Coconut Oil - Is It Good For Horses?
It never occurred to me that adding oil to my horse’s grain could be helpful until a friend emailed her “recipe” for feeding her horse. She wrote, “For fat, I add 1/4 cup vegetable oil as a top dressing - but not corn oil.”
I was intrigued. Dollor, our Paint, is fair. It often seemed as if his thin coat of fur couldn’t fully protect the pink skin underneath. Would oil help, and which oil would be best?
Years ago, I read about the benefits of pure coconut oil for people. I had no idea if it was useful to a horse so I set out to find answers.
Do horses need oils or fats added to their diet?
This was the first thing I needed to decide, so I went to a large bookstore, seeking answers from a wide variety of equine experts, but I found very few references to oil – and none on coconut oil.
In Horses for Dummies, I read, “Horses tend to get very little fat in their diets, even though this nutrient is required for basic equine function.” Their recommendation was to mix 1 cup vegetable oil a day into a “working” horse’s grain, or one half cup for a horse that gains weight easily.
In the book Horse Owner’s Veterinary Handbook, James M. Giffin, MD and Tom Gore, DVM wrote, “The purpose of adding fat to the diet is to increase energy density without incurring problems associated with high concentrations of grain. These problems include founder, colic, diarrhea, and exertional myopathy. Fat supplement can supply the added energy needs without increasing grain intake or decreasing roughage intake.”
They stated that oils and fats are “utilized for energy more efficiently than all other sources of feed.”
Dr. Dan Moore, a practicing holistic veterinarian wrote the article, “Allergies, Itchy Skin and Other Icky Stuff”, and he states that “…horses, in general, don’t get enough fat, and get far too much sugar from sweet feed and corn.”
According to him, “The essential fatty acids are a must in allergy
Bruce Fife, ND writes, “Fatty acids are vital nutrients necessary for good health. Some of the fatty acids are classified as being “essential” because our bodies cannot make them from other nutrients. We must get the essential fatty acids from our foods. The two basic essential fats are omega-6 (linoleic) and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic) fatty acids. Medium-chain fatty acids, like those found in coconut oil, are also important and are considered conditionally essential, that is, under certain circumstances they are just as important as other essential fatty acids.”
Where do we get these essential fatty acids? He goes on to write, “EFA fats are contained in most vegetable oils but are often damaged by refining and processing or destroyed by free radicals. Therefore, conventionally processed vegetable oils are inferior sources for EFA.”
Fife says that while coconut oil has a small percentage of EFA, one benefit to using coconut oil in the daily diet is that the medium chain fatty acids contained in coconut oil work synergistically with the essential fatty acids, improving the way the body uses these fats.
He writes, “A diet rich in coconut oil can enhance the efficiency of essential fatty acids by as much as 100 percent. Not only that, but coconut oil also acts as antioxidant protecting EFA from destructive oxidation inside the body.”
Dr. Moore, in his other article, “The Health and Harm of Fats…..Truly Your Best Friends AND Worst Enemies!”, states, “Fats are critical to your health and your animal’s health. You need them and you need lots of them, you just need the right kinds!”
He goes on to say, “For the most part, I believe that the equine field is slightly ahead of human medicine in getting the word out to the public about the need for fats. But unfortunately, I am certain that most high fat diets in horses are only going to contribute more to the overall problem - because as in people, we are feeding our horses the “wrong” fats. Neither Low Fat nor High Fat for people or animals is correct - the RIGHT Fat is the answer!”
So, are some fats and oils better suited for a horse than others?
The answer to this question, I learned, depends solely on who you ask.
Sometimes oil is put into horse feed by the manufacturers. Our local feed and seed highly recommended a particular horse feed so we switched. I was shocked to find on the horse feed's list of ingredients, “Animal Fat preserved with BHA”. I called and learned it was chicken fat.
Since Dollor appears to be 100 % horse, and should be vegetarian by nature, we’ve made drastic changes in our supplier, and we’ve learned to read labels!
When choosing oil, you may want to avoid those that are “chemically
Udo Erasmus, author of the book Fats That Kill, Fats That Heal, points out on his website that when oils are extracted using solvents, chemicals such as NaOH, which he calls, “a very corrosive base used to burn clogged sink and drain pipes open”, and H3PO4, which he says is, “a very corrosive acid used commercially for degreasing windows”, are used.
In their book, “Nourishing Traditions”, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig explain what happens to those solvents when they write, “The solvent is then boiled off, although up to 100 parts per million may remain in the oil. Such solvents, themselves toxic, also retain the toxic pesticides adhering to seeds and grains before processing begins.” Erasmus explains that in “solvent extraction”, bleaching clays are also used and they impart rancidity, a bad odor, and a bad flavor so the oil must be processed even more by deodorizing it.
According to Dr. Moore, the ability of oil to go rancid is one reason why feed companies choose certain fats. He warns, “One quick note on horse and pet feed is the difficulty in preserving fats in the feed - which is often why so many feeds contain these renegade processed fats - they withstand heat that feeds are exposed to better, but honestly are like feeding plastic to your horse! Typical vegetable and corn oil sources are refined, processed and just plain bad for you, your pet or your horse!”
Dr. Moore recommended coconut oil. He concluded, “…the best source, in my opinion, is coconut oil….coconut oil is stable, and much less likely to go rancid, than flax or rice bran sources. Vegetable oil and corn oil are practically useless except for calories, which most horses get way too much of, anyway.”
Concerning palm kernel oil and coconut oil, Fallon and Enig wrote, “These oils are stable and can be kept at room temperature for many months without becoming rancid. This means that they do not normally go rancid, even when heated for cooking purposes.”
Here in the south, it sometimes feels hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk, so an oil that withstands high heat could be a good thing!
Will coconut oil make my horse fat?
In The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil, Bruce Fife, ND writes, “Coconut oil and its relatives, palm and palm kernel oils, are unique in that they are composed predominantly of the smaller chain fatty acids (medium-and short-chain fatty acids).”
He explains that, “Because of the small size of the fatty acids that make up coconut oil, they actually yield fewer calories than other fats.”, therefore he says, “by using coconut oil in place of other oils your calorie intake is less.”
Mr. Fife writes, “…medium-chain fatty acids in our foods are broken down and used predominantly for energy production and thus seldom end up as body fat, or as deposits in arteries, or anywhere else. They produce energy, not fat.”
What are the benefits of coconut oil?
According to Fallon and Enig, the medium-chain fatty acids found in
coconut oil “…have antimicrobial properties, are absorbed
directly for quick energy, and contribute to the health of the immune
system.” They also explain how the important antimicrobial properties
of the short and medium-chain saturated fatty acids also “protect
us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.”
They point out that lauric acid is found both in coconut oil and in mother’s milk. They write, “This fatty acid has strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties.”
The website www.coconutoil.com states, “The antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties of the medium chain fatty acids/ triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut oil have been known to researchers since the 1960s. Research has shown that microorganisms that are inactivated include bacteria, yeast, fungi, and enveloped viruses. Much of this research is highlighted in the writings of Dr. Mary Enig Ph.D.”
Brian Shilhavy, author of the book “Virgin Coconut Oil”, wrote in an interview on the website of Dr. Joseph Mercola, “We first noticed that many animals enjoyed eating coconut when we lived in the Philippines. Our dogs and cats on the farm would try to get the little bits of coconut out of the shell after they had been grated.”
Concerning the benefits of coconut and coconut oil in general, he continues with, “The people who made virgin coconut oil for us would take the coconut pulp after the oil had been extracted and feed it to their livestock. From the reports we have received from people here in the United States, the benefits to pets and animals are much the same as for humans. It increases metabolism, fights off infections and leads to a healthier coat of hair. We have people giving it to race-track horses and one guy running a study right now is giving it to one of his sled-dog teams. The reports we are getting have been phenomenal!”
The book Virgin Coconut Oil: How it has changed people’s lives, and how it can change yours! states, “Adding coconut oil to your pet’s diet is one of the healthiest things you can do for your pet!” and based on my research thus far, I agree!
Have we personally seen benefits from adding coconut oil to our horse’s diet?
Yes! We first tried a coconut oil blend that was easy to pour on his
grain, but when we ran out, we switched to virgin coconut oil. The
only disadvantages I’ve found in using pure coconut oil have
been a higher cost, and difficulty getting it out of the jar on a cold
Dollor’s coat is shinier, his fur thicker, therefore his skin better protected and less sensitive. If minor skin issues come up, I sometimes rub the pure oil on him externally to cleanse and soothe. We’ve given him a hoof supplement for over a year, yet it wasn’t until we added the coconut oil to his diet that his back hooves finally grew out with no splits.
The good results we saw with Dollor inspired us to put Sadie, our Great Dane, on a similar product called Coconut Cream Concentrate, which is 70% oil, combined with some coconut pulp. Sadie loves it so much that if I forget to add it to her food, she’ll sit and stare sadly at the bowl until I remember! Her black coat is the shiniest it’s ever been, and she often gets frisky, despite turning 8 years old!
Last week her veterinarian marveled at Sadie’s excellent health, amazed that she’s the right weight and has no joint issues, either.
I can’t prove coconut oil works, nor can I guarantee it’ll meet your needs, but our happy horse and dog are proof it’s working for us!