Chances are you’ve heard about the health benefits of coconuts. Coconut oil, flour, milk and water have flooded grocery store shelves promising everything from weight loss to reducing wrinkles. Coconut has also made its way into pet products. While pet-specific research on coconut oil is scarce, I’d like to share with you some of the top ways I’ve been using coconut products in my pet patients.
What makes coconut oil special?
Most of coconut oil’s health benefit is attributed to lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride (MCT). MCT’s are easily digestible for people, dogs and cats and are an excellent source of energy.
Lauric acid has been used to aid in weight loss, help lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. It’s also been used for skin care and to treat viral infections (including influenza), yeast infections and fever blisters.
In pets, coconut oil has been used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions including skin infections, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), to fight infections and as an immune booster. The latest claim is that coconut oil and other MCT’s may help improve cognitive function in aging dogs. So how do I use coconut oil in my patients?
Four ways to use coconut oil for dogs (and cats!)
Giving medication – One of my favorite uses for coconut oil is to conceal pills and capsules. Dogs seem to love the smell and flavor of coconut oil; cats are hit or miss. Scoop a dollop of coconut oil in your hand (remember it’s in a solid form at room temperature), pack the capsule inside and offer the tasty treat to your pet. I prefer coconut oil to peanut butter because it’s easier to clean and has additional health benefits commercial peanut butter can’t match. Coconut oil is also highly digestible, an important factor for sickly or older patients.
Brain boost – I’m extremely excited about the surge in research on ways to improve mental function in aging dogs and cats. MCT’s have been shown to enhance brain function in older dogs and are being added to many pet foods. For many senior pets, I suggest adding about a teaspoon of coconut oil to their food per 10 to 20 pounds of body weight. Some cats relish the taste of coconut oil while others find it revolting. Talk with your veterinarian about complementing your senior pet’s diet with coconut oil.
Dry, flaky skin – Whenever I’m faced with a senior pet experiencing dry, flaky skin, I often prescribe a coconut oil mask treatment. This works great in smaller dogs or for pets who enjoy regular bathing – or the taste of coconut. Here’s how I teach pet parents to give a coconut oil mask treatment:
- Bathe with a hypoallergenic or therapeutic shampoo recommended by your veterinarian.
- Rinse and leave damp.
- Scoop a handful of coconut oil and apply to skin. Rub over entire body, paying close attention to the ears, underneath arms and legs and stomach. Do not get into eyes. OK if pet licks it – they will.
- Leave the coconut oil mask on the body for about five minutes.
- Rinse and lightly shampoo to remove any greasy feeling.
- Towel dry.
- Repeat weekly.
Spot skin treatments – Daily coconut oil applications to dry, hardened noses and footpads, thickened elbows, flaky ears and cracking toenails can help soften and repair damaged tissues. I’ll apply a small amount, rub in well, and take the pet for a walk or distract them from licking for a few minutes. I prefer coconut oil for these conditions because it’s completely safe for pets to groom the area afterward. Ask your veterinarian if coconut oil is safe to use on your pet’s skin condition, and try this skin salve recipe:
1/8 cup coconut oil (liquid or room temperature)
1 tsp. vitamin E oil
In a small bowl or jar, combine ingredients and let thicken. Store in the refrigerator. Apply on paw pads or nose to prevent or correct minor dryness.
Those are just a few of the top ways I use coconut oil in my pet patients. As we evaluate new research, I’m sure we’ll expand our utilization of this healing food. Before administering or feeding your dog or cat coconut oil or one of its forms, ask your veterinarian if it’s appropriate and safe for your pet.