Can I Give My Dog Coconut?
We have always loved coconut cream pie, coconut-flavored alcoholic beverages, and coconut-scented lotions, but in recent years, it seems that coconut’s popularity has skyrocketed. Those of us who frequent health food stores have used coconut oil off and on for years, but now, even people who get all of their groceries from enormous supermarkets have fallen in love with the stuff. Coconut oil has earned the title ‘superfood’, and now everyone and their mother uses it in just about everything. Unsurprisingly, other coconut products have grown right alongside coconut oil, with more and more of us finding ways to use the water, milk, and flesh of this tropical fruit. We use coconut to meet pretty much all of our needs.
But what about our pets’ needs? We love to treat ourselves to rich coconut flesh every now and then, but is it okay to let our dogs enjoy this decadent fruit, too? Many pet parents who consider themselves proponents of ‘holistic’ veterinary medicine suggest giving coconut oil to cats and dogs by the spoonful, while others warn that they shouldn’t eat any fruit at all. What’s the truth behind these claims? Is the flesh safe, or just the oil? Can dogs have coconut?
The answer is yes, dogs can eat small quantities of fresh coconut. There is nothing in coconuts that poses a poisoning risk, so, even if your furry friend snatches a heap of raw coconut flesh, they should be okay in the long run. As treats go, raw coconut is considered a fairly healthy option thanks to its micronutrient and antioxidant content. Coconuts are not, however, suitable staple foods for dogs, and they shouldn’t make up a large part of your pets’ caloric intake. It’s also important to avoid feeding your dog unhealthy coconut products, like the sweetened coconut shreds you find in the baking aisle!
Though coconuts definitely will not transform your pet’s health singlehandedly, they do offer many potential health benefits. Because it is high in healthy fats, coconut flesh may improve skin and coat health—if your pup has a dry, brittle, or thinning coat, incorporating more healthy fats into their diet may restore its natural sheen.
Coconuts are thought to have powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that may help protect overall health, which is why coconut oil is so often used as a home remedy for canine (and feline) skin allergies. Some pet parents report that their dog’s itching, dandruff, and other skin-related symptoms disappear completely after they consume coconut oil regularly for several weeks, but there is little discussion on whether or not the flesh has the same effect.
Coconut’s anti-inflammatory properties can help with more than allergies. Dogs who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease or arthritis may get some relief by consuming anti-inflammatory foods such as coconuts. If your arthritic dog eats more of these foods, they may be able to reduce joint inflammation, which will alleviate pain and may even improve joint mobility. The Internet is full of anecdotes suggesting that coconut oil can fix various other digestive woes, but there has not been a lot of research on the topic.
Coconuts are rich in many helpful vitamins and fatty acids, but they are also extremely high in saturated fat, which can be dangerous. Saturated fats are ‘bad fats’—they are believed to contribute to problems such as heart disease.
Your healthy dog is unlikely to have a heart attack as a direct result of eating small amounts of coconut products from time to time, but, if your dog’s overall diet is too high in fat, a coconut oil supplement may be dangerous.
Unfortunately, the fact that coconuts are loaded with fat also means that they are very caloric. If you’re not careful, the coconut treats you feed your pooch could cause weight gain over time. If you are feeding your dog coconut regularly, it is important to monitor their overall caloric intake to make sure they don’t eat more than they burn off.
Things to Consider
Fatty foods like coconuts can contribute to hyperlipidemia and heart disease, but they may also cause pancreatitis, a disease characterized by inflammation of the pancreas. If your pooch is overweight or obese, or if they have hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular problems, or issues metabolizing fats, you should probably avoid giving them any coconut products.
Finally, even though the coconut oil fad may lead you to believe that it is a superfood, your dog will probably be better off eating fresh coconut flesh than consuming spoonsful of oil. Coconut flesh has fiber and water, whereas coconut oil is almost pure fat. Avoid giving your pet sweetened coconut milk, water, or shreds—and, if the coconut in question is covered in chocolate, don’t let them have a taste!
In the end, fresh coconut is a safe treat for dogs that may offer some small health benefits, but it should not make up a large part of your pet’s diet. If you want to use coconut products as supplements for your pet, check with a vet first.