Why Pumpkin Is Good For Dogs

Pumpkins are actually a fruit in the winter squash family and are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.  It’s a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese.  Like many fruits, pumpkins contain high amounts of fiber which is important to digestive health. 

Pumpkins actually provide less fiber and fewer calories than most other kinds of winter squash because they have an extremely high water content. Canned pumpkin is more concentrated by volume so it’s significantly higher in fiber than fresh pumpkin.

The Benefits Of Fiber In Pumpkin

Weight control  Fiber promotes a "feeling of fullness" even if fewer calories are being taken in which can aid in weight loss due to decreasing the physiological need to eat more food.

Treatment of Diarrhea  Pumpkin contains soluble fiber which can absorb excess water in the digestive tract reducing or relieving diarrhea.  Consult with your veterinarian if your dog has diarrhea for longer than 24 hours or immediately if it is accompanied by any other signs of illness.

Constipation  Pumpkin's high fiber content can also act as a laxative to keep the GI tract moving in a regular pattern. The combination of fiber and moisture can be of great benefit in creating bulk that stimulates bowel movements.

The two types of fiber

Soluble fiber absorbs water from the digestive tract and breaks down forming a gel-like substance that slows down the digestive process which is beneficial in the management of diarrhea as it coats and soothes irritated bowels slowing down GI transit times and the number of episodes of diarrhea. Clinical studies show that soluble fiber helps regulate stool frequency and consistency in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, psyllium, and pumpkin.

Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and tends to speed up the passage of food through the digestive tract. While insoluble fiber can benefit those suffering from constipation, it is best to avoid feeding too much insoluble fiber to animals suffering from diarrhea since it can act as a natural laxative. Opt instead for more soluble fiber such as that contained in pumpkin.  Insoluble fiber is found in whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and certain vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes.

A Source of Potassium

When dogs have diarrhea, they can lose important electrolytes, including potassium, which puts them at risk of dehydration. Hypokalemia, or low potassium levels, can result in cramping, fatigue, weakness, and heart rate irregularities. Pumpkin is an excellent source of potassium with 505 milligrams of naturally occurring potassium per cup.

Pumpkin Three Ways

Fresh pumpkin provides 49 calories and 3 grams soluble fiber in a one cup serving. Look for 4 to 8 pound sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins. Those big pumpkins used for carving into jack-o'-lanterns are very stringy, bland, and watery. You can steam or bake the pumpkin.

Fresh pumpkin seeds provide a whopping 285 calories and 12 grams soluble fiber in a one cup serving so do feed sparingly. They can be fed whole as a treat or ground and added to meals or treat recipes. Clean, pat dry, and roast them at 350 degrees for one hour. The shelf life for dry roasted seeds stored in an air tight container is less than a month. Raw, organic pumpkin seeds are known to work as an effective deworming agent against tapeworms and other intestinal parasites with the amino acid called cucurbitin, which paralyzes and eliminates the worms from the digestive tract.

100% pure canned pumpkin, without additives, fillers, spices, or sugar, provides 80 calories and 7 grams soluble fiber in a one cup serving. Canned pumpkin is denser than fresh pumpkin due to the manufacturing process where it’s mashed into a dense mass, then sterilized with heat and canned under pressure. Although canned pumpkin is about 40 percent higher in calories than the fresh variety, it’s also significantly higher in vitamin A and iron. You can dilute it by whisking in water but I don't find that necessary since I mix it into meals or use it in treat recipes.  

How Much To Add

The best test of how much fiber your dog needs is to take a look at their poop.  According to Dr. Becker, "If your dog is easily producing small, firm stools once or twice a day, she’s getting the exact amount of fiber she needs."  

A low fiber diet will cause diarrhea or constipation while a high fiber diet can inhibit digestion and absorption of many vital nutrients.  Following are the recommended guidelines for daily feedings:

Fresh or Canned

  • Adult small dogs: 1/2 teaspoon - 1 teaspoon pumpkin daily.
  • Adult medium dogs: 1 tablespoon pumpkin daily.
  • Adult large dogs: 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons pumpkin daily.

Seeds

  • Adult small dogs: (10 lbs. and over) 1/16 to 1/8 teaspoon daily.
  • Adult medium dogs: 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon daily.
  • Adult large dogs: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon daily.

I don't feed pumpkin daily but, same as with the Vita Veggie Mashup, I like to mix a thawed cube into Kirby and Kenzie's meals several times a week. 

Comparing Fiber Sources

To put fiber into perspective, a medium size banana contains 3.1 grams of fiber, one tablespoon of chia seeds contains 6 grams of fiber, and a cup of oats contains 16.5 grams of fiber.

Storing Pumpkin

Fresh or canned pumpkin can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight nonmetal container for up to a week.  If you won't be using it all within that time frame then freeze in ice cube trays which can then be transferred to an air tight container or ziplock bag. They can be kept in the freezer for up to three months. 

Canned pumpkin can become contaminated by bacteria but it's low acid content makes it especially vulnerable to botulism, according to the Michigan State University Extension.  If a can of pumpkin bulges at the ends, if liquid spurts out when you open the can or if the pumpkin has a strong odor, the USDA advises you discard it. Use canned pumpkin by the “Best By” date printed on the label. 

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Consuming too much fiber too fast can cause a myriad of undesirable GI symptoms including intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. To avoid these, incorporate small amounts of pumpkin slowly into your dog’s diet working your way up to the suggested dose. This will allow the bacteria in the digestive tract to adjust to the increased fiber.

Pumpkin contains beta-carotene which the body converts to vitamin A. Too much vitamin A is highly toxic to dogs so a couple of teaspoons a day for small dogs or a couple of tablespoons for big dogs is considered safe.

A Fun Fact

Someone had a puppy who would poop and then eat it.  He would run over to the other dogs to try to eat their poop. After trying a number of remedies, the only thing that worked was canned pumpkin which his pawrent feeds him a heaping tablespoon twice a day. He no longer eats his own or the other dog's poop. He will sniff it but walks away.

What To Purchase

You want to purchase sugar or pie pumpkins to bake or 100% pure pumpkin puree which contains no sugar or seasonings (NEVER Pumpkin Pie Filling). It’s best to stock up in the winter months when it’s readily available.  If you can't find pumpkin in your area, you can purchase it from Amazon - single 15 oz cans or 6 pack 15 oz cans.

How To Add It To Your Dog's Diet

The easiest way is to just mix it into their meals. Of course you can make some of our treats or meal recipes which use pumpkin as an ingredient.