MCT oil for dogs may be a game-changing supplement for canine brain and heart health. Initially, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) were the main reason for using coconut oil in a dog’s diet. But research suggests that the key is what kind of MCTs we give our dogs.
We’ve been using MCTs in human health circles for a while, but what’s good for us isn’t always good for dogs (remember dark chocolate!). So, what do scientific studies actually reveal about the benefits of MCTs for dogs?
What Is MCT Oil For Dogs?
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fatty acids found in coconut oil, palm oil, and some dairy products. They’re called “medium-chain” because of the length of their carbon atom chains.
In short, MCTs differ from other fatty acids because they have precisely 6 to 12 carbon atoms linked on a chain. Fatty acids with fewer than six are called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), and Long-Chain triglycerides (LCTs) have more than 12.
There are four kinds of MCTs:
MCT Oil vs Coconut Oil: What’s The Difference?
Coconut oil contains both medium-chain and long-chain fatty acids. On the other hand, MCT oil is made from 100% pure MCTs.
The crucial difference is that the right brand of MCT oil can be made up entirely of the capra fatty acids rather than lauric acid. Meanwhile, coconut oil is about 48% lauric acid and only about 15% caprylic and capric acid combined.
Lauric acid is right on the cusp of being an LCT, and evidence suggests it can be pretty pro-inflammatory (1). So when we talk about the health benefits of MCT oil for dogs, we are not talking about lauric acid. Capra fatty acids, like caprylic fatty acid, seem to help burn fat and reduce inflammation in the body.
The Benefits Of MCT Oil For Dogs
Research into MCT oil for dog nutrition is in the early stages, so we still need to get the full picture. However, early studies are extremely promising for a dog’s brain and heart health, mostly in three areas.
1. MCT Oil Slows Dementia In Aging Dogs
MCT oil may be a game changer for senior dogs with “doggy dementia,” called canine cognitive disorder or CCD. Studies repeatedly show that it improves memory and learning in older dogs (2)(3).
Here is a breakdown of how MCT oil helps brain function in senior dogs.
- MCT oil increases the total phospholipids in the brain, which are the fats that protect brain cells.
- It also helps the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), cross the blood-brain barrier (4). DHA is vital for brain function. High DHA levels for developing puppies and aging dogs are essential for good brain health.
- Unlike long-chain fatty acids, MCTs easily slip through the gut wall. They diffuse straight into the blood and go directly to the liver, which converts them into ketones. They also increase the amount of lactic acid in the blood. Ketones and lactic acid are alternative energy sources for the brain.
As dogs age, they struggle to use glucose in their brains (including the glucose broken down from protein sources). Without glucose to fuel their brain, it begins to decline. Ketones easily cross the blood-brain barrier, providing much-needed energy in the place of glucose.
2. MCT Oil For Dogs With Seizures
A fascinating bonus of MCT oil for dogs is that studies show that it significantly reduces seizures in dogs with epilepsy (5)(6).
In 2021, Berk et al did another study on epileptic dogs (7). These dogs suffered complications that affected their memory and ability to learn. Compared to the dogs in the control group, dogs eating a diet of 9% MCTs were:
- More trainable
- Had better memory
- Had better problem-solving abilities
3. Medium-Chain Triglycerides Benefit Canine Heart Health And Slow Heart Disease
MCTs show promise for canine heart health too. The most common form of canine heart disease is myxomatous mitral valve disease (MMVD).
In fact, some breeds, such as the American bloodlines of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, have a 90 to 100% chance of developing this heart problem by age 10. Luckily, MCT oil slows the progress of MMVD significantly (8).
Essentially, when dogs have MMVD, the heart muscle runs out of fuel, much like the brain does in dogs with dementia.
According to Dorothy Laflamme DVM, MCTs and the ketones from MCTs give the heart an alternative fuel source. It also reduces the amount of damage by free radicals (9).
What To Look For In MCT oil For Dogs
To make sure your dog gets the right fatty acids, it’s worth looking for the right kind. Here are some guidelines to help:
- Look for an oil that does not contain lauric acid. Specifically, a blend of caprylic and capric acids seems to be the most digestible.
- Look for sustainably sourced oils. As MCT comes from coconut and palm oil, it can contribute to deforestation.
- Choose MCT oil rather than powder, as some powders may contain carrier starches that add unnecessary carbohydrates.
- Read the label and avoid any artificial flavors, colors, or additives.
- Avoid cheap and unreliable brands that may be using too much lauric acid. Research the brand and look at reviews and information on the company.
How Much MCT Oil Should I Give My Dog?
If you want to add MCT oil to a dog’s diet, do it slowly to prevent runny tummies. In general, about 6% to 9% of a dog’s diet can safely be MCTs, but you will need to consider how much fat your dog is already getting in his food. It’s best to keep total fat content at around 10%-15% (including MCT and essential omega-3s) or even lower.
You can use this chart as a general guideline to add 5% MCT to the diet.
Remember, this is just a rough estimation of what a dog can eat in a diet that is 10%-15% fat.
Early research into MCT oil for dogs shows a ton of promise. It can help the brain function of older dogs, improve heart health, and reduce seizures in canines with epilepsy. Sprinkling a safe amount of MCTs over your dog’s food is a good way to boost their overall health, but it’s important to take it easy and not overdo it.
- Roguero MM, Calder PC. Obesity, Inflammation, Toll-Like Receptor 4 and Fatty Acids. Nutrients. 2018 Mar 24; 10(4):432.
- Pan Y, Landsberg G et al. Efficacy of a therapeutic diet on dogs with signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS): a prospective double blinded placebo controlled clinical study. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2018 Dec 12;5:127.
- Rutz, GM, Steiner, JM, Bauer, JE, Williams, DA. Efficacy of a Therapeutic Diet on Dogs With Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS): A Prospective Double Blinded Placebo Controlled Clinical Study. 2018 Dec 12. Frontiers In Nutrition, 5.
- Taha AY, Henderson ST, Burnham WM. Dietary Enrichment with Medium Chain Triglycerides (AC-1203) Elevates Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Parietal Cortex of Aged Dogs: Implications for Treating Age-Related Cognitive Decline. 2009. Neurochem Res 34, 1619–1625
- Berk BA, Law TH, Packer RMA, et al. A multicenter randomized controlled trial of medium-chain triglyceride dietary supplementation on epilepsy in dogs. J Vet Intern Med. 2020 Apr 15; 34: 1248– 1259.
- Molina J, Jean-Philippe C, et al. Efficacy of medium chain triglyceride oil dietary supplementation in reducing seizure frequency in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy without cluster seizures: a non-blinded, prospective clinical trial. 2020 Jun 12. Veterinary Record, 187: 356-356.
- Berk BA, Packer RM et al. Medium-chain triglycerides dietary supplement improves cognitive abilities in canine epilepsy. 2021 Jan 15. Epilepsy & Behavior, 114 (Part A).
- Li Q, Heaney A, Langenfeld-McCoy N, et al. Dietary intervention reduces left atrial enlargement in dogs with early preclinical myxomatous mitral valve disease: a blinded randomized controlled study in 36 dogs. 2019 Jul 22. BMC Vet Res 15, 425 (2019).
- Laflamme DP. Key nutrients important in the management of canine myxomatous mitral valve disease and heart failure. 2022 Oct 08. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 260(S3): S61-S70.