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New Fads

by Katie McKay | Jun 10, 2015

It seems like everything we eat causes cancer and everything we eat can also prevent cancer. You can't get through a day without seeing a new fad popping up about what's good for you and what isn't. To take a step further, these fads also get passed on to our pets because we assume that whatever is good for humans must be good for dogs too. While in most cases its unlikely that many of these miracle cures and antidotes will cause much problem, you should know that what you are reading on the internet is never the whole truth. Let us skeptics unite today and talk about Coconut Oil! This is a hot topic right now and a great example of how to do some careful research. 

Coconut Oil hit the scene quickly as the cure-all, solve-all, go to Hawaii and collect as many as you can trend. Not that I would ever question a reason to go to Hawaii, but let's talk about exactly what it is first. Coconut oil is essentially made by the cold pressing of fresh coconut, however it has also been produced using dry coconut meat (or the white stuff and I'm not talking about an Oreo). This oil contains saturated fats....what???? Remember when those were really bad for you? They were the crux of all things associated with cardiovascular disease and as with any other fad, we learned more about saturated fats and discovered that they could also have good parts when broken down further. Coconut oil also contains no trans fats, which are technically still bad for you and this very fact is what surrounds the discussion of the potential benefits of coconut oil. To spare you a detail discussion about chains of fats, just know that coconut oil is a mixed bowl and although some stuff in it could be considered helpful, it contains other things that are potentially not. And just because you have one good thing in the pot doesn't mean that we can infer "this is good for you!" Herein lies the trouble with passing fads. 

For humans, coconut oil is said to be good for preventing things like heart disease, treating diabetes and Alzheimers. Some have also claimed that it helps you lose weight (doesn't everything?). The problem with translating this to pets is that our dogs are already at a much lower risk of heart disease, so why give them something to prevent something that is unlikely to happen anyway? That would be like taking B12 just in case you might be anemic some day. Without monitoring your intake and amounts, you can just as easily cause problems taking too much of a "natural" supplement. The good thing is that most of the internet hype surrounding coconut oils for dogs is focused more on skin, digestive conditions, infections and cancer (of course). Great, so nothing that they claim in humans! Here's the truth. There is no research on coconut oil and its effects in dogs or cats. There are a small number of studies, but they have yet to collect any good data showing positive effects. In addition, until they can show that it's worth spending lots of money on to research, these kind of studies also don't measure safety. As for the human side of things, there have been no short-term risks of taking coconut oil in reasonable quantities. Some GI issues have been reported (in dogs too) but the long-term effects are not known. 

Have I tried some coconut oil on my dog? Sure! But I did my research first and I made sure I watched my pup for signs that she might not be able to tolerate it despite its assumed harmlessness. Great discoveries were made by accident and sometimes fads become real powerful tools for us and for our dogs. All I'm saying is, be careful getting caught up in the hype and remember to read the bad things along with the good. And most importantly, remember that you assume risk for these types of adventures. Is it worth it? Does the potential benefit outweigh the risk? Will it still be worth it if your dog gets sick, because there is always that chance? Believe me, these are the same questions we ask ourselves about medications, treatments and procedures when we go to the doctor.  The difference is that those options have passed the tests of scientific research including safety and FDA approval. They have gone through a rigorous, supervised testing and been shown to be effective and safe. Does that mean that system is perfect? Certainly not, but quite simply we just know more about them. 

So far, my results with coconut oil on my dog's dry and cracked elbows have been non-exciting, but I'll keep you posted. How about you guys? Anyone had good luck?