Coconut Oil for Cats: Is It a Good Idea?

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 1, 2016
close up of opened coconuts and a glass of coconut milk

By Elizabeth Xu

Coconut oil is gaining in popularity with humans for things like cooking, hair care, and even as a moisturizer. But are there any benefits of coconut oil for cats? Can we feed our feline family members coconut oil or use it to protect their skin and coats? We asked some holistic veterinarians all about cats and coconut oil.

Benefits of Coconut Oil for Cats

Using coconut oil for cats can have multiple benefits, says Dr. Anna Gardner, a holistic veterinarian in Washington. Externally, Gardner says coconut oil can help with allergies, dry skin, itchiness, and overall coat health. Internally, coconut oil can benefit a cat’s immune system, help with hairballs, reduce arthritis inflammation, improve bad breath, and help with a healthy stomach, she says.

Dr. Jeffrey Stupine, VMD, head veterinarian for wellness at the Pennsylvania SPCA, doesn’t recommend giving coconut oil on a regular basis, but he says his colleagues have seen it offer such benefits as treating dermatitis.

How to Give Cats Coconut Oil

You can use small amounts of coconut oil with food or apply it topically for cats with skin problems, Gardner says. But, as with any new food or supplement, don’t give your cat too much coconut oil too soon.

“I would introduce it slowly because, like anything, some cats tolerate it better than others or the cat could be allergic to it—which is rare but happens with any dietary supplement,” Gardner says. “Also adding too much too fast could cause diarrhea.”

For an average-size cat, give ¼ to ½ teaspoon once or twice a day, Gardner recommends. Other vets recommend starting with as little as 1/8 of a teaspoon daily. Gardner says that cat owners who want to use coconut oil to treat or prevent hairballs can give it less often, such as a few times a week. Overall, she notes that you should start small and adjust amounts as necessary.

As for how to get your cat to eat the coconut oil, Gardner says that shouldn’t be a problem unless you have a particularly picky cat: “It can be given directly, as a lot of cats like the taste,” she says. If your cat won’t eat coconut oil on its own, try mixing it with a tablespoon or two of especially pungent, canned cat food.

Risks of Coconut Oil for Cats

While coconut oil does have some benefits for cats, it’s important to note that the ASPCA has it on their list of “People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets,” saying that it probably won’t cause much harm, but could result in upset stomachs or diarrhea.

Gardner agrees that there could be risks.

“Since it is high in saturated fats, I would be cautious using it in cats with pancreatic inflammation, and some cats can be sensitive to it,” she says.

Stupine also worries about the risk of pancreatitis and says that the use of coconut oil for cats should be monitored carefully.

Coconut oil is also very high in calories. You’ll need to cut back elsewhere in the diet to avoid unwanted weight gain if you start feeding your cat coconut oil.

Alternatives to Coconut Oil for Cats

If your cat won’t tolerate coconut oil, there are alternatives to consider. In fact, Stupine says that coconut oil seems to be used in a manner similar to fish oil, though coconut oil doesn’t have the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.

Gardner says that fish oil and topical olive oil can be good alternatives, though ideally they would be used together to maximize fatty acids.

“I usually recommend fish oil—including salmon, anchovy, krill. These have some similar benefits, but not topically,” she says. “Topically, olive oil can help with skin issues but this does not have the same anti-inflammatory effects as coconut oil. These supplements have some overlap with coconut oil but they don't have the same effects.”

Keep in mind that all cats are different and your veterinarian can help you determine if the benefits of using coconut oil with your cat outweigh the risks.

Image:  via Shutterstock

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