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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

The Health Benefits Pumpkin Provides for Our Pets

Last year, for my 2011 petMD Daily Vet Thanksgiving column (see Wishbones, Candles, and Schedule Changes Pose Thanksgiving Pet Dangers), I wrote about Thanksgiving pet safety. This year, I’m taking a different route to discuss the health benefits of one of the most ubiquitous Thanksgiving Day foods: pumpkin.


I’m not talking about your leftover Halloween pumpkin, which is likely in a severe state of decay and harboring bacteria and mold that could create a toxic effect if ingested by your pet. I am referring to cooked, fresh or pre-prepared pumpkin.


Pumpkin has many health benefits for our pets and is one of the human foods that owners can safely and regularly add to their pets’ diet. Some of the nutritional benefits of pumpkin include:


Pumpkin Fiber


Pumpkin contains nearly three grams of fiber per one cup serving. Fiber promotes a sense of fullness and can potentially enhance weight loss by reducing the physiological urge to consume larger volumes of food.


Additionally, fiber can help with feline constipation. As cats mature into their adult and geriatric years, constipation is a serious problem requiring a multi-faceted solution, with the primary emphasis placed on diet. Increasing fiber levels creates more stool bulk, thereby stimulating the colon wall and promoting contraction of the muscles responsible for moving stool from its origin in the ascending colon through the rectum (the three parts of the colon are the ascending, transverse, and descending colon, which then connects to the rectum).


Increased dietary fiber can also help pets suffering from diarrhea. Both cats and dogs are prone to large bowel diarrhea (also known as colitis), often from food changes or dietary indiscretion (eating something that one should not).


Diarrhea is characterized as either large or small bowel diarrhea, depending on a number of characteristics. Large bowel diarrhea comes from the colon and is also known as colitis. The nature of large bowel diarrhea appears vastly different from its small bowel counterpart and may have one or all the following characteristics: mucus, blood, urgency to defecate, flatulence, and large or small volume. Small bowel diarrhea relates to the small intestine, which is the part of the digestive tract that connects the stomach to the large intestine (colon). Small bowel diarrhea often takes on a pale appearance, lacks urgency in its production, and has a mushy consistency.


Moisture in Pumpkins


Pumpkin can add a healthy punch of moisture to any cat or dog diet, but especially those that consume highly processed and dehydrated kibble. According to the University of Illinois Extension’s article, Pumpkin Facts, this healthful fruit (yes, it’s a fruit and not a vegetable) is composed of 90% water.


According to traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM), moisture-deficient pet foods can have a dehydrating (Yang) effect on the body, as they require increased secretion of gastric acid and pancreatic enzymes to promote digestion. Consumption of water or the addition of moisture to foods helps to diminish this dehydrating effect. Adding pumpkin to each meal or serving it separately as a snack can promote a pet’s improved state of hydration and reduce heat in the body.


Other Healthful Benefits of Pumpkin for Dogs


Pumpkin also provides a natural source of many beneficial substances involved in the day to day cellular functions. SELF Nutrition Data reports that one cup of cooked pumpkin surpasses the potassium content of a comparable volume of banana (564mg to 422mg). Potassium is an electrolyte essential for muscular contraction and recovery from activity.


Pumpkin is also rich in Vitamin C, as one cup contains at least 11mg. Vitamin C is a substance vital for its antioxidant and immune system supporting effects.


Additionally, pumpkin is a great, whole-food source of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports food based beta-carotene to yield a greater anticancer effect then supplement based forms.


Preparing pumpkin for food at home affords the collection of the fruit’s seeds, which can be cleaned and baked to create all natural, delicious snacks for both pets and people. Pumpkin seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory (among other) effects. If you offer your pet a pumpkin seed, do so on an individual basis (one by one) and only a few in one setting, as the fat content could potentially cause softer stools. Seeds can also be crushed and put into meals.


If you don’t want to go through the efforts of carving, cooking, and pureeing/mashing your pumpkin, then purchase the canned or glass bottled version to give your pet. Avoid pumpkin pie filling due to fat, sugar, and other ingredients (spices, flavorings, or other preservatives) that could cause digestive tract upset.


Have a pet-safe and festive post-Halloween and Thanksgiving holiday season.


 cardiff, patrick mahaney, pumpkin good for pets, health benefits of pumpkin for pets, broken pumpkin

This was not Cardiff’s fault


Dr. Patrick Mahaney


Image: Not Cardiff's Fault, by Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Comments  9

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  • Peter Peter pumpkin eater
    11/20/2012 06:40am

    Great posting,
    I had heard pumpkin is good for pets but was not sure if raw or cooked was better.
    Now I plan to give some to my dog and cats to see if they will eat it. Johnny Walker has gained significant weight but for obvious reasons. I have to leave food out for my other two cats. So I pray they will develop a palate for pumpkin.

    On that note, how about cooked sweet potatoe?

  • 11/23/2012 01:32pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    When adding pumpkin into a pets portion of food, it's important to recognize that although you are adding whole food nutrients you are also adding calories. If you are striving to promote weight loss in your pet, then remove an appropriate portion of the pets food before adding pumpkin. In general, I suggest removing between 25 to 33% (1/4 to 1/3) of all pet food portions as additional calories tend to be consumed throughout the day that contribute to a pet's caloric needs.
    In general, it's reported that one cup of cooked mashed pumpkin contains 50 cal.
    Yes, I recommend sweet potato to my patients as well.
    Dr. PM

  • 08/09/2013 05:07pm

    We were told to use 100 percent pure pumpkin we did use the canned pumpkin and made sure no additives were in it. I first heard about this several months ago by an native american medicine man. My dogs were poisoned I did not look at the dosage I cramped about 6 -7 table spoons down each of there throats it brought the necessary time needed to get to the vet who also approved of pumpkin she also stated the pumpkin had saved there lives. Today I am using it again but this time with antibiotics as kennel cough has hit them all the antibiotics have been used for a week the coughing didn't slow so today I turned back to pumpkin. After all 15 were let outside and began running only 1 coughed it was used a hr ago still only one cough. Pumpkin has saved there life more then once and is completely healthy I added a small amount of carrot juice and lemon. Have yet to try sweet potatoes wondering which is better or if both should be kept on hand.

  • Pumpkin Fail
    11/20/2012 11:29am

    I bought a can of pumpkin for my critters, thinking it would be a treat. Alas, they all looked at me like I was trying to poison them.

    Great pic of Cardiff and the pumpkin and glad to know it wasn't his fault. :-)

  • 11/23/2012 01:34pm

    Too bad to hear that your kitties did not show more interest in pumpkin.
    If my patients are reluctant to eat it (or other pureed, cooked vegetables we are striving to add to food), then I always recommend to try to disguise it as much as possible in the food. Mix it in thoroughly, add some broth, slightly heated it, etc. Are all means of disguising vegetables into food.
    Thank you for your comments.
    Dr. PM

  • Question
    11/20/2012 08:46pm

    I would like to add this to my blue heelers diet as she is prone to diarrhea. She weights 34 lbs. She gets 3/4 cup food in the am and pm. Should I cut back on her food if I add the pumpkin? If so how much? Is 1 cup of pumpkin too much for her according to her body weight? I was contemplating cutting her dry food back to 1/2 cup and adding 1/2 cup pumpkin. Would this be accurate? Thanks for any insight you might have.

  • 11/23/2012 01:37pm

    Thank you for your questions.
    If you have a dog that is overweight, it's best that you work directly with your veterinarian to determine the best strategy to promote weight loss.
    Attaining weight loss in our pets is not always just as simple as reducing the portion of their current food. Sometimes, there are underlying health concerns that can limit a pets weight loss, such as hypothyroidism or underlying arthritis/degenerative joint disease (DJD, which can limit a pet's ability to exercise).
    One piece of information to go away with is that one cup of cooked pumpkin provides 50 calories. If you were to take away 50 cal of your pets food (however many kibbles that would be) and add in one cup of canned pumpkin, your pet would not lose weight.
    I hope that you're able to get your pet to lose weight and a healthier body condition will be attained.
    Dr. PM

  • but not always
    11/21/2012 10:10pm

    in some cases a low fiber diet is better for cats with megacolon and noit a high fiber diet...in which case pumpkin would be ill advised...it depends on the individual animal

  • 11/23/2012 01:40pm

    You bring up a very good point about fiber in constipated cats: higher fiber diet are not always appropriate. If the: does not have the contractile ability to move feces out of the body, then more food contributing to stool will exacerbate the issue.
    In these cases, lower fiber diets, stool softeners, motility agents, and occasional enemas are needed.
    Thank you for your comments,
    Dr. PM

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