Folliculitis is a common skin condition in dogs characterized by inflammation and infection of the hair follicles. It can cause itchiness, redness, pustules, crusting, and hair loss. While there are various conventional treatment options for folliculitis, many dog owners are interested in exploring natural remedies like coconut oil.
Coconut oil has gained popularity in recent years for its purported health benefits for both humans and pets. But can coconut oil effectively treat folliculitis in dogs? Let’s take a closer look.
- 1 What is Folliculitis?
- 2 Conventional Treatments for Folliculitis
- 3 Using Coconut Oil for Dogs with Folliculitis
- 4 How to Use Coconut Oil for Dog Folliculitis
- 5 Studies on Coconut Oil and Folliculitis
- 6 Are There Any Risks of Using Coconut Oil for Dog Folliculitis?
- 7 Should Coconut Oil Replace Conventional Folliculitis Treatment?
- 8 Warning Signs Your Dog’s Folliculitis Needs Veterinary Care
What is Folliculitis?
Folliculitis refers to the inflammation of the hair follicles. Hair follicles are small sacs in the skin from which hair grows. When the follicles become inflamed, it disrupts normal hair growth and can cause symptoms like:
- Redness, pustules, and crusting around hair follicles
- Itchiness and pain
- Hair loss in inflamed areas
- Scaly or flaky skin
- Superficial skin infections
The most common causes of folliculitis in dogs include:
- Bacterial infections – Staphylococcus pseudintermedius is the bacteria that most often causes infection.
- Yeast infections – Malassezia pachydermatis is a yeast that can overgrow and cause folliculitis.
- Allergic reactions – Dogs can develop allergy-related folliculitis.
- Mites – Mites like Demodex can lead to a form of folliculitis called mange.
- Blocked hair follicles – Debris, oil, or thick hair can block follicles.
Folliculitis often starts in areas with short, dense hair like the chest, belly, and legs. Without treatment, it can spread over the body and become increasingly uncomfortable for dogs. Bacterial folliculitis can potentially lead to deeper skin infections if left untreated.
Conventional Treatments for Folliculitis
There are several conventional treatment options for folliculitis in dogs:
- Antibiotics – For bacterial infections, vets often prescribe oral or topical antibiotics. Common choices include cephalexin, amoxicillin, or mupirocin ointment.
- Antifungal medication – For yeast folliculitis, antifungal treatments like ketoconazole are used.
- Anti-itch medication – Vets may recommend anti-itch pills like Apoquel or topical hydrocortisone to control itching.
- Antiseptic shampoos – Shampoos with chlorhexidine or benzoyl peroxide help clean infected follicles.
- Lime sulfur dips – Lime sulfur diluted in water can be applied to the skin to treat certain mite infections.
- Fatty acid supplements – Fatty acids like omega-3s help reduce inflammation and skin infections.
- Sprays/dips – Certain bacterial or yeast folliculitis may require special sprays or dips prescribed by the vet.
- Shaving – Severely inflamed areas may need to be shaved to allow topical treatments to penetrate.
While these conventional treatments are often effective, some dog owners also choose to try natural approaches like coconut oil. Always check with your vet before making any changes to your dog’s treatment plan.
Using Coconut Oil for Dogs with Folliculitis
So how does coconut oil help treat folliculitis? Coconut oil contains two active compounds – lauric acid and caprylic acid – that have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Here’s a look at the key ways coconut oil may help combat folliculitis:
Fights bacteria and yeast
Lauric acid in coconut oil has been shown in studies to have antibacterial and antifungal effects. Applying coconut oil directly to inflamed follicles, it may help kill off infection-causing microbes like staphylococcus bacteria or Malassezia yeast. This can support conventional antibiotic treatment
The MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) in coconut oil like lauric and caprylic acid have anti-inflammatory effects. Coconut oil can help calm inflammation of the skin and follicles. This may provide soothing relief from itchiness and pain.
Coconut oil has excellent moisturizing properties. Keeping the skin hydrated can help prevent dryness, flaking, and cracking that can worsen folliculitis symptoms. A hydrated skin barrier is also better able to heal itself.
Natural antimicrobial activity
Coconut oil applied topically provides a protective layer that has natural antimicrobial effects. This can help prevent the colonization of new bacteria or yeast on the skin’s surface.
How to Use Coconut Oil for Dog Folliculitis
When using coconut oil to treat folliculitis in your dog, there are a few guidelines to follow:
- Use extra virgin coconut oil – This unrefined oil retains the most beneficial lauric acid.
- Apply a thin layer 1-2 times daily – Gently rub a teaspoon or so into affected areas.
- Continue for 2 to 4 weeks – It takes time for inflammation to resolve and skin to heal.
- Always do a patch test first – Apply a small amount to one spot and watch for any reactions before using it all over.
- Avoid eyes and infected spots – Don’t apply to eyes, open wounds, or hot spots.
- Pair with conventional treatments – Coconut oil can complement medications prescribed by your vet. Don’t stop other treatments unless your vet advises.
- Monitor for improvements – Keep track of symptoms and let your vet know if you see positive changes.
- Watch for reactions – Discontinue use if your dog develops any irritation, worsening symptoms, or GI upset.
Some dog owners mix a few drops of coconut oil into their dog’s food as another administration route. Start with small amounts as too much dietary coconut oil may lead to diarrhea. It’s generally recommended to give no more than 1 tsp per 10 lbs of body weight daily.
Studies on Coconut Oil and Folliculitis
There is some emerging research showing coconut oil’s beneficial effects on certain skin conditions:
One study found that using virgin coconut oil reduced staphylococcal skin colonization in humans with atopic dermatitis. Staphylococcus is the most common bacterial cause of folliculitis in dogs.
In studies on rats and guinea pigs, topical virgin coconut oil improved wound healing and had antibacterial effects against staphylococcal infections.
Lauric acid was found to inhibit the growth of Malassezia yeast in test tube studies. Oral coconut oil decreases Malassezia on the skin of cats with allergies.
One lab study showed caprylic acid strongly inhibited yeast including Malassezia strains.
While these studies are promising, more direct research is still needed on using coconut oil specifically for folliculitis treatment in dogs. But coconut oil is generally very safe for dogs, so it may be worth trying under your vet’s supervision.
Are There Any Risks of Using Coconut Oil for Dog Folliculitis?
Coconut oil is considered very safe for dogs. Most dogs can tolerate normal amounts without any adverse effects. But there are a couple of precautions with using coconut oil for skin conditions:
- Allergies – Some dogs may be allergic to coconut products. Do a patch test before applying larger amounts.
- Digestive upset – Eating too much coconut oil could lead to diarrhea or vomiting. Start with small amounts.
- Skin irritation – Rubbing coconut oil over large inflamed areas could potentially worsen irritation. Monitor your dog’s skin closely for any reactions.
- Interactions – Coconut oil could interact with certain medications like NSAIDs or steroids. Talk to your vet before using.
As long as you introduce coconut oil carefully and watch for any negative reactions, it is very unlikely to cause harm. But discontinuing use if your dog shows signs of irritation or discomfort is always recommended.
Should Coconut Oil Replace Conventional Folliculitis Treatment?
While coconut oil has its benefits, it should not replace conventional treatments prescribed by your vet. Antibiotics, antifungals, medicated shampoos, and other medications are often needed to properly clear up a folliculitis infection. Coconut oil is better used as a helpful supplement to complement traditional treatment.
Your vet may advise using coconut oil along with prescribed oral or topical medications to provide added antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing effects. But always check with your vet before making any changes to your dog’s folliculitis treatment plan.
Warning Signs Your Dog’s Folliculitis Needs Veterinary Care
In mild cases of folliculitis, coconut oil may help provide relief as part of home treatment. But some situations require prompt veterinary care:
- Pustules or redness spread to large areas
- Skin becomes ulcerated, cracked, or bleeding
- Hair loss spreads across multiple areas
- Your dog is scratching excessively or seems in pain
- Symptoms don’t start improving within 2-3 days
- Fever develops or your dog seems lethargic
- Folliculitis is not resolving after 1 week