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Can Cats Eat Coconut? What You Need to Know!

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

a sliced coconut

People seemed to have rediscovered coconut in recent years, with production increasing over 22% in the last 20 years. If you’ve caught the bug, you may wonder if you can give your cat some, too. After all, it’s such a versatile food, whether you use the oil for cooking, the water for drinking, or the flavoring for foods. Few things bridge the gap in all these areas, including its purported health value.

The short answer is that you can give your pet coconut with a few caveats.

We preface our discussion with a word of caution. There is a lot of misinformation explicitly written about coconut and its products. Our guide will cut through the misconceptions and get to the heart of the matter.

Coconut Meat

Part of what makes this subject more complex is the many forms of coconut that you can eat. Each one is slightly different when it comes to answering this question of whether your cat can eat it. The coconut meat lines the inside of the nuts, although it is technically a drupe like a peach. This food packs a lot of energy in a 100-gram serving, with 354 calories!

Coconut meat also contains 6.2 g of sugar, 15.2 g of carbs, and a whopping 33.5 g of total fat. These things alone might take it off the menu for your cat. Nevertheless, it is a nutrition powerhouse, with 9 g of fiber, 356 mg of potassium, and 32 mg of magnesium—all with no cholesterol. However, hear in mind that we’re talking about the raw meat and not the sweetened variety.

The dried flakes bump up the calorie count to 456 with nearly 37 g of sugar. These figures provide enough reasons not to give your cat coconut. It’s simply too rich to overset what nutritional value it may offer. However, risking obesity is one thing. The question of whether it’s safe for your kitty to eat is another story. We’ll turn to some other popular coconut products to answer that question.

coconut meat in its shell
Image Credit: Pixabay

Coconut Water

Coconut water is the liquid inside the drupe. It has a mild flavor that many find tasty. It also has an impressive array of nutrients. A 100-gram serving provides rich sources of calcium, magnesium, and several trace minerals. It also contains less sugar at less than 3 g and only 19 calories. At first glance, it sounds like a better alternative to the meat. The question is whether it’s safe for your cat to drink.

The Potassium Question

We found several articles cautioning about the potassium content of coconut water. The concern rests with the possibility of a pet getting too much and causing a condition called hyperkalemia. This disorder is often caused by kidney disease or a urinary tract obstruction that prevents your pet from eliminating this mineral normally. The question of potassium and a possible link with disease is a bit murky.

It’s true that giving your pet a potassium supplement can inadvertently cause hyperkalemia. However, let’s put it in context. A 100-gram serving of coconut water contains 250 mg of this nutrient. The nutrient profile for cats of the National Research Council (NRC) recommends a daily intake of 1.3 g. That portion of coconut water contains less than 20% of that amount. Let’s take this fact one step further.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that an adult cat gets 0.6 g per kg of diet. Using Hill’s Science Diet Adult Urinary Hairball Control Dry Cat Food as an example, we find that this product contains 0.67 g per kg.

These data suggest that coconut water could contribute to a higher potassium intake. However, the risk exists if your cat would get it every day or exceed the 100-gram serving. The bottom line is that moderation is the key. But there’s still more to learn about the safety of coconut.

coconut water
Image Credit: Pixabay

Coconut Oil

Drilling down the facts about coconut oil is probably the most contentious of the lot because of its alleged health claims. We’ll start with the elephant in the room and talk fat. The calorie question is a moot point since 1 tbsp of any type is about 120 calories. Coconut oil is no exception. The kind of fat is where the pedal meets the metal.

The total fat content of 1 tbsp of coconut oil is 13.5 g. About 11.2 g is saturated fat with the balance monounsaturated and trans fats. By contrast, according to the NRC, the recommended allowance for fat is 22.5 g per day. It’s evident that coconut oil is pushing these limits for obesity.

In our research, a common theme was the claim that coconut oil and other fats can increase your pet’s risk of pancreatitis. This condition occurs when digestive enzymes within this organ start to break down its tissue prematurely. While fat may be a factor, the fact remains that we don’t know the exact cause. It can result from a complication of diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Recovery from pancreatitis is possible if it’s caught early. However, some pets end up developing diabetes or suffer from chronic condition. While a  diet high in saturated fats is a known risk factor in dogs, the jury is still out if that applies to cats, too, although many vets may recommend this dietary change.

However, that’s not to say that all fat is bad for your cat. It can help improve its skin condition and help your pet pass hairballs. You’ll also find it as an ingredient in grooming products to treat dry skin. We can conclude that it has its place in pet care. However, there’s one other point we need to address about a misconception that you may read about with coconut oil that warrants an explanation.

coconut and its oil
Image Credit: Pixabay

Myth About Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) and Feline Hepatic Lipidosis (FHL)

A search for coconut oil will likely turn up several articles about the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and a heightened risk of feline hepatic lipidosis (FHL), usually without a source to verify it.

FHL or fatty liver syndrome is a potentially life-threatening liver condition unique to felines. It happens when there is an influx of fat in a cat’s system that overwhelms the liver with too much to metabolize. This organ serves many vital functions, including its role in metabolism. When FHL occurs, the liver can’t do its job efficiently.

However, MCTs don’t cause FHL. Over 90% of the time, it is a complication from another condition, such as kidney disease, diabetes, or cancer. The scenario typically plays out where a cat will stop eating and become anorexic. The animal’s body then responses by breaking down fat to compensate. That action, in turn, inundates the liver, causing it to pool in the cells.

Unfortunately, the prognosis is poor if it isn’t caught early. It’s also imperative to identify the underlying  cause of the condition. It’s worth mentioning that FHL can also occur in overweight pets that stop eating suddenly, with similar results.

Some evidence suggests that coconut oil may be beneficial. However, we must point out that some cats simply don’t like the taste and may avoid their food if you add it. Other pets may have difficulty digesting the fat, causing GI distress and nausea. The best advice we can offer is to check with your vet first. If it’s okay with them, then you can try giving your kitty a small bit to see if your pet likes and tolerates it.

Of course, all treats should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s diet.

Final Thoughts

We can conclude that coconut in whatever form isn’t harmful to cats. However, it’s essential to remember that it’s high in fat and can contribute to weight gain. If you’re going to give your pet coconut, make it an occasional treat only. While it’s not bad, there isn’t enough compelling evidence to start. After all, a high-quality diet will provide everything your kitty needs without supplementing it.

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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