Coconuts in Dog and Poultry Food?

By Win Wolcott

Every animal health company looks for the next significant technology or trend in the market to give their products an advantage over the competition. Some changes that come along are best considered a fad, the definition of which is “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the objects qualities; a craze”. Dog food in particular tends to follow advancements in human nutrition, and some of those, when applied to dogs, would certainly qualify as a fad. While what works in people does not necessarily translate to canine nutrition, ideas that are fresh in people’s minds do. This does not mean that all new nutritional trends are bad for people or dogs. Every once in a while, a new idea or application previously unused does make real changes in nutritional value of a feed possible. The recent enthusiasm in the human market for all things related to coconuts has caused several animal health companies to research its potential use in other species. It is clear that since the introduction of coconut meal as nutritional support in concentrated horse feed five years ago, the use of this component has moved from the suspected “fad”, to the understanding that real nutritional advantages for that species are clearly being realized. While the digestive process of dogs and poultry is vastly different from that of the horse, it was inevitable that the potential of using coconut meal in those species would be investigated.

So, what is unique about coconut meal that is not readily found in more commonly used animal feed ingredients? While there is a significant amount of high quality protein found in coconut meal, in most cases the most unique advantages are found in the oil component. Most commonly used vegetable fats used in animal feed, while energy dense, a have a vastly different make up than that found in coconut oil. Known as medium chain triglycerides, much of the oil found in coconuts possesses properties that are uniquely anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral. When used in a properly formulated feed, the advantages provided by coconut oil as opposed to other vegetable oils can contribute to a reduction of bacteria generated inflammation, and may suppress certain destructive bacteria and viruses. In addition to this, coconut meal in a feed helps “normalize” the digestive function in a number of species since its actual digestive path is different than typical vegetable oils. The result is that energy is provided with less disruption to the animal’s digestive system allowing it to actually function closer to the way nature designed it. These unique properties made the inclusion of coconut an interesting proposal that had a very real chance to survive beyond the “fad” stage.

While some formulations benefit by adding refined coconut oil, there can be distinct advantages to the use of coconut meal. Doing this provides a safe protein source while maintaining a low starch and sugar level. The use of coconut meal at effective amounts as an ingredient in retail animal feed in the US began with Renew Gold horse feed. As expected, the word “fad” quickly spread throughout the equine industry, driven by competitors, and persisted for a year or so. Five years later that is no longer the case. The effectiveness of that product has been well proven and awareness in every state in the US continues to grow. This led to the question,” what other animals can benefit from coconut in their diets?”

There are a lot of differences between horses, dogs, and poultry species. However, they all suffer from ingredient problems when it comes to retail feeds. In dogs, that problem is the use of ingredients that potentially cause digestive and allergic sensitivity issues. Corn, wheat and soy are the most common offenders. Often times, these sensitivities result in skin and coat issues like hot spots. Allergic sensitivity can lead to constant irritation that causes scratching and leads to sores, particularly in the summer.

In horses the ingredient issue is often high starch and sugar components that interfere with proper digestion of the roughage portion of their diet, create potential behavioral problems, and promote the development of ulcers.

A different situation exists in retail poultry feeds, particularly with laying hens. The issues here may be high soy inclusions in the diet that result in high estrogen content in the egg, or the need to use medications in poultry formulas to try to maintain flock health. Replacing the offending ingredients in the diet of any of these species with less disruptive components and supporting those ingredients with the hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial nature of coconut meal has the potential to address all of these issues.

All in all, coconut meal continues to develop a unique place in the US animal health industry. Used for many years and well proven closer to its source in the Australian animal health industry and the Pacific Rim, it was not commonly seen in the US until 2012. Since that time it has established itself as a real alternative to a number of problematic feed ingredients. I have often referred to coconut meal as the most proven and researched “new” feed ingredient every brought to the United States.

Whether you are feeding a dog, horses or poultry, there may be a real benefit to reconfiguring your feeding program to one that includes coconut. Notice that I said reconfigure not add to. Typically coconut meal based feeds eliminate the need for a lot of other components and supplements. This simplification means that the diet becomes easier to manage, and has the potential to be more consistent, effective and cost efficient. When I do nutrition seminars if often say that “we feed our animals into trouble, and then try to supplement them out of it.” Using a coconut supported feed for your dogs, or you poultry may be the answer to avoid feeding your animals into trouble to begin with.