For a species with no opposable thumbs, canines are impressively adept at getting into canisters, bottles and jars.
Like your jar of coconut oil, for instance.
Assuming that you’re here because you just found out your dog ate coconut oil (which you could have sworn was securely fastened): What happens now?
As the name suggests, coconut oil is an oil derived from coconuts that is 99% fat-based.
Coconut oil is not inherently toxic to dogs, but just like anything else your dog eats that is full of fat (such as Sunchips or liverwurst), it’s likely going to result in some form of stomach upset. This can include symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting and greasy diarrhea.
Usually these are only temporary conditions, and a few days rest coupled with a slow, steady transition back to a normal diet will be sufficient to see your dog return to normal.
If your dog happened to eat a large quantity of the substance, it could be in danger of developing something called acute pancreatitis. This is an affliction that can be triggered when a dog’s body has to deal with a sudden, massive influx of fat.
Symptoms of pancreatitis can include lethargy, fever and loss of appetite, along with the previous signs of gastrointestinal distress. If you see any of these signs in your dog, you need to take it to the vet immediately for treatment as the disease can be lethal.
Coconut oil is purported by some to have some benefits when eaten, such as improving digestion, brain health, and skin and coat condition.
However, these claims have been downplayed by multiple vets and doctors, and other supplements such as fish oil and collagen may provide even more effectiveness without the potential negative side effects.
- 1 What Is Coconut Oil, Anyway?
- 2 What Happens If A Dog Eats Coconut Oil?
- 3 Is Coconut Oil Good For Dogs In Any Way?
- 4 What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Coconut Oil?
- 5 In Summary
Coconut oil, also known as copra oil, is a digestible oil that is produced from the meat of- you guessed it!– coconuts.
It is used in various ways all over the world, including in cooking, hair grooming formulations, soap, body massage products, and even as diesel engine fuel.
Coconut oil has the ability to stay unspoilt for months on end even in warm weather, as it is minimally affected by oxidation due to its high saturated fat content.
And the level of saturated fat is high indeed- making up 82.5% of total composition, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Coconut oil is 99% fat, and all of it adds up to a whopping 890 calories in every 100 grams of the substance.
Due to the high level of saturated fat, numerous health organizations around the world– such as the World Health Organization, USFDA, American Heart Association, British National Health Service, and Dietitians of Canada- all recommend that coconut oil consumption should be limited.
This goes directly against the popular modern conception that coconut oil is some kind of cure-all, health food, or ‘superfood’.
Instead, it has been established in authoritative studies that coconut oil contributes to negative health effects in the same way that consensus unhealthy fats such as beef fat, palm oil and butter do.
In this case, what’s unhealthy for human beings can be equally as hazardous for their canine companions.
Coconuts and coconut oil are not inherently toxic to dogs, so what happens after your dog eats the substance is pretty heavily dependent on the amount that was consumed.
There are both potential risks and potential benefits when a dog ingests coconut oil. Only a small amount is necessary for beneficial use, while negative effects are usually experienced when too much of the fat is eaten.
Luckily, there are no toxic effects to speak of when it comes to dogs eating coconut oil.
That’s not to say it won’t have an effect at all.
The greasy nature and fat composition of coconut oil will likely cause significant GI distress in a dog when eaten, in the form of nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
The severity of the actual symptoms will depend of course on how much of the substance was eaten.
If your dog ate a spoonful or two, it may experience a few transient bouts of vomiting and diarrhea hopefully lasting no longer than a day.
If it eats closer to half a jar or more– look out (for your carpet!).
The stools will most likely be in an extremely liquid state, and may even appear to be partially white in color. This could last for up to 3 days, depending on the speed at which your pup is able to get the oil out of its digestive system.
While vomiting and diarrhea are not dangerous situations in themselves, they can lead to dehydration if the symptoms occur constantly. A state of dehydration is obviously not an ideal state for your dog to be in, and serious cases can lead to weakness and organ damage.
While dehydration is a surprisingly common outcome in these situations and should never be underestimated, the biggest danger that can arise from a dog eating coconut oil is a disease called acute pancreatitis.
Any high-fat meal is capable of triggering pancreatitis in a dog (especially in a small dog, or one that has had pancreatitis before), and by eating coconut oil it is essentially chugging down fat with no accompanying macronutrients to dilute its effects.
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing enzymes that aid digestion, is suddenly bombarded with too much fat than it can handle at once. Essentially, it panics, becomes inflamed, and in its confusion decides to digest itself instead.
It’s as bad as it sounds, and in severe cases can result in sudden depression, shock, and death. The symptoms most commonly seen with pancreatitis can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Repeated vomiting
- Hunched spinal posture
- Loss of appetite
If you notice any combination of these signs after your dog has eaten coconut oil, take it to the vet immediately for consultation and treatment.
There are a great many purported health benefits of coconut oil consumption for dogs that can be found all over the internet.
Some are credible, sensible and from trusted sources, while others tend to challenge the realms of possibility and treat coconut oil as a kind of ‘miracle food’ that’s too good to be true.
When something’s too good to be true, like the latest fad diet or the Zimbabwean prince wanting to send you his inheritance through international bank transfer- it usually is.
According to PetMD, some of the actual advantages of eating coconut oil can include:
- Improves a dog’s skin and coat, making it more moist, smoother, and shinier. Can also help to relieve fungal, yeast and eczema issues.
- Boosts overall energy levels by providing fuel directly to the liver in the form of medium-chain triglyceride fatty acids (MCTs)
- Improves digestive ability
- Potential to aid cognitive function and slow down mental deterioration- also due to the MCTs present.
While coconut oil is composed of 82.5% saturated fats, the one saving grace is that most of them are medium chain triglycerides.
MCTs can at least be considered a ‘good’ fat, with components such as lauric acid and caprylic acid (among others) touted for their antifungal and antiviral properties.
However even these properties are limited in reality. The bacteria and virus-killing action has only been observed in laboratory settings, and has not been shown to be effective in large-enough quantities to offer protection for dogs.
They also don’t contain much in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 acids, which have a much stronger scientific profile and proven benefits. All in all, it may just be a better idea to give your dog daily fish oil capsules instead!
For owners that do decide to give their pups coconut oil as a supplement, the important, key thing to remember is to always error on the side of caution and start with a low dose. More is not always better, and that’s definitely true when it comes to coconut oil for your dog.
Size should always be taken into consideration.
For small dogs: A starting dose of ¼ teaspoon can be given.
For medium-sized dogs: A starting dose of ½ teaspoon can be given.
For large dogs: A starting dose of 1 teaspoon can be given.
Adjust the dosage accordingly depending on how well the dog tolerates the oil. You can work your way up to 1 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight, to a maximum of 1 tablespoon per day regardless of size.
Since coconut oil is not toxic in itself, the steps to take after ingestion revolve around prevention, relief, and recovery from the gastrointestinal symptoms that may result.
If your dog ate coconut oil within the last hour or two, it may be a good idea to induce vomiting to prevent any problems that might be caused from having to digest so much fat at once.
While it isn’t absolutely vital to get coconut oil out of your dog’s system (as the substance isn’t poisonous), inducing vomiting can still lower the probability of potentially-fatal acute pancreatitis being triggered.
If you can mitigate that risk, that’s a huge win in this situation.
Inducement of vomiting can be achieved by giving your dog fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide at a dosage of 1 teaspoon for every 5 pounds of body weight. This can either be given with a syringe or dropper, or by mixing it with some milk or pieces of bread.
After your dog has swallowed the hydrogen peroxide, allow it to run around for a while to get the solution fizzing in its stomach. After about 10-15 minutes, the dog should vomit- hopefully bringing up as much coconut oil as possible.
If it doesn’t throw up on the first try, you can administer hydrogen peroxide again in the same manner up to a maximum of 3 times.
If it is already too late to induce vomiting, or if your dog doesn’t throw up after 3 attempts of giving it hydrogen peroxide, then skip to Step 2 below.
In order to allow your dog’s stomach to get the rest that it needs to recover as quickly as possible, remove all food and water sources for the next 8 to 12 hours.
After half a day has passed, you can begin to provide water to your dog again by giving it one to two teaspoons every hour for the first few hours. You can gradually increase the amount of water according to the size of your dog, as well as how well it appears to be recovering.
As mentioned previously, it’s very important to keep your dog as hydrated as physically possible- especially if it’s been having constant sessions of diarrhea.
Ice cubes can be tremendously helpful in situations such as these, as it gives your dog something to chew on while keeping it refreshed and hydrated.
There are a couple of different ways that you can check for dehydration:
- Feel the gums: The gums should be slippery and wet, rather than sticky or dry.
- The ‘scruff test’: Gently pull on the skin between the dog’s shoulder blades, and then let it go naturally. If your dog is sufficiently hydrated, the skin should return to the original position within 2 seconds. Anything longer could mean that it is dehydrated.
Finally, it may also be a good idea to let your dog stay out in your yard over the next few days.
Alternatively, you may want to keep it comfortably confined in a less-stainable location such as a tiled bathroom or concrete garage. This will help to make the inevitable clean-up task easier to accomplish.
To help soothe the stomach and make your dog feel more comfortable, you can give it over-the-counter antacids such as famotidine (Pepcid-AC) or omeprazole (Prilosec) over the next few days while symptoms persist.
Pepcid-AC (famotidine) can be given at a dosage of 0.25mg per pound of body weight, every 12 hours.
Omeprazole can be given at a dosage of 20mg, once daily.
Antacids are able to provide rapid relief for symptoms of acid reflux by decreasing the production of stomach acid, and they are relatively safe for canine use even in the long-term.
While both will be effective, famotidine is our recommended option as it has a faster action when compared to omeprazole.
After 8 to 12 hours have passed and your dog is no longer vomiting at all, you can start to give it food to eat again. However, do not immediately feed the original meals that it ate prior to ingesting coconut oil.
Instead, the best course of action would be to begin with a ‘bland diet’ of ⅓ lean meat and ⅔ white cooked rice to ease its stomach back to 100% normal function.
Don’t give the food in huge portions either, as this will likely result in the dog’s digestive system becoming overburdened. Instead, give food by the tablespoon every hour to begin with, then slowly increase the amount while reducing frequency as your dog recovers.
If at any point during recovery your dog starts getting stomach pain, loses its appetite, runs a fever or has blood or mucous in its stool, it could be a sign of developing pancreatitis.
This is not something that you can (or should) treat at home, so take your pet to the nearest vet immediately for an examination.
While the long-term outlook for pancreatitis is good for those that are treated properly and promptly, it does need to be addressed with professionally prescribed anti-inflammatory medication, painkillers and IV fluids.
Coupled with adequate rest and a change in diet, most dogs will be able to make a full, smooth recovery.
If your dog ate coconut oil, there are a few possible outcomes that you need to be prepared for.
Firstly, regardless of the amount of the oil that was eaten, your pup is likely going to experience some kind of stomach upset in the form of vomiting and diarrhea. This is due to the extremely high fat content of coconut oil, rather than any existent toxicity.
Dogs that experience repeated bouts of vomiting and diarrhea are at significant risk for dehydration. It’s extremely important to regulate both food and water intake while your dog is recovering so that its body is still able to function properly.
Finally, a dog that eats a large amount of coconut oil in one sitting has a higher risk of developing acute pancreatitis. This is a potentially lethal disease that will cause symptoms such as lethargy, fever, stomach pain and a hunched back.
If you notice any of the signs above in your pet, take it to the vet immediately. Otherwise, keep monitoring and feeding your dog a bland diet over the next few days. It should make a full recovery- and maybe get a shinier coat out of this ordeal too!