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The Truth About Using Coconut Oil for Dogs’ Shedding Problems

If you read or watch anything on the internet, you’d think coconut oil was a miracle cure for all dog ailments. It smells great and feels nice on dry skin, but can it really cure dog diseases? And what’s the story on virgin coconut oil for dogs’ shedding issues? 

The ripe fruit of a coconut tree is used to make coconut oil. It contains 100% fat and is edible for both people and dogs. This tropical oil has a weak antimicrobial effect and has 8 distinct fatty acids.

There is no scientific evidence to show that coconut oil has any effect on dogs’ shedding. In fact, there is no oral or topical supplement proven to improve excessive hair shedding in dogs. The bottom line: coconut oil does not work to stop dogs from shedding hair.

Why Does My Dog Shed So Much?

Dog hair normally goes through three stages in its natural life cycle: growth, resting and shedding.

All dogs lose hair regularly. And in certain seasons, they may shed a LOT of hair. Electric lights reduce the effect of seasonal shedding in indoor dogs. Instead, they shed a smaller amount of fur all year long, with modest increases in the spring and fall.

Even when they’re healthy, some breeds have a natural propensity to shed a lot. Pugs, Great Danes, and Labrador Retrievers are a few examples that come to mind.

Endocrine disorders in dogs, such as hypothyroidism and adrenal illness, often cause hair loss. Dogs with skin allergies tend to shed profusely, but they usually have other symptoms like skin bumps, redness, scabs, and itchy skin.

An imbalanced diet may result in a poor coat and excessive shedding. Due to advances in dog nutrition, very few dogs currently have nutritional deficiencies to blame for shedding. 

Signs of skin problems include patchy hair loss, constant scratching/licking/chewing, skin sores and new dark pigmentation. If you’re not seeing any of these symptoms your dog’s shedding could be normal. If you’re unsure, have your veterinarian check it out!

coconut oil for dogs shedding
Coconut oil smells great but has limited benefits and significant risks for dogs.

Is Coconut Oil Safe for Dogs’ Skin?

Applying coconut oil sparingly on a dog’s skin is usually pretty harmless. Keep in mind your dog will probably lick most of the oil off himself. Swallowing a lot of fat can seriously upset the GI tract and pancreas. Avoid the temptation to slather coconut oil all over your dog!

Some dogs can have a local skin reaction to coconut oil. Wash it off with mild soap and water if you notice skin sensitivity, redness, or soreness where you applied it on your dog’s skin.

Is Coconut Oil Good for Dogs’ Skin?

Coconut oil does have a few legitimate benefits for a dog’s skin. It has a pleasant scent and works well as a moisturizer. Minor skin abrasions may heal more quickly due to coconut oil’s weak antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Limit your use of coconut oil to topical application on a small area (4 square inches or so) of your dog’s skin. I advise my clients to bring their canines in for a checkup if a dog’s skin issue persists after using coconut oil for a few days.

Is Coconut Oil Good for Dogs’ Nutrition?

There is no scientific evidence to support the use of coconut oil to decrease excess shedding in dogs. This applies to topical and orally administered products. 

You’ll read recommendations from internet pundits to supplement your dog’s diet with coconut oil because of its nutritional properties. Sorry to be a spoilsport but the truth is that coconut oil does not contain significant essential fatty acids required by dogs. 

Coconut oil does contain a lot of calories in the form of fat. It can cause major GI upset and pancreatitis in sensitive dogs. For these reasons, most veterinarians don’t recommend it as a nutritional supplement for dogs.

Coconut Oil Fatty Acid Composition

Fatty AcidPercentage of Total
Caprylic acid8%
Capric acid7%
Lauric acid49%
Myristic acid17-19%
Palmitic acid8%
Stearic acid2%
Oleic acid6%
Linoleic acid2%

Reference (7)

Now take a look at the list of essential fatty acids dogs must get from their diet…

  • Linoleic acid 
  • Alpha-Linolenic acid
  • Gamma linoleic acid
  • Arachidonic acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (probably essential)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (probably essential)

Reference (5)

The only dog essential fatty acid contained in coconut oil is linoleic acid. However, a dog would have to consume massive quantities of coconut oil to get enough linoleic acid to be significant. 

Compared to coconut oil, corn oil (59-62% linoleic acid) and canola oil (19% linoleic acid) are much more efficient dietary sources of linoleic acid for dogs. (3,4) It’s unfortunate that these nutritious oils are so vilified by well-meaning health food hobbyists!

How to Apply Coconut Oil to Your Dog

So, how should you use coconut oil on your dog to reap the benefits without risking problems? 

The key is to apply only small amounts to small areas. Try rubbing in a teaspoon amount as you would a lotion. Another way to use it is by warming a teaspoon of coconut oil in your hands and smoothing it over your dog’s coat to soften the fur (like a conditioner). 

Don’t use large amounts of coconut oil on your dog! He will lick it and could end up with an upset tummy. 

Remember, coconut oil is not a good treatment for major dog skin problems. If your pup’s skin is not back to normal within 48 hours of using home remedies, please have your vet take a look!

What Is the Best Oil for Dog Shedding?

The best oil for dog skin health is probably fish oil given orally as a nutritional supplement. Fish oil has scientific evidence to support its use for improving dog skin health. Healthier skin may shed less hair although there are no studies that investigated this specific aspect. (1,6) 

While they’re safe for dogs to eat, palm, coconut and olive oil won’t provide much additional benefit to dogs who are eating a complete and balanced diet. They lack sufficient necessary fatty acids to be useful, and the additional calories from pure fats quickly lead to obesity.

Essential fatty acids that dogs require can be found in canola, corn, hemp seed, and flaxseed oil. These oils are often included in commercial and homemade dog food to meet nutritional requirements. However, adding these oils to a diet that is already balanced is neither required nor advised.

Correcting a fatty acid dietary deficiency in your dog may help with shedding and skin health. Make sure your dog is eating a proven, balanced diet.

I recommend choosing food from a major national brand like Mars, Purina, Hills, Iams, Nutro, etc.. These brands put a lot of research and quality control into their products to make sure your dog is getting everything they need for skin and overall health.

Summary

Recommending virgin coconut oil for dogs shedding is a misleading fad championed by people who have neither studied dog dermatology nor consulted experts on the topic. At the same time, it’s generally safe to apply a small amount of coconut oil to moisturize a dog’s dry skin and coat.

A dog’s skin and coat health will be best when he eats nutritionally complete and balanced dog food. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can improve skin health in dogs with mild skin allergy symptoms. 

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References

  1. Bauer, J. E. (2011). Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 239(11), 1441-1451.
  2. Boateng, L., Ansong, R., Owusu, W., & Steiner-Asiedu, M. (2016). Coconut oil and palm oil’s role in nutrition, health and national development: A review. Ghana medical journal, 50(3), 189-196.
  3. Fat Chart & Nutritional Analysis: Canola oil. good for every body! Canola Info. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.canolainfo.org/health/fat-chart-and-nutritional-analysis.php 
  4. Ghazani, S. M., & Marangoni, A. G. (2016). Nutrition and food grains in Encyclopedia of Food Grains.
  5. Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Marceline, MO: Mark Morris Institute; 2000:725–881.
  6. Saevik, B. K., Bergvall, K., Holm, B. R., SAIJONMAA‐KOULUMIES, L. E., HEDHAMMAR, Å., Larsen, S., & Kristensen, F. (2004). A randomized, controlled study to evaluate the steroid sparing effect of essential fatty acid supplementation in the treatment of canine atopic dermatitis. Veterinary dermatology, 15(3), 137-145.
  7. Gervajio, G. C. (2005). Fatty acids and derivatives from coconut oil. Bailey’s industrial oil and fat products, 6(6).