By Tracie Korol
Major media has encouraged us to add fish oil to our diets and, more recently, to the diets of our Best Friends. These Omega-3 long chain (LCTs) fatty acids help dogs with osteoarthritis, improving mobility and reducing inflammation, and can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Every store has a section devoted to fish oil. My question: where is it all coming from? To be effective, fish oil should come from North Atlantic cold-water fish. What with sustainability and over-fishing in the media forefront, it might be time to change up the oil situation.
The newest, and perhaps, more reliable nutritionally loaded oil is something you’re probably been avoiding for years — either that, or you think it’s a hair care product. Yep, we’re talking about coconut oil. Coconut oil consists of more than 90% saturated fats, with traces of few unsaturated fatty acids. Most of the saturated fats in coconut oil are Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), the main component being lauric acid, followed by capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic. The benefit of lauric acid is that it has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties. Capric and caprylic acid have similar properties and are best known for their anti-fungal effects. So, if you have an itchy, smelly dog and nothing from the vet is working for more than 10 days, this might be a good addition to the snack bar.
Also, these MCTs are metabolized quickly providing an immediate source of fuel and energy. Coconut oil can enhance athletic performance and aid weight loss. It can also help balance the thyroid, helping overweight dogs lose weight and helping sedentary dogs feel energetic.
As an important ingredient in America’s processed foods for most of the 20th century, coconut oil is one of the world’s few saturated-fat vegetable oils. That designation alone gave it a terrible reputation and by the 1990’s it had all but disappeared from our food supply. Unfortunately, the vegetable oils that replaced it (corn, rapeseed) caused more harm than coconut oil ever did and consequently, coconut oil is enjoying a revival.
The one you want to get to know is the unrefined “virgin” oil that is made from fresh coconuts. (The other, usually labeled RDB-Refined, Bleached, Deodorized-is made from copra or dried coconut meat and then treated with chlorine and hexane to remove impurities. It is inexpensive, bland and odorless, usually labeled as a skin or hair care product.) You’ll most likely find the virgin, organic oil in a glass jar at a health food store or in the better oils section of the grocery. Depending on the temperature, coconut oil will be solid or liquid. Below 75 degrees it is solid and white; above that, it is a transparent liquid. And, it doesn’t have to be refrigerated. If you do, be prepared to chip it out of the jar.
While there have been no clinical trials on the effects of coconut oil in a dog’s diet, anecdotal evidence is impressive. Many reports involve beneficial results with itchy skin, cuts, wounds and ear problems. Dogs with flea allergies, contact dermatitis and/or dull coats typically stop scratching after coconut oil is added to their food. An added benefit, I noticed, was with a smelly dog friend of mine, Ramone. You know the kind of dog I mean — the one that smells like damp carpet all the time. Bathing Ramone was a waste of time and you had to change your clothes and wash your hands immediately after playing with him. Ramone’s owner began to routinely dribble coconut oil onto Ramone’s chow. In less than a month Ramone and his owner enjoyed a stink-free life and Ramone could receive the daily body rubs he deserved.
The best way to give coconut oil is in small amounts throughout the day — a dab here and there, depending on the dog’s weight. I will “butter” a dog cookie with a scrape through a designated dog jar of coconut oil for a special treat in addition to stirring a spoonful into a meal. Most dogs are happy to eat a gob from a teaspoon.
Of course, as with anything new, you’ll want to start small. Introduce a little coconut oil gradually a little at a time in divided doses — 1/4 tsp for a tiny dog up to a teaspoonful for a big dog. Because coconut oil kills harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeasts and fungi, the burden of removing dead organisms may trigger symptoms of detoxification. Headaches, fatigue, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms are common in humans who consume too much too fast and the same can happen with dogs.