This question keeps coming up, so I thought I’d explain in why I tell folks not to give their cats coconut oil.
The cat’s natural diet is high in both protein and fat. But there are only two essential fatty acids (EFA) that cats must obtain from their diet: linoleic acid (LA) and arachadonic acid (AA). In theory, cats can synthesize all other fatty acids from those two (although in kittens DHA is also essential). Adult cats can benefit from a many other fats and oils, particularly animal fats such as EPA and DHA, but they aren’t necessary.
Coconut oil is very big in human nutrition right now, but it isn’t a good choice for cats. While it contains tiny bit of LA (2%), the other fatty acids it contains are not necessary for cats, and merely contribute to the calorie content of the diet. If you add extra fat, that means something else, like protein, is decreased… and protein is the key to a healthy feline diet.
Coconut oil is predominantly made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)–and it’s those MCTs that are the issue. According to veterinary experts, MCTs have a negative effect on palatability in cats. It’s hard enough to get a cat to eat something new, so why give them something that tastes bad to them?
MCTs may be a contributing factor to hepatic lipidosis, a life-threatening liver disease. This could be due to a number of reasons. It is possible that MCTs actually harm the liver. Or, it could be that it makes the food taste so nasty that cats won’t eat it… and poor or no appetite is the primary cause of hepatic lipidosis. Clearly, either scenario is bad news for kitties. (In dogs, MCTs can cause pancreatitis, so don’t be tempted to give it to them either!)
So, there you have it: good reasons not to use coconut oil for cats! If you want to supplement healthy fats, stick to Omega-3s, which have many benefits, and are deficient in most commercial cat foods as well as homemade diets. (Click here for more information on the types and benefits of various Omega-3 products.)