Coconut Oil: The Over-Hyped 'Super Food' for Pets

Ken Tudor, DVM
Published: July 21, 2015
Coconut Oil: The Over-Hyped 'Super Food' for Pets

Have you caught the coconut oil super food bug yet? With television celebrity Dr. Oz cheerleading for the wonders of coconut oil, pet owners are anxious to add it to their pet’s commercial food diet or use it as the sole source of fat in their pet’s homemade dog food diets.

And why not? According to Dr. Oz it cures bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, promotes weight loss, promotes “good cholesterol,” and improves the mental skills of Alzheimer’s patients. He stops short of coconut oil getting rid of unwanted facial hair and unwanted house guests, but the implication is that anything is possible.

But coconut oil is not a “super food,” and including in your pet’s diet is probably a recipe for disaster at many levels.

Suggested Benefits of Coconut Oil*

  1. Increases metabolism and promotes weight loss

“The fats in coconut oil are called medium-chain triglycerides or MCT. MCT are believed to be the reason for coconut oil’s health benefits. MCT are burned by the liver for energy so they do not add to body fat. MCT also produces chemicals called ketones. Some scientific studies suggest that ketones suppress appetite and calorie intake. Together these effects can aid in weight loss.”

  1. Kills bacteria, viruses, and fungi

Half of the fats in coconut oil are called lauric acid. In laboratory experiments, lauric acid kills some bacteria, viruses, and fungi.  

  1. Increases “good cholesterol” blood levels

Coconut oil increases the blood levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. People with high blood levels of HDL have a lower risk of heart attacks and other heart diseases.  

  1. Treatment for Alzheimer’s and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders

Memory loss in Alzheimer’s patient is thought to be due to the brain’s decreased ability to use sugar, or glucose, for energy. The ketones produced by MCT are an energy substitute for brain sugar. Some patients have shown improved mental function after adding coconut oil to their diet.

All of this sounds quit impressive, but what are the realities?

Deficiencies of Coconut Oil

  1. Does not provide daily fat requirements for dogs

To meet the daily fat needs of dogs, every 1,000 calories (kilocalories, actually) needs to contain 2,700 mg of the omega-6 fat called linoleic acid, and 107 mg of the omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid. Coconut oil contains only 243 mg of an undifferentiated form of linoleic acid. That undifferentiated form need to be converted by the body to linoleic acid. Fat conversion is the least efficient metabolic process in the body of mammals. How much of this woefully deficient amount of omega-6 is converted to linoleic acid is dependent on the sex, age, and medical condition of the pet.


In other words, coconut oil brings nothing to the party with regards to essential fatty acids.

  1. Does not protect against bacteria, viruses, or fungi

Although lauric acid kills germs in laboratory culture dishes in amounts greater than can be consumed, research has not shown that coconut oil protects humans or animals from infection at normal amounts of consumption.

  1. It also raise the blood levels of “bad cholesterol”

In addition to raising the levels of HDLs, or “good cholesterol,” in the blood, coconut oil also increases the blood levels of LDLs, or “bad cholesterol.” Fortunately this is not a problem for pets since cholesterol is not a factor in their heart disease. But it does demonstrate the misinformation associated with the benefits of coconut oil and heart disease.

  1. Negative for Alzheimer’s Disease

Geriatric cognitive disorders, or dementia, are very similar to Alzheimer’s and is a real disorder in pets. That cat that howls for no reason at night or the dog that stares at the wall and seems confused are suffering from an Alzheimer’s-like brain change. It seems reasonable that a diet that increased ketones could help these pets. But guess what?

The bottom line is that coconut oil adds 120 calories for every tablespoon without adding any appreciable nutritional value. Adding it to a commercial diet is adding unneeded fat calories, much like an unnecessary treat. And it is certainly a recipe for fat malnutrition for those using it exclusively in their pets' homemade diets. How is this a “super food"? 

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Thinkstock

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