Coconut oil … it’s supposed to be the latest, greatest cure-all for people. But what about dogs? You may be surprised to learn the truth about this health fad!
First, we need to establish some basic terminology. (But don’t worry, there’s no quiz!)
Fats, Fatty Acids And Triglycerides
Fats, oils, and fatty acids are all the same thing.
They’re chains of carbon (C) atoms with a methyl group (CH3) on one end and a carboxyl group (COOH-) on the other. The length of a fat’s carbon chain is indicated as “C-x” where x is the number of carbons.
Fatty acids are divided into three categories: short chain, medium chain, and long chain. The length determines how the fat is used in the body.
We usually think of fats as being solid at room temperature, and oils as liquids. The difference is in the type of chemical bonds between the molecules.
Types Of Fats
A saturated fat has all the available carbon bonds filled up, so the chains are straight. They easily pack closely together into solid form.
Unsaturated fat contains one or more double bonds between carbons, putting a kink in the chain that prevents such close packing. This is what makes it liquid.
When fats are eaten, they don’t just go floating around in the body. They’re packaged for transport through the blood as triglycerides.
A triglyceride is made up of three (tri-) fatty acids with a sugar backbone (-glyceride).
The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), are even-numbered, saturated fatty acids with lengths from C6 to C12. Each carbon in the chain is linked to four other molecules (hydrogen, carbon, CH3, or COOH-).
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fats that the body can’t produce. they must come from the diet.
- Adult dogs require a dietary source of linoleic acid (Omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (Omega-3). They can manufacture the others they need themselves from those precursors.
- In puppies, the Omega-3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is also essential.
Adult dogs definitely benefit from many other fats and oils … especially Omega 3s like EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA. But they aren’t essential for survival.
RELATED: Omega-3 For Dogs: The Ultimate Guide …
Coconut Oil And MCTs
The supposed benefits of coconut oil are due to its content of beneficial medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs can:
- Promote weight loss
- Enhance good gut bacteria
- Support healthy gut lining
- Source of energy for strenuous activity
- Suppress hunger and increase satiety
- Support brain health
- Reduce insulin resistance and promote healthy sugar metabolism
- Help moderate inflammation
Coconut oil contains several different fatty acids. But only some of them are MCTs.
These 3 are true MCTs …
- Caproic acid (C6)
- Caprylic acid (C8)
- Capric acid (C10)
They’re distinguished by the unique way they’re handled by the body.
There is only a tiny bit of caproic acid in coconut. (That’s a good thing – it tastes terrible.) Caprylic and capric acid are each between 5% and 10% of the saturated fats in coconut.
The main fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid (C12). It accounts for about half of the total fat content of coconut oil. Experts differ as to whether lauric acid is truly an MCT. That’s because of the way it’s handled by the body.
The Problem With Lauric Acid
True MCTs (C6-C10) are taken up by enterocytes (gut lining cells) in the small intestine. They travel directly into the bloodstream, and then to the liver. There, they are quickly metabolized into ketones. Ketones provide an almost instant burst of clean energy that’s readily used by cells throughout the body. MCTs can also cross the blood-brain barrier.
But the body uses lauric acid differently. The body metabolizes lauric acid the same way as long-chain fatty acids.
Instead of going straight into the bloodstream, long chain fatty acids are broken down, packaged, and moved into the lymph system. They eventually make their way up into the chest, where lymph is dumped out. It’s then slowly absorbed into the circulatory system.
Lauric acid can be used to produce ketones, but the process is slow. Like long-chain fatty acids, it is far more likely to be stored as fat.
Effects Of Lauric Acid
Lauric acid has potentially beneficial antimicrobial effects. So it may help prevent infections. But it also has a problematic side.
It’s irritating to mucous membranes … and causes inflammation in the gut.
Research shows that lauric acid increases the gap between enterocytes (gut lining cells). This loosens the tight junctions and increases intestinal permeability.
In other words, it causes leaky gut.
This inflammation increases absorption into the bloodstream of endotoxin, a product of pathogenic bacteria in the intestine. Research suggests that the increased absorption of endotoxin is a risk factor for conditions like …
- And even sepsis (a potentially fatal blood-borne infection)
Interestingly, Omega-3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated, mitigate this effect.
Coconut oil also contains about 15% other saturated fats. They include palmitic and myristic acids. These are unhealthy fats … and may contribute to obesity and insulin resistance.
They also increase “bad” cholesterol in humans. This usually isn’t a problem for most dogs. But researchers conducting a year-long study found that dogs fed a diet containing coconut oil developed high cholesterol, significant atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and a fatty liver.
In another experiment, detection dogs tired sooner and were less accurate on a diet containing coconut oil.
Diluting Other Nutrients
If you add extra fat to your dog’s diet, that means that other nutrients are diluted.
It adds unnecessary calories that will result in weight gain if not accounted for …
- One teaspoon of coconut oil has about 40 calories.
- A 10 pound dog only needs about 200 calories per day.
- So you would have to feed 20 percent less food to compensate.
- And your dog would be missing the protein, vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients in the food you removed.
There is no good physiologic reason to feed coconut oil to pets, and little research to support the claims made for it.
Commercial pet food is notorious for its use of rancid and poor quality fats. Virtually any fresh, good quality oil will improve skin and coat, increase energy, and make pets feel better! Most of the purported benefits of coconut oil are not unique. Many other fats will do the same, but are safer and healthier.
Give coconut oil with extreme caution in overweight pets … who already have issues with fat, glucose, and pancreatic metabolism. Too much fat can cause pancreatitis.
However, the news isn’t all bad. Applied topically, coconut oil’s moisturizing and antimicrobial effects are great for soothing irritated skin.
To supplement the healthiest fats, give your dog a marine source of EPA and DHA.
These unique Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. They have many other important benefits for the heart, the immune system, and the nervous system. And they’re deficient in both commercial pet foods and most homemade diets.
If you want the benefits of medium-chain fatty acids, use a true MCT oil containing capric and caprylic acids; avoid products containing lauric acid.