Medium-chain triglycerides or MCT oil for dogs is a reasonably new remedy, but the research supporting it is piling up. Whether it's for heart health, helping the brain of an aging dog, or even reducing seizures in dogs with epilepsy, MCT oil is here to help.
But let's take a closer look at MCT oil and why it's vital to use it in place of more common coconut oil.
MCTs may have massive benefits for brain, heart, digestive, and nervous system health when it comes to dogs.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are types of fats 8 and 10 linked carbon atoms. Purified MCT oil has recently become a standard part of the human ketogenic diet. But we will likely see it become a bigger part of many pet diets in the future.
To be clear, MCTs are found in small amounts in certain coconut and palm oil or yogurt products. However, we will discuss below why this does not mean that coconut oil is a good addition to your dog's diet. This article is about pure 100% MCT oil, not other foods that may contain some of it.
When it comes to fats for dogs, two basic types of fats are relevant to their health. These are:
- Short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs, do not come directly from the diet. Instead, these are released in the digestive tract when your dog eats soluble and fermentable fiber such as beet pulp or fruit fiber (pectin). Dogs and cats can't use SCFAs for energy, but SCFAs feed the good bacteria in a dog's gut and help with the mucosal lining. This keeps your dog's gut functioning at its best, reducing pathogens and low-grade inflammation from a leaky gut.
- Polyunsaturated fats, specifically omega-6s (linoleic acid) and omega-3s (EPA and DHA). are the two essential fats your dog needs to receive from their diet. These two facts play a role in nearly every part of health, including skin and coat, the digestive tract, brain function, and most importantly, the immune system.
However, increasing research suggests that dogs that medium-chain triglycerides may have tremendous benefits. In fact, they are more likely to become a part of prescription dog foods in the future. They are already added to PURINA® PRO PLAN® VETERINARY DIETS CC CardioCare™ for a prescription heart care diet.
However, we will discuss possible issues with MCT oil for dogs in prescription food below. For example, Purina does not seem to add pure MCT oil to their food but rather vegetable oils that contain a small percentage of it.
If you want to read more about prescription diets for pets and whether they are worth the price tag, you can read our article here.
Is MCT Oil Okay For Dogs?
Yes, a certain amount of MCT oil is good for dogs, particularly older dogs, or dogs with issues such as:
- Canine cognitive decline
- And heart conditions.
Too much MCT oil can cause diarrhea, however. It also tends to lower the palatability of food, making dogs less likely to eat it. So keeping MCTs to a safe dosage is vital.
Benefits of MCT Oil for Dogs
There are several serious medical benefits that MCT oil can have for dogs.
Brain Health for Aging Dogs
In studies where MCT oil varied between 5.5% and 13% of dry matter, MCT oil significantly improves senior dogs' learning ability and memory. There are several key reasons that MCT oil may be a game-changer for aging dogs.
- MCT oil seems to help increase the total phospholipids in the brain, especially the amount of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is vital for brain development, so we look for it in food made for puppies, as it helps their ability to learn. DHA again becomes essential as dogs begin to age, as it is necessary to maintain their brain function.
2. The way that MCT oil arrives in the liver is vital. Unlike omega fatty acids, MCT does need a complicated digestion process to reach and cross the gut wall. It diffuses straight into the blood, arrives in the liver, and converts into ketones. When ketones move back into the bloodstream, they become an easy energy source for the brain. In fact, neurons use ketones between 7 to 9 times faster than glucose from carbohydrate sources. The brain prefers to use ketones over glucose.
This is extremely important for senior dogs, as they gradually lose the ability to use glucose in their brains. This is one of the reasons that they begin to suffer from cognitive decline.
Does MCT oil for dogs mean dogs should be on a ketogenic diet?
Although MCT oil benefits a dog's brain through ketones, this does not mean that dogs should be on a ketogenic diet. Human ketogenic diets do not work on dogs and are not effective. Dogs cannot reach the high levels of ketones through a ketogenic diet that humans can.
MCT Oil For Dogs And Heart Health
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTS) show promise for heart health, especially for dogs with MMVD or who are prone to it.
The most common form of canine heart disease is myxomatous mitral valve disease (MMVD). In fact, some breeds, such as the American bloodlines of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, have a 90 to 100% chance of developing this heart problem by the time they are 10.
Although the issue is genetic, it is linked to metabolic problems, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Essentially, in the case of dogs with MMVD, the heart muscle runs out of fuel. Like the brain, MCT oil can provide alternative energy sources for the heart muscle through ketones and by making omega-3s more available.
However, it's essential to recognize that heart health isn't maximized with MCT oil alone. Other essential nutrients for heart health include:
- Low sodium diets with safe amounts of potassium
- EPA and DHA
- Antioxidants include plenty of vitamin E (over 400IU/kg), vitamin C, zinc, and selenium.
Epilepsy & Seizures
A fascinating bonus of MCT oil for dogs is studies that show about half of the dogs with epilepsy have reduced incidences of seizures for epileptic dogs. In one study, dogs fed a diet of 6.5% MCTs had an average 32% reduction in seizures over an 84-day period.
Gastrointestinal Health and Pancreatitis
MCT oil is highly digestible at about 60% and is much easier to digest than oils such as corn oil. 100% pure MCT oil does not need bile or enzymes from the pancreas to be digested. It simply goes straight to the liver. This is a massive benefit to dogs with gastrointestinal issues or problems with their pancreas, gallbladder, and kidneys.
Dogs with recurrent pancreatitis typically need to go on very low protein and low-fat diets. This is because digesting proteins and fats mean that the pancreas has to produce far more enzymes and work harder.
Inflamed pancreas can damage the tissues that produce insulin, causing diabetes. It can also damage the cells that produce enzymes, causing exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). So MCT oil for dogs can be a much gentler way of incorporating fats into the diet without straining the enzyme-producing organs.
How Much MCT Oil Should I Give My Dog?
About 5 to 10% of the total fat in your dog's diet can be MCT oil. It's important to remember that good omega-6 fatty acids such as linoleic acid and omega-3s like EPA and DHA are just as important as a portion of the total fat content.
When deciding how much MCT oil to give your dog, it's essential to consider how much fat your dog is already ingesting. The average canine diet should have between 10 and 20% fats in its crude dry matter. Less than 10% can be too little, while more than 20% can lead to obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, and other health issues.
Dogs with severe gastrointestinal issues such as pancreatitis may be prescribed diets with less than 10% fat. In contrast, dogs who are having their calories restricted may need around 12% total fat.
But if your healthy dog is ingesting a diet that has a good 15% fat, you can add another 5% in MCT oil. This is going to differ depending on the amount of food your dog eats and the size of your dog. But here is a rough calculation.
A rough guide of how much MCT oil you can give your dog
If the guaranteed analysis of dog food for fat is 15%, then it is about 150 grams of crude fat per kilogram. This allows you to add another 50 grams per kilogram of dog food in MCT oil. This way, you don't go over the danger zone of 20% total crude fat in the diet. Note, if your dog food already has more than 20% fat, the fat content is likely too high, and it's probably not a good idea to add more.
Obviously, your dog probably is not eating a kilogram of food per day, so the amount must be adjusted to what your dog is eating a day. For reference:
- A 10 to 20-pound dog eating about a cup of food a day can have about a teaspoon of MCT oil a day.
- 30 to 50-pound dogs that eat around 2 cups of food a day can have roughly two teaspoonfuls of MCT oil.
- 60 to 100-pound dogs that eat between 3 and 4 cups of food per day can eat roughly between 3 and 4 teaspoons with their food.
Remember, this is just a rough estimation of what a dog can eat in a diet that is 15% crude fat.
Should I give my dog natural sources of MCT Oil?
Natural sources include palm oil, coconut oil, and yogurt. However, the percentage of actual MCT in these oils is usually meager (below 10%). What will likely happen in the pet food industry in the future is that they will add palm oil or coconut oil to the food to be able to claim MCT oil on the label.
MCT oil is a concentrated form of octanoic and decanoic acids. These usually come from palm oil or coconut oil. However, coconut oil is only about 6% MCTs, and palm oil is only about 12%.
Dog food with purified MCT oil will probably be rare since this is much more expensive than just adding vegetable oil.
The problem with this is that the amount of MCTs in these ingredients is too little to be effective. Moreover, ingredients such as coconut oil are actively bad for dogs.
Why is Coconut Oil Bad for Dogs?
Coconut oil is one of many human health food ingredients that made the jump to pet food without the research to back it up. In fact, the actual science suggests this is a terrible ingredient for the following reasons.
Firstly, coconut oil is between 70 and 80% saturated fat. About half the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which causes more gut inflammation than any other saturated fat. Another saturated fat in coconut oil, palmitic acid, is also massively proinflammatory.
The second reason requires a bit of explanation.
Dogs with a compromised gut lining have spaces between their epithelial cell walls that allow undigested food and bacteria. This is called leaky gut and causes low-grade inflammation in the body, infections, food allergies or intolerances, and other severe health problems. In the cell walls of some gut bacteria are lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which is a type of endotoxin.
If LPS gets through inflamed stomach lining cells, they cause chronic inflammation called metabolic endotoxemia. In turn, this is linked to heart problems, diabetes, weight issues, and kidney disease. These same bacteria are also present in plaque in the mouth, leading to dangerous periodontal disease.
But what does this have to do with coconut oil?
Coconut oil can irritate the gut lining, causing inflammation, diarrhea, and leaky gut. Remember, the saturated fat in coconut oil causes inflammation in the stomach lining. Coconut oil also feeds the bacteria that contain LPS. And it makes LPS more toxic.
Finally, the lauric acid in coconut oil is antimicrobial and actually kills the bacteria containing LPS. However, it actually releases the LPS into the system when it does this. It crosses the stomach lining into the bloodstream.
In short, coconut oil increases the number of endotoxins in the blood, while oil from fish reduces them.
Early research into MCT oil for dogs shows tremendous promise. It can help the brain function of older dogs, improve heart health, and reduce seizures in canines with epilepsy. But be careful with this new nutraceutical, as we are likely to see pet food manufacturers take advantage of it.
Since purified MCT oil is expensive, it is more likely that pet foods will add oils such as palm oil or coconut oil as their source of MCTs. These oils are actively bad for dogs, so until brands add purified MCT oil, it's best to sprinkle a little of our own over dogs' food in safe amounts.