Coconut oil has become a popular fatty acid supplement for humans. Some of my clients who supplemented their pets with fish oil have switched to coconut oil because they thought it was better. Unfortunately, this is only true for patients with severe gastrointestinal disease or cognitive dysfunction. Unlike fish oil, it does not help with inflammation. Let me explain:
Dogs and cats need omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. These long chain fatty acids are considered ‘essential’ because dogs and cats cannot manufacture them from other food sources. These fatty acids play a vital role in many body functions including development, reproduction and the integrity of cell membranes. The most important of these essential acids for dogs and cats are linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid which are both derived from plants. Believe it or not, corn oil is a great source of linoleic acid with a smaller amount of alpha-linoleic acid while canola oil has more alpha-linoleic acid with lesser amounts of linoleic acid. Olive oil has very little of these two substances which is why I don’t recommend it as a fatty acid supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are made up of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosohexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are the best at reducing inflammation. They are produced by algae and plankton and then accumulate in fish that ingest them. Currently, the most cost effective source of EPA and DHA is fish oil. I recommend using a product made from fish at the bottom of the food chain. This avoids the build-up of toxins like mercury in the fish at the top of the food chain. Coconut oil does not contain EPA or DHA.
Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid and does not act like a long chain fatty acid. It does not contain linoleic or alpha-linoleic acid. Long chain fatty acids are compacted into chylomicrons and transported through the lymphatic system. Medium chain fatty acids bypass the lymphatics and are absorbed directly into the portal system. I use coconut oil as a source of calories for patients with damaged lymphatic systems or decreased absorptive capacity as in short bowel syndrome. I am also starting to recommend it for senior dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction based on work done in people. So far, my small sample size shows that one dog improved greatly while the other three stayed the same.
Again, I would like to repeat that coconut oil is not a replacement for fish oil. I only recommend it for animals with severe gastrointestinal disease or animals with cognitive dysfunction. In my experience, it does not help with osteoarthritis, dermatitis, allergies or asthma. Before using coconut oil, speak with a veterinarian. Coconut oil is very high in calories leading to weight gain. Please have a veterinarian calculate how many calories to cut out of a patient’s diet before starting this supplement. Also, be very cautious in animals with hyperlipidemia syndrome or animals prone to pancreatitis. Lastly, stick with fish oil for helping cats and dogs with inflammation.
Lexox, Catherine, Small Animal Nutrition, Continuing Education through VIN, 2013.