Science Photo Library / Nynke van Holten / Getty
Curious if dogs can eat coconut? From coconut oil to coconut milk to coconut water, dog experts weigh in on what's safe to serve and what's not.
Can Dogs Eat Coconut Safely?
The short answer is it's complicated. And it depends on what part of the coconut your dog eats. Jacqueline Brister, DVM, and consultant for Embrace Pet Insurance explains that you should avoid serving your pooch whole coconuts or pieces of coconut shell as the shell is not digestible and can cause intestinal blockage and damage.
Why Types of Coconut Products Can Dogs Eat Safely?
According to the ASPCA, coconut flesh contains oils that may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and loose stools. While it won't cause your pet serious harm in small amounts, it's best to be cautious with feeding this food to your pet. And always seek out guidance from your veterinarian before introducing any new foods in your dog's diet.
According to Sophia Silverman, co-founder and president of A New Chance Animal Rescue, a 501c3 dog rescue based in Bedford Hills, NY, although dogs can consume coconut oil in very small amounts without getting poisoned, there is debate on whether it is of true benefit for dogs. "There is not a lot of research being done on this either, which makes it difficult for pet parents to properly weigh the pros and cons," Silverman explains.
If you choose to feed your dog coconut oil, do so with extreme caution as "it can cause potentially severe gastrointestinal problems in some dogs," Brister warns. In addition, she explains that pancreatitis, a life-threatening inflammatory condition within the pancreas, can occur from from feeding dogs even small amounts of coconut oil—even as little as one tablespoon twice a day. Lastly, coconut oil can also cause diarrhea, especially in high doses.
If you are feeding your pooch coconut oil in homemade diets, Brister says it should not be the only fat source as it is not a good source of essential fatty acids. For example, coconut oil only contains roughly two percent of the essential fatty acid linoleic acid (corn oil contains roughly 54 percent). "This is also important when considering it as an anti-inflammatory for issues like skin conditions—it is not going to be as effective as other oils because it is low in those essential fatty acids," Brister explains.
And what about applying coconut oil topically to your dog? Some folks apply coconut oil topically to soothe dry skin which Brister says "can be helpful for some canine patients because it is high in vitamin E. Discuss using it with your veterinarian first, because dry skin may actually be caused by an underlying issue that needs medical attention."
Coconut water is the sweet, semi-clear liquid that is most prevalent inside green, immature coconuts. As the coconut ages, this water hardens to become the white meat that forms around the inside of the coconut shell. The ASPCA says that coconut water is high in potassium and should not be given to pets. Brister also suggests that "no major benefits of coconut water have been reported, especially when dogs are fed a balanced diet." So you're better off hydrating yourself with coconut water but giving your pets plain H2O.
Coconut milk is a made by grating and mashing coconut meat and mixing it with water. "No major benefits of supplementing a dog's diet with coconut milk have been reported, especially when dogs are fed a balanced diet," Brister explains, but coconut milk can be a good source of calories for dogs that need them, such as those with megaesophagus or who are are malnourished.
However, like the flesh, coconut milk does sometimes contain oils that can cause stomach upset and poop problems in dogs, so it's best to talk with your pet's vet to see if this would be a helpful liquid for them to consume based on their health conditions. And next time you're indulging in a glass of coconut milk, it's probably best not to share it with your pup.
Is It Worth the Risks to Feed My Dog Coconut in Small Amounts?
Silverman recommends always consulting with your veterinarian prior to making any changes to your dog's diet, and "don't be afraid to ask questions of your vet; that's what they're there for!" In addition, Brister recommends starting anything new under the direction of a veterinarian and in very small doses.
When choosing to give your dog coconut oil, "its possible benefits of having anti-inflammatory properties do not necessarily outweigh its risks, even at very low doses, especially when other types of oils may offer better benefits," Brister explains. In addition, she says that coconut meat, water, or milk may not offer good enough benefits for the cost and effort.