Dietary fads are based on many things, from science and anecdotal evidence to whatever Gwyneth Paltrow feels like. As a pet owner, I am always skeptical about applying these trends to my pets, but a few months ago, I found myself up a creek without a paddle — or more specifically, without access to doggy toothpaste. I was on a Caribbean island and the vet clinic, which, like the rest of the island, relies on shipments from elsewhere that are often delayed, ran out of toothpaste.
I am pretty religious about brushing my dogs’ teeth, and they love it, too, so the toothpaste shortage was kind of a big deal. I did what any self-respecting millennial would do: I Googled an alternative.
One of the things that came up was coconut oil. I remember finding several articles citing its antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits, and people have been using it as an oral rinse for a long, long time. I figured I would give it a try as an interim strategy for keeping plaque at bay.
This is where I wish I could tell you that it worked miracles, but in reality, I have no idea if it was effective or not. It made me feel better, which was ultimately the point. But it made me wonder if taking human health fads and applying them to our pets can be dangerous.
Here’s the thing. There really aren’t that many studies at all about whether or not coconut oil benefits dogs. Most of the evidence is anecdotal and a lot is based on in vitro studies, which have yet to be replicated in humans or dogs. What information is out there is mostly on humans, and that is also inconclusive.
Things that help humans can sometimes help animals, but not always. We are, after all, different species. Things that help humans can also hurt animals, which is where pet owners who want to give coconut oil a try should be wary.
Coconut oil is high in fats, both good and bad. In small quantities, coconut oil won’t hurt you or your dog unless you are allergic, but in large quantities the high fat content can lead to obesity, pancreatitis and symptoms of GI upset like diarrhea. This is especially concerning for small dogs, as it is easy to forget to adjust portions for their size. Talk to your veterinarian to see what is an appropriate amount of coconut oil to feed your dog.
All of that being said, there are some potential benefits of giving coconut oil to dogs as long as you feed appropriate amounts and are not looking for a miracle cure.
I’m no doctor, but I do believe in evidence-based science. Coconut oil could be beneficial for your dog’s health, but I will wait to see what future studies reveal about long-term effects before I jump fully on the bandwagon. In the meantime, I am now fully stocked on doggy toothpaste and content to use coconut oil in my own cooking.
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