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Is Coconut Oil Safe for Dogs? Answered by Vet

Dr. Karyn Kanowski Profile Picture

By Dr. Karyn Kanowski

coconut oil on wooden board

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Dr. Karyn Kanowski Photo

Written by

Dr. Karyn Kanowski

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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We live in an age of an almost infinite number of products, treatments, supplements, and remedies, and with the voices of influencers often drowning out those of the professionals, it can get really overwhelming when trying to find out what is and what isn’t safe to give our pets. Some of this information can be inaccurate and dangerous. With so many dog owners wanting to employ more natural products in their pet care regime, it is helpful to know what is safe for our dogs and what isn’t.

Coconut oil is an increasingly popular alternative to palm oil due to being more sustainable and less of a threat to biodiversity. It is making appearances in food recipes, skincare, hair care, and supplements, but is it safe for our dogs? In short, yes coconut oil is safe for external use on dogs. Let’s take a closer look.


What Are the Benefits of Coconut Oil?

Ever since Maui killed that eel and buried its guts, coconut trees have formed an integral component of agriculture, industry, and cooking, not to mention cocktail making! It has been a mainstay of the beauty industry as a popular component of many hair and skin products but has more recently been marketed for weight loss, improving joint and heart health, and even increasing brain function, though there is little evidence to support these claims.

The effectiveness of coconut in skin and hair treatments is well established as a source of moisture, an enticing scent, and as an ingredient in cooking, baking, and drink-making. The coconut oil used in cooking or supplements has been refined and has lost its distinctive smell and flavor but still retains most of the nutrient value of raw or virgin coconut oil, which is very little. That’s right; coconut oil contains zero protein, zero carbohydrates, zero fiber, and is basically 100% fat. This is also mostly saturated fats in the form of lauric acid, and these have been found to spike cholesterol in humans.

When going strictly based on evidence, the only real benefits of coconut oil are in creating soft skin and hair with a pleasant smell. These facts are also applicable to our canine friends.

Coconut fruit and coconut oil isolated on wood table background
Image Credit: NIKCOA, Shutterstock

Is Coconut Oil Safe for Dogs?

When used in pet shampoos and conditioners, coconut oil is completely safe and will give your pampered pooch a lovely tropical scent. Unless your pooch is sensitive to coconut, which is very rare, their skin and coat will likely benefit from the moisturizing nature of this oil.

When put directly on the skin, coconut oil can improve the health and appearance of your dog’s dry or irritated skin but should be avoided when the skin is raw, bleeding, or has signs of infection, like raised areas, spots, or pus. You should always check with your vet before applying it to your dog’s skin. In many instances, it will be harmless and potentially helpful, but it is important to rule out infection first. Compared with some other topical preparations to soothe dry, sore skin, coconut oil has the benefit of being non-toxic if licked.

As an oral additive to your dog’s diet, it is not likely that coconut oil will offer any real benefits since it lacks essential fatty acids (EFAs) that provide health benefits to the skin, coat, joints, heart, and brain.

bichon frise dog getting a bath
Image Credit: Studio Peace, Shutterstock

Is Coconut Oil Harmful to Dogs?

Put simply, no. Coconut oil is not toxic or dangerous for your dog. It is actually pure fat with little nutritional benefits and is very high in calories. So, unless we are looking for a way to fatten up an otherwise healthy underweight dog (which should always be done carefully), including coconut oil in your dog’s diet can lead to weight gain with little to no other benefits.


In a Nutshell

Coconut oil provides an eco-friendlier alternative to the palm oil used in many products, a moisturizing, pleasant-smelling ingredient for a shiny coat, and a safe and natural way to soothe dry, flaking skin. It should never be used on skin that is moist, ulcerated, or infected, or without the advice of your veterinarian. Given as an oral supplement, and although coconut oil is not harmful to dogs when used in small amounts, there is no scientific evidence to support claims that it has any health benefits.

Featured Image Credit: etorres, Shutterstock

Dr. Karyn Kanowski Profile Picture

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Karyn comes from Queensland, Australia, and has lived in the UK for the past 10 years. In 2010, she graduated from The University of Queensland School of Veterinary Science, and also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. Karyn is passionate about using evidence, experience, and owner collaboration to provide the best solutions for pets, and believes in making reliable information about animal health accessible to all. S...Read more

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