6 Ways Dogs Can Benefit From Coconut Oil — a Shiny Coat Is Just One

A dog lays on his back with a smile on his face.
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Holistic health by way of natural remedies found in your own cupboard is increasingly popular. Super food crazes like kale and quinoa have health-minded individuals dropping over-the-counter meds in favor of things like garlic, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and coconut oil.

But did you know that many of these health and wellness alternatives can also be used for our four-legged friends?

Coconut oil for dogs is a common way that pet parents can introduce health and wellness to their pets—both because it’s an affordable shelf staple they typically already have at home and because it has an abundance of health benefits for dogs.

How can you use coconut oil to boost your dog’s health and wellness?

Below, we explore six great ways to improve your dog’s health and quality of life using coconut oil.

The Science Behind Coconut Oil for Dogs

While not every veterinarian agrees on the health benefits of coconut oil for our canine friends, the science definitely leans in favor of usage, especially when moderated. While coconut oil is not a cure-all, many scientists and vets in the community argue that coconut oil for dogs can:

  • Make them smell better.
  • Do wonders for a dog’s skin conditions, including dry or itchy skin, hot spots and even bites or stings.
  • Give dogs a glossier coat.
  • Help with coughing and hairballs.
  • Aid in digestion thanks to the medium chain triglycerides (MCTs for short). Some vets even say the medium chain triglycerides of medium-chain fatty acids like coconut oil can boost brain energy and cognitive function as your dog enters its senior years.
  • Help with bones and joints, even soothing the effects of arthritis.
  • Support metabolic function.
  • Fight off viruses, fungi and bacteria via coconut oil’s lauric acid.

Coconut oil alone cannot ward off every dog’s skin conditions or any virus your dog is exposed to, and it likely only helps ease the pain of arthritis but does not prevent it altogether.

Think of coconut oil as a good supplement, not a replacement for a well-balanced diet, especially the essential fatty acids that must be included in your dog’s diet.

Wait, Essential Fatty Acids?

The word “fat” often carries hurtful, negative connotations in our society, but when it comes to your diet — and your dog’s diet — fats serve an important purpose. Good saturated fats like medium chain triglycerides, for example, are a fuel source for us, giving us the energy we need to go about our days.

The lauric acid of coconut oil is considered an antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial acid. Coconut oil also contains important unsaturated fats (both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) with known benefits.

6 Ways to Use Coconut Oil to Boost Your Dog’s Health

Is coconut oil good for your dog? It can be. The benefits of coconut oil are varied. But how do you best introduce coconut oil into your dog’s routine? Here are six unique ways to use coconut oil to improve your dog’s health and wellness:

1. Use With Food to Improve a Wealth of Skin Issues

Ingesting coconut oil is its most basic use and likely its most effective. If your dog likes the taste, it can be a good addition to a meal to help with itchy skin, flaky skin, rashes, nutrient absorption, digestion, joint pain and more. Just plop a small amount directly into your dog’s food bowl at feeding time. Many pet parents recommend using small amounts of the oil as dog treats.

How much coconut oil to use

Remember: Everything in moderation. When adding coconut oil to your dog’s meal, start with a very small amount and up the dosage gradually (or risk upsetting your dog’s tummy and potentially ruining your carpet). Your dog’s vet can likely supply a recommendation based on your pup’s breed and weight.

2. Cover Up the Taste of Meds

If coconut oil proves popular as a treat or at dinnertime, it can be an effective way to disguise your dog’s medicines. Given coconut oil’s unique texture (kind of like peanut butter—and thus a good replacement for peanut butter), it can be easy to hide a pill in. Your dog will come to love medicine time!

A man brushes a dog's teeth.
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3. Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Coconut oil offers antimicrobial properties that make it a good substitute for doggy toothpaste, especially for dogs that aren’t a fan of the flavor of the over-the-counter paste. (It’s also much cheaper.) Use your finger or a commercial dog toothbrush (or even a child’s toothbrush) to rub the oil directly on your canine’s canines once or twice a week.

4. Apply Coconut Oil to Your Dog’s Skin and Coat

The benefits of coconut oil extend beyond oral use cases. It’s been shown that coconut oil improves your dog’s coat and skin when applied properly.

Warning: Rubbing coconut oil into your dog's skin and coat can be a little messy, but many dog owners swear by it. You might want to put an old beach towel under your pup.

If your dog has flaky, itchy or dry skin, apply some coconut oil directly to the problematic area. You can even rub the oil into your hands and give your pooch a full-body massage (dogs have such a rough life, eh?) to spread the oil around the fur and skin.

This can be particularly helpful in response to an allergic reaction. Make sure to follow up with a visit to the vet to determine the source of the reaction.

And of course, don’t be surprised if you find your dog licking itself a little more than usual. Just monitor to ensure it doesn’t eat too much.

5. Use it as a Defense Against Fleas and Ticks

Not only does coconut oil serve as a moisturizer for your dog, but it can also be a natural flea repellant.

But a caveat: As someone who has tried natural at-home flea and tick repellant recipes, I find the over-the-counter stuff to be more effective. I advise relying on coconut oil as an added repellant, not the sole repellant, or else you might welcome fleas into your home and put your dog at a higher risk of contracting Lyme disease.

6. Promote Healing of Wounds

Finally, you can use coconut oil on the skin to help heal wounds, as it has natural antibiotic properties. Veterinarians have specifically found coconut oil good for cracked paw pads, cuts from rough play at the dog park or even self-inflicted wounds by dogs who nibble at itchy paws during allergy season.

What’s the Best Coconut Oil for Dogs?

The benefit of introducing coconut oil into your dog’s health regimen is that you likely already have some in your kitchen pantry.

However, there are preferable coconut oils to use for your dog, so if you don’t have the specific type on hand and can afford to go out and buy some, most vets would highly recommend it.

Specifically, you should look for unrefined coconut oil over refined coconut oil. You may also see unrefined coconut oil advertised as virgin coconut oil. Even more specifically, cold-pressed coconut oil is the best bet for your dog’s health.

And while you’re at it, going the organic coconut oil route couldn’t hurt. That’s not to say an unrefined coconut oil not found at Trader Joe’s offers no benefits; the science just supports these specific types more.

Beyond getting a cold-pressed, organic, extra virgin coconut oil, you may need to play around with taste.

Some dogs, like my 40-pound mutt Goomba, will eat just about anything (except spinach, because who likes green veggies?), and so he had no problem with the very first coconut oil I tried.

Other dogs with a more picky palate may need to sample a few selections. Some coconut oils can have a strong coconut flavor while others are more mild. You’ll also notice a range from nutty to buttery.

Are There Risks to Giving Coconut Oil to Dogs?

As mentioned above, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

If you introduce your dog too much coconut oil too rapidly, you risk upsetting your dog’s stomach. Monitor your dog’s stool as you introduce coconut oil into its health regiment. If you notice diarrhea, stop giving your dog the coconut oil for a few days before trying again in a smaller dosage.

A small percentage of dogs may be allergic to coconut oil.

If you notice stomach issues persist even with the smallest doses or any other signs of allergic reactions, stop giving coconut oil altogether and consider one of many coconut oil alternatives, like flaxseed oil or salmon oil (great sources of omega-3 fatty acids). You can also consider a fish-based diet for your dog, like a salmon and sweet potato dog food recipe.

Grapes, avocados, onion, garlic and cooked bones are some foods that dogs should not eat. Before introducing something new to your dog's diet, research it online and, better yet, consult your vet.

In addition, you should not use coconut oil if you have an overweight dog. Coconut oil is high in fat with each tablespoon about 120 calories. If not monitored well, it could easily lead to weight gain in your pooch.

Finally, coconut oil is not a good supplement for a dog who is prone to pancreatitis.

Timothy Moore is a managing editor for WDW Magazine and a freelance writer and editor covering topics on personal finance, travel, careers, education, pet care and automotive. He has worked in the field since 2012 with publications like The Penny Hoarder, Debt.com, Ladders, WDW Magazine, Glassdoor, Aol and The News Wheel.