Aside from making a tasty salad dressing, olive oil has been linked to a host of human health benefits. But could it also benefit our dogs?
The answer is a resounding “probably.”
Olive Oil for a Healthy Coat
Studies have shown that olive and other oils, including sunflower and safflower, can help reduce inflammation in dogs and ease the itching associated with allergies, says Dr. Christopher Reeder, a board-certified dermatologist at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Franklin, Tennessee.
He’s also seen a noticeable increase in luster and shine in the coats of dogs whose diets were supplemented with olive oil, adding that it takes about 30 days to make a difference.
Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, which may help protect against cell damage. It also contains chemicals that have been shown to help fight cancer in humans and prevent cognitive decline, says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian and author.
While neither doctor could say for sure if those benefits also apply to dogs, they say there is no harm in adding it to your dog’s diet, as long as you do it the right way.
Picking the Right Olive Oil and Dosage
If you decide to give your dog olive oil, Morgan recommends using extra virgin olive oil. Made from the first pressing of the olive, extra virgin olive oil has a lower acid content which results in a fresher taste, she says. This kind of olive oil can go rancid faster than others, however, so it should be stored in a dark-colored bottle away from high heat, Morgan says.
Both doctors recommend giving your dog no more than one teaspoon of olive oil per 20 pounds of body weight per meal. It can be mixed in with your pup’s regular wet or dry dog food.
While some beauty magazines espouse the benefits of applying olive oil directly to human skin and hair, you likely won’t get the same results on your pup.
“The problem we have with animal patients is they don’t restrict the use of their tongue just to eating food,” Reeder says.
Applying olive oil to a dog’s skin or coat may increase their urge to lick the area, which could just further aggravate dry, cracked or irritated skin, he says. It could also increase the odds of olive oil ending up on your carpet or furniture.
Potential Side Effects of Olive Oil
While olive oil is considered safe for dogs, the doctors said it might irritate the gastrointestinal tracts of pups with sensitive tummies, so don’t give it to your dog if he’s exhibiting any signs of diarrhea or vomiting. If you notice any sign of stomach upset in your dog after introducing olive oil to its diet, cut it out immediately.
Another potential downside to olive oil is its fat and calorie content. One tablespoon of olive oil contains about 120 calories and 31.5 grams of fat, says Morgan. While it is considered a healthy fat, it could increase the risk of a flare-up in animals prone to pancreatitis, and the extra calories could also cause weight gain. Both doctors said moderation is key.
“This isn’t one of those things where a little is good and a lot is better,” Reeder says.
Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail.