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Cats and Coconut Oil – What You Need to Know

Coconut oil has been used in cooking for decades but recently, it’s become the darling of the “all-natural,” “holistic,” and “integrative medicine” world as well as top skincare and cosmetics item. Coconut oil is everywhere and buzzworthy.  For every human food trend, eventually, it becomes a fad for our pets. Coconut oil is a food product so hyped up it is hard to separate scientific fact from fiction. If people claim that it has done wonders for them and has given them amazing health benefits, well-meaning but scientifically illiterate cat owners will also decide to try it on their cats. Coconut oil is reportedly a miracle food, however, whenever anything has claims that sound too good to be true, this should be a warning. Cat parents need to learn the facts about coconut oil before administering it to their cats. The most important thing to remember that anecdotes, which are user reports and claims of the benefits of coconut oil, are not proof and are not backed by science.  Cat owners must look at the facts. None of the amazing claims attributed to coconut oil are proven fact yet. Studies have also been inconclusive regarding the benefits of coconut oil. These studies do not support the marketing claims and all the studies were done on humans and not cats.

Coconut oil comes from mature coconuts and can be used in both food and health and beauty products. Coconut oil contains saturated fatty acids called medium-chain triglycerides. MCTs, which also include palm kernel oil, are more readily digested than long-chain triglycerides (such as olive oil, soybean oil, avocado oil, and fish oil). MCTs are believed to be a better source for quick energy on low-carb diets (a cat’s perfect diet) and reported to be less likely to turn into fat accumulating in the body. MCT also contains may contain caprylic acid and capric acid, both of which have anti-fungal properties in lab settings. Medium-chain fats also have lauric acid which has demonstrated antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Since some Coconut oils may contain caprylic, capric, and lauric acid, it’s something that people can perceive as having great health benefits. If it is antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral, it seems as if it may be perfect for feline health.

However, all the studies on coconut oil were done on humans and the results were inconclusive. That means the tested claims were not proven. Also, there is a big difference between something working in vitro and in vivo. In-vitro studies are done in lab dishes, in vivo studies are done on living creatures. If something kills cancer in vitro, it means it kills cancer cells in a lab setting. Coconut oil is not useless or harmful however, in small amounts. Any benefits are unknown in cats and the effects of long-term use in cats have not been studied either.

Coconut oil and other MCTs have lab-demonstrated antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory chemical compounds are in it. Many cat parents use coconut oil to aid in digestion and reduce hairballs. Hairballs are a sign a cat’s digestive system is not processing and passing loose hair gathered and swallowed while grooming through the intestinal system and the hair is regurgitated from the stomach. Some users give older cats coconut oil in case it helps with cognition, inflammation from arthritis and provide neuroprotective benefits as Omega fatty acids do.

Coconut oil is non-toxic, but it is pure fat and high in calories. Cats can gain weight and harm their health if given too much coconut oil. It might have some health benefits but increases the risk of obesity. A fat cat has a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. The topical use of coconut oil is harmless, but your cat may still lick the oil when grooming. Ingesting excess coconut oil will cause unpleasant side-effects. Too much coconut oil can cause not just obesity but can cause greasy diarrhea or vomiting.

Coconut oil will make your cat’s coat appear smoother and have more shine, but it also is coating your cat in oil to make him look glossy and sleek and exposes him to a large area of coconut oil to ingest. Coconut oil is also used as a skincare product for hot spots and atopic dermatitis. Oil does provide a layer of protection and seals in skin moisture, but it can also seal in fungi and bacteria and encourage parasite infestations. For kitties with acne, it can lead to bad outbreaks instead of curing them, especially if the cat has fungal acne. Oils encourage fungal acne. Your cat may look like a kitty supermodel but is also coated in grease. That is not pleasant, your cat may lie on the couch and oil-stain it. Oils can block their pores. Topical coconut oil can also let a cat get dirtier as dirt and oil stick together. There are many personal anecdotes online about coconut oil helping with everything from arthritis, bone health, and even helping thyroid and other metabolic health conditions.

You may even be using coconut oil and experiencing some benefits. Are you a cat? Like any health product or supplement, never use coconut oil without talking to your vet first and consulting them if coconut oil may have any benefit to their well-being. Coconut oil is edible and not poisonous to cats, but it may not be the best for your cat. Diet, supplements, or medications all affect your cat’s health and your vet knows your cat and can help you make the best decision.

The use of coconut oil is not something typically recommended by veterinarians. Coconut oil cannot replace any pet medications or cure chronic health problems. Nutritional supplements cannot replace medical care. The jury is still deliberating of coconut oil is good for humans, let alone our pets. More large-scale double-blind studies in a controlled setting that can be peer-reviewed are needed before we know if coconut oil is healthy and beneficial or just another health food trend that will be debunked. While your friends and the guy at the pet supermarket may claim that all a cat needs for perfect health and even weight loss is coconut oil in their kibble and fur, there’s no guarantee that what they claim works for their cat will have the same results on your cat. If you have a cat with obesity, a history of pancreatitis, a veterinary diagnosis of irritable bowel disorder, coconut oil can worsen those conditions. Not all cats can metabolize fat properly and cats naturally thrive on low-fat high-protein diets. Talk to your vet before giving your cat coconut oil.

For feline use with vet approval, virgin or unrefined oil is preferred and cold-pressed is the oil that is the least processed and is untreated in any way. Refined coconut oil does not contain the reported beneficial compounds. Virgin and cold-pressed tastes and smells like coconut and may be off-putting to cats. Cats are obligate carnivores and avoid fruit. Never force a cat to eat something unless their vet says they must take it. Coconut oil is not cheap either so you may wind up with bottles of several brands until you find one your cat will not snub. It can be an expensive waste of money and until the facts and science are proven, you may simply want to skip giving your cat a speck of your coconut oil even if it’s made your health better and your skin has never been clearer. You and your cat may be BFF’s, but you are also different species.

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