The internet is awash with stories about how coconut oil and hemp oil can cure cancer, replace pain meds, and stop epilepsy. But the Doctors and Vets won’t let you use it because of a conspiracy by Big Pharma. But what’s the real story about these miracle oils?


Coconut oil is a rich source of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). These are triglycerides whose fatty acids have an aliphatic tail of 6–12 carbon atoms. There has been a lot of interest in the health benefits to humans and pets of MCTs.

Epilepsy in Dogs

As a ketogenic diet has been useful in some childhood epilepsy cases vets have investigated similar diets in dogs. Unfortunately high fat, low protein, low carbohydrate diets carry a high risk of causing pancreatitis in dogs, so other ways of increasing ketones in the brain have been investigated. In a 2015 study Tsz Hong Law and colleagues found that a diet with MCTs caused a significant reduction in seizure frequency than a diet without C8, 10, or 12 MCTs, however some dogs showed no response to MCTs. Research into MCTs in canine epilepsy is ongoing at the Royal Veterinary College.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Studies have found that 28% of dogs ages 11-12-years-old and 68% of dogs ages 15-16-years-old have one or more signs of age-related cognitive decline. Symptoms include nocturnal restlessness and barking, loss of house training, and appearing ‘depressed’. These symptoms negatively affect the quality of life of both dogs and their owners. It has been found that older brains use ketones more efficiently than glucose as fuel, so again diets which increase brain ketones have been investigated. A diet supplemented with MCTs was shown to improve attention span, trainability, decision making and overall cognitive function in as little as 30days.

Dental Pathogens

In 2015 lab tests Law et al showed that  an emulsion of MCTs showed similar efficacy on killing common dental pathogens in dogs and cats to a chlorhexidine foam.


Cures for cancers are the Holy Grail of Veterinary and Human medicine. Research has supported the use of a high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diet to support dogs undergoing chemotherapy, but more specific trials on ketogenic diets and MCTs acorss a range of cancers are needed.

Skin problems

Is coconut oil the way to go for skin problems? Whilst there is some evidence that topically applied coconut oil is better than mineral oil for atopic dermatitis, there is far more evidence for using Omega 3 oils in the diet for atopy. Coconut oil has been shown to speed up wound healing compared to nothing being applied.

Anti-inflammatory properties

Coconut oil has shown moderate anti-inflammatory and antipyretic effects in lab animal studies, but again, there has so far been little research in chronic pain in dogs or cats.


Maybe. There is good evidence for MCTs in improving quality of life in canine epilepsy and cognitive dysfunction. Other uses of MCTs are less well supported. But coconut oils is only 60% MCTs and the other fats in it can increase the risk of dogs developing pancreatitis. When researching coconut oil/MCT for a given health condition check what was actually used as virgin coconut oil will contain compound which refined MCT oils do not. 

Whether you choose coconut oil or MCT oil consult your vet first to agree on a safe dose to aim for, and introduce the oil over a week or so to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects. You might also consider a diet specifically designed to support normal neurological function in dogs:


Our bodies, and those of our pets, contain endocannabinoid receptors which are involved in many physiological pathways including mood, appetite stimulation, pain sensation, memory, and response to stress. Hemp oils contain phytocannabinoids which can interact with these receptors (particularly CB1 and CB2). Hemp oils may also contain a range of other components including fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, flavanoids, terpenes, ketones, and chlorophyll. Commercially sold hemp oils contain only trace amounts of the psychotropic chemical THC and will not get you or your pet ‘high’. Interestingly, CB2 receptors have not yet been found in cats.

Hemp oils can only be sold in the UK as food supplements and can not make any medical claims. Doses of 20-200mg of CBD per day for an adult human are considered a wellness supplement. This should be borne in mind when looking at research on Cannabis sativa extracts, as well as whether whole plant oils or refined constituents have been used. There is a lot of research on Cannabis sativa derived compounds, and new medicines based on them are very likely to be developed.

At medicinal doses CBD has been shown to have anti-epileptic, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety effects and appears to be relatively safe; however at high (medicinal) doses it may interact with other drugs which are metabolised by the same enzyme pathway leading to faster or slower clearance of CBD. CBD may not be as well absorbed orally by dogs as it is by people which must be considered when choosing a dose to use. The terpene content of hemp oil products should be considered when using them in cats as they are less well tolerated in this species.

Many companies are jumping on the CBD oil trend and producing oils, capsules, treats, and more for pets and people. Some offer a range of different strength products, products blended with other herbs, and oils made by different extraction techniques to give varying levels of active compounds. So far very few suppliers are ensuring consistency of active compounds through testing and blending of each batch of oils.


Help oils and CBD oils may be useful in maintaining wellness in dogs and cats, in much the same way as we might give a fish body oil supplement. Research into medicinal uses of extracts from Cannabis sativa will continue, and new drugs for epilepsy, anxiety, and pain are likely to result. Although no medical claims can be made for commercially available hemp/CBD oils some owners find they help to improve their pet’s quality of life. Care must be taken to avoid considering testimonials or single case studies as evidence that the supplement helped; even in conventional drug research a proportion of test subjects show an improvement on the placebo! This is especially true in epilepsy trials where even untreated animals or people can show great variability in seizure frequency.

Consultation with a vet with an understanding of herbal medicine, and of hemp extracts in particular, is likely to give the best results and ensure there are no adverse drug interactions. Consulting a vet is essential if you wish to try higher doses for medicinal effect.

For more information on MCT/coconut oil or hemp oil supplements, or a holistic assessment and treatment plan for your pet’s health, please contact us on health@holisticvetsussex for a referral form.



  • Brenda Cox says:

    Hello. I found this article interesting. I use virgin coconut oil for cooking and putting a shine on my hair. I would be interested to know if it may help my 4yr old labrador (32kg) that has had 4 epileptic episodes in 3 years. What dose should I give her? I also have a 12 year old lab who is very good but just becoming a bit slower. I wonder if it would help him. Do you think it would help my arthritis if I took a spoonful a day? Thank you for your help.

    • admin says:

      Good afternoon, I don’t give advice on specific cases without seeing the pet. Your first port of call should be your regular vet; you’d be surprised how many are aware of the benefits of coconut oil/MCTs. If they can’t help, then they can refer you to a Veterinary Herbalist who can.

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