Coconut oil is big in human nutrition these days. It is said to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, boost the immune system, and prevent diseases ranging from heart disease to cancer to Alzheimer’s. It can also be used as a skin and hair conditioner. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about whether these benefits apply to cats as well.
Fatty acids and cats
Cats only need to obtain two essential fatty acids from their diet: linoleic acid (LA) and arachadonic acid (AA), both of which can be found in meat. Theoretically, cats can synthesize all other fatty acids from those two. Adult cats can benefit from many other fats and oils for optimal health, particularly animal fats such as EPA and DHA, although they aren’t necessary. Kittens do require DHA for the development of the tissues in the brain and retina.
How does coconut oil affect cats?
Coconut oil contains only a about 2% of linoleic acid. It is primarily made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), and that’s where the health benefits come from on the human side. However, according to veterinary experts, MCTs do not taste good to cats (although there are some cats that do seem to love coconut oil.)
Topical use of coconut oil
Coconut oil has been shown to speed wound healing in rats, so it stands to reason that it may have the same effect on cats. Applying a thin layer to a cat’s wound or sore may help. However, keep in mind that anything you put on your cat will most likely be groomed off and ingested. Coconut oil is very greasy, so you may end up with greasy stains on your furniture and rugs even before your cat has a chance to groom it off.
The bottom line
We simply don’t know enough about how coconut oil affects cats, and what we do know is worrisome. Until there is more research, I would not advise the use of coconut oil for cats.
The best way to to supplement healthy fats is through Omega-3 supplementation, which has many benefits. Most commercial cat foods do not contain enough Omega-3.