct dosing, coconut oil can potentially benefit your dog’s skin and brain.
  • Because it is high in saturated fat, pet parents should be careful when feeding coconut oil to dogs.

Coconut oil for dogs has gotten extensive attention on pet-parent internet forums over the past few years. Touted to treat every ailment under the sun, pet parents are impulse buying, and giving large amounts of coconut oil to their pets without understanding what it is, or the potential harm it can cause. 

But is coconut oil actually good for dogs? And do all the claims and anecdotal evidence really stack up? 

While this natural product shouldn’t be considered a cure-all for dogs, and there are concerns involved with using too much, coconut oil may help your dog’s skin, coat, digestion, and brain health. Let’s explore the risks and benefits of using coconut oil for dogs.

Is Coconut Oil Safe for Dogs?

When used in small quantities, coconut oil tends to be safe for dogs both topically and orally. However, it’s important to remember that each pet is an individual and will react differently to coconut oil. 

When used topically, coconut oil shouldn’t pose any major threat to dogs. But if pet owners slather large amounts of coconut oil on a dog’s skin, it can trap moisture and make an infection worse. 

When ingested, coconut oil can cause significant health concerns for dogs such as diarrhea, weight gain, diabetes, and pancreatitis. If your pet has a history of diabetes, pancreatitis, or is overweight, coconut oil may be more likely to exacerbate these health concerns.  

If your dog does not suffer from these health concerns, the key with coconut oil is not to give too much. And if your pet reacts poorly, discontinue its use. 

If your pet is healthy, there is no additional health benefit to giving coconut oil, and you may actually cause harm. 

Benefits of Coconut Oil for Dogs 

coconut oil on table

Coconut oil is not a remedy to everything, but it does have the potential to help with specific health concerns in dogs. The benefits will not increase with the amount of coconut oil given, however, and higher dosing levels can make your pet sick. 

With the correct dosing, coconut oil can potentially benefit your dog’s skin and brain. Here are some potential benefits of coconut oil for dogs:

It can moisturize dry skin. When used sparingly, coconut oil can help hydrate a dog’s dry skin, especially after bathing. It will also make your pet smell nice.

It can be a barrier to allergens. Coconut oil can act as a barrier to environmental allergens, and help prevent secondary infection in some dogs.

It can aid wound healing. Coconut oil applied lightly to minor wounds on dogs can help speed up the healing process. 

It can boost your dog’s brain. Coconut oil contains Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), essential fatty acids that feed brain cells in older dogs helping them with mood, memory, problem-solving ability and clarity of thinking.

It may help dogs with liver disease. MCTs may also be beneficial for pets with liver disease or any condition with abnormal fat or energy metabolism such as lymphangiectasia.

It can entice dogs to eat. If your dog is a picky eater, adding small amounts of coconut oil to your food might make mealtime more appetizing.  

How to Use Coconut Oil for Dogs 

Woman holding a dog's paw in hand

The use of coconut oil is not widely used in traditional western veterinary medicine, although some alternative medicine practitioners will recommend its use. 

Some of the most common ways to use coconut oil for dogs are addressed below. Discuss any intended use of coconut oil with your pet’s veterinarian before giving to your pet. 

Coconut Oil for a Dog’s Paws

Coconut oil can be used to moisten dry, cracked paws. Application should occur while your pet is laying on their side on the floor. Have some treats ready to reward them for letting you apply something to their feet. 

To apply, take a pea-sized amount of coconut oil and rub it between your hands until there is a very light coating on the palm side of your fingers. Gently rub the coconut oil onto each paw pad. Use verbal praise and reward with treats. 

If possible, keep your dog on his side for the next 5-10 minutes until the coconut oil can absorb. If your dog won’t stay put, he may track coconut oil wherever he walks. 

Coconut Oil for a Dog’s Skin

If your dog has dry, flakey skin, coconut oil—which is rich in vitamin E—may be able to help. If you notice flakes or dandruff on your pet, or you notice your pet scratching, check them for fleas before applying. Coconut oil will not help with fleas, but may help with dry skin, especially after bathing.  

Applied topically, coconut oil will likely not have any lasting effects on your pet’s coat quality or tolerance to environmental allergens.

For the easiest application, have your dog stand directly in front of you. Have some treats ready to reward them for letting you apply something to their skin. To apply, take a pea sized amount of coconut oil and rub it between your hands until there is a very light coating on the palm side of your hands. Gently pat the coconut oil onto the dry areas of skin, then use your fingertips to gently massage the oil onto your dog’s skin. Use verbal praise and reward with treats as you apply. 

For any pet with red, aggravated skin, coconut oil has the potential to make the condition worse. In these cases, always consult a veterinarian before applying coconut oil. 

Coconut Oil in Dog Food

Adding coconut oil to a pet’s food is the easiest way to dose your pet. Many dogs will enjoy the taste of coconut oil and won’t mind the addition. Start small to make sure you don’t make your pet sick. 

Below is a guideline for recommended amounts of coconut oil to add to your dog’s food:

Size of Dog Starting Dose of Coconut Oil Maximum Dose of Coconut Oil
Small Dogs 1/8 tsp per day 1/4 tsp per day
Medium Dogs 1/4 tsp per day 1/2 tsp per day
Large Dogs 1/2 tsp per day 1 tsp per day

Dogs should be given the starting dose of coconut oil once daily for two weeks. If you see a beneficial effect after two weeks, continue at this lower dose. If you don’t notice improvement in clinical signs after two weeks, increase to feeding coconut oil twice daily (*daily intake should not exceed the maximum dose listed above). 

A tablespoon of coconut oil is too much for any sized dog. Your pet can become significantly ill from too much coconut oil, so feed it to them with caution. 

If, after giving coconut oil, you start seeing vomiting, diarrhea, or inappetence (not wanting to eat), discontinue giving coconut oil and bring your pet to your veterinarian for care. 

Precautions When Giving Your Dog Coconut Oil

Risks of coconut oil for dogs

Since coconut oil is a fat source, it increases the number of calories your pet is taking in on a daily basis. If you plan on adding coconut oil to your dog’s food, you should decrease the amount of food you are giving to your dog daily to prevent weight gain. 

Overweight pets are predisposed to chronic health conditions. Any weight gain should be discussed with your pet’s veterinarian. 

Coconut oil should not be used in a pet’s ears, either alone or in combination with any other products. 

In a mostly enclosed space like the ear canal, coconut oil can trap moisture making ear infections worse. Coconut oil does not have any anti-itch properties and will not help relieve itchy ears or headshaking

Where to Buy Coconut Oil 

You can find coconut oil for dogs in any grocery store, vitamin store, online retailer, and in many pet stores. Make sure to review labels to make sure that there are no added sugars or extra ingredients.  

If you are planning to use coconut oil for oral or topical use in dogs, look for organic, virgin, or cold-pressed coconut oil in a glass (not a plastic) container–bonus if it’s also sustainably sourced and fair trade. 

There is no need to refrigerate coconut oil. If it smells rancid (unpleasant), then it is time to buy a new jar.