The Positive Health Benefits of Pumpkin for Our Pets
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Too often, articles that owners read around fall holidays involve what not to feed our companion canine and felines.
I want to flip this concept and instead suggest feeding a natural food that is safe, infinitely healthy, and can be added to the daily diets of most pets: pumpkin.
The pumpkin you should be feeding your pets comes in multiple formats, including freshly cooked, pre-cooked in a can, and dehydrated. Freshly cooked pumpkin may take some effort for the pet owner to source, peel from nature’s format, and cook, but doing so permits sourcing to be local and ideally organic.
Most of my pet owners seeking pumpkin purchase the pre-cooked, canned version which eliminates all of the preparatory work and only requires a can-opener. If you’re going for canned pumpkin, just make sure not to get pumpkin pie filling, which has added sugar and fat that will add additional calories and could cause digestive tract upset, including pancreatitis. Additionally, choose organic over conventional.
Dehydrated pumpkin is great as it’s simple to mix into any moist food or can be hydrated with water or other liquids like low-sodium meat broth. Like canned pumpkin, the dehydrated version is easy to transport, which is great for on-the-go owners and pets. Like the other versions, strive to choose organic dehydrated pumpkin over conventional.
Why exactly would an owner elect to serve pumpkin to his canine or feline companion? Here are some of the reasons:
Fiber is subdivided into two categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to create a gel-like consistency that aids in digestion by slowing down the movement of ingesta through the intestines and can help to create firmer stool. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and passes through the digestive tract in a format like that which enters the body. Insoluble fiber creates more stool bulk and can actually speed up the movement of ingesta through the digestive tract.
Pumpkin primarily contains soluble fiber. A one-cup (1 C) serving of canned pumpkin contains nearly seven grams of dietary fiber. As fresh pumpkin contains more water, there’s less fiber per volume; approximately three grams per one cup serving. This is another reason why choosing canned pumpkin for your pet is a better option than laboring to serve the freshly-cooked variety.
Generally, fiber promotes a sense of stomach fullness and can enhance weight loss in your pet by reducing the urge to consume larger volumes of food.
Fiber also can help with constipation by creating more stool bulk. Provided the pet does not have a problem where the colon doesn’t properly contract, fiber can help cats and dogs suffering from constipation by stimulating contraction of the muscles lining the colon (AKA large intestine, which is the final section of the digestive tract).
Increasing your pet’s dietary fiber intake can also help pets having diarrhea. Large bowel diarrhea (AKA colitis or “inflammation of the colon”) often occurs as a result of food changes or dietary indiscretion (eating something that one should not) and often responds favorably to the addition of dietary fiber.
Pumpkin adds moisture to any cat or dog diet, which can be especially beneficial to pets consuming highly-processed and high-heat-cooked diets like dry food. The University of Illinois Extension’s article Pumpkin Facts informs that this healthful fruit (yes, it’s a fruit and not a vegetable) is composed of 90% water.
According to the teachings of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM), moisture-deficient pet foods can have a dehydrating or heating (Yang) effect on the body. Yang foods require increased secretion of gastric acid and pancreatic enzymes or consumption of water to facilitate digestion. Although pumpkin is actually considered to be Yang on the Chinese medicine food energy scale, the moisture it provides can have a cooling (Yin) and hydrating effect on the body.
Other Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkin also provides a natural source of many beneficial nutrients needed for cellular functions.
SELF Nutrition Data reports that one cup of cooked pumpkin exceeds 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 benefits the body through 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 anti-cancer effect than supplement based forms.
Preparing pumpkin at home lets you collect the fruit’s seeds, which can be baked to create delicious snacks for both pets and people. Pumpkin seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects on all body systems. When offering pumpkin seeds to your pet, only give one at a time and a few in one setting, as the fat content could potentially cause softer stools. Pumpkin seeds can also be crushed and mixed into meals.
Many of the canine and feline diets made by The Honest Kitchen include pumpkin, so adding more may not be necessary, but likely won’t be harmful.
The amount of pumpkin to give your pet varies based on body weight and the health condition you are striving to benefit. Therefore, it’s best to discuss with your veterinarian the need for your pet to have pumpkin as well as the volume to be given.
I hope your pet gets to experience the benefits of pumpkin like I see in many of my patients. Happy fall!
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).