Being that pumpkins are my very most favorite and that fall is their time of year, I thought I’d write an article about how really awesome they are. My ancestors were always poor. When they lost all their potatoes to a rapidly spreading fungus they jumped the ‘coffin ships’ and came to the U.S. to be even more poor and get kicked around for it. Despite the odds, we survived and found a new love. PUMPKINS. We carved turnips in the homeland for dear old Jack who kept the devil in his pocket for a while, but the U.S. didn’t have a lot of turnips, they had big, fat orange pumpkins. So much easier to carve and, in my humble opinion, so much tastier.
So, today I get to ramble on about my delicious pumpkins, which are really good for healthy pets. Low calorie and packed with potassium and vitamin A, pumpkins can be a great treat. Of course, there are natural sugars in this tasty squash so if your pet has any illnesses, it’s best to talk with your veterinarian before serving this delicious treat. Yup, I said treat again because moderation is important.
One of the best things about pumpkin is that it’s packed with fiber, which is great at regulating the digestive tract to make things flow nicely without being too wet or too dry. Too much fiber though, ugh!! Not pleasant.
It also has great amounts of Vitamin A. Unlike our friendly B vitamins that are water soluble and therefore easy to process in large amounts, Vitamin A is fat soluble. We can overdose, especially those hyperactive pets that don’t have much fat to process this vitamin.
- No vitamin A = Poor skin, poor coat, poor growth and blindness
- Too much Vitamin A = Arthritis, strange bone growth and weakness. I’m pretty sure it’s not pumpkin doing it. This is usually a problem for dogs fed table scraps. Notably those eating liver or other organ meats that also have a high Vitamin A content. If your pet is already supplementing Vitamin A, do not feed liver or pumpkin as treats without speaking to your veterinarian first.
I have recommended and heard my veterinarian friends recommend pumpkin for:
- Natural laxative for constipation and hairballs
- Weight control: High fiber makes your put feel fuller longer. The natural antioxidants and vitamins help a lot too!
- Diarrhea: High fluid helps keep from dehydration and the fiber helps regulate everything back to normal
- Oils found in pumpkin seeds and flesh are believed to support urinary health
First: Use the right stuff
No pumpkin stems or leaves please. I couldn’t find a yeah or nay on the flowers, so just avoid those as well. Seeds were listed as choking hazards but safe on their own. Not the salted snack stuff they sell at the gas station. No one needs that much salt for anything, but if you bake your own at 350 for an hour without any salt or seasonings, you can grind the seeds up to remove the choking hazard or just feed them with caution.
Raw Pumpkin: I’m not a big fan of raw anything. I took a parasitology class for my Associates degree and I’ve cared for the dogs that got food poisoning from raw foods so no. I don’t like it. But… Yes. Yes you can eat FRESH raw pumpkin and share it with your dog. It’s just on the low flavor, crazy high fiber side so your body can’t break down the nutrients as well. Dogs and humans are only omnivorous after all, not herbivores. Our digestive tracts are not cut out for this stuff so cooked or pureed is easiest for us to digest. NOTE: If you choose to eat it raw, make sure it’s fresh. Mold likes pumpkins as much as I do and grows on it quite rapidly.
Canned is my favorite. It is generally easy to get a hold of and can sit awhile if life changes my plans on me. There was none anywhere one year due to flooding taking out all the great pumpkin patches. BOOO! But on a whole it’s there. You just have to roll the label and check the ingredients. My favorite is Libby’s 100% Pumpkin because the ingredient list has only one thing… Pumpkin! But brand isn’t really important. It’s the ingredient that really matters. Pumpkin. Just pumpkin. Especially since canned pumpkin is kept awful close to the Pumpkin Pie filling which has a much longer ingredient list like Pumpkin, Water, Sugar, Salt, Spices, Dextrose, Natural Flavors and your pet doesn’t need any of that added stuff that might make issues work. Just pumpkin. Please.
Pureed: Not sure what the stuff in the can really is or where it came from? You can grow your own pumpkins, harvest them, crank your oven to 350, cover a pan with foil and cut the top off your pumpkin, dig out all those seeds, cut your pumpkin into nice chunks and place on the foil, fleshy side down to keep it from charring and then bake it till you can stick a fork in it easily (about an hour depending on size). Let it cool and throw it in the processor and process till smooth. You can take the skin off first if you like. Not everyone likes that bit, though it holds a lot of goodness. This way you have a bunch of seeds to bake too. You already have the oven at 350, just clean those seeds, dry them, spread one layer in a cookie pan and bake for an hour, with no salt or flavorings. For cats and small dogs you can grind them up and sprinkle them on their food.
Someday I’ll have time enough in my life to actually try this. I would so love to grow and harvest my own pumpkins.
For cats: pumpkin puree (canned or homemade) really is your best option. As obligate carnivores, eating raw skin or pulp is nutritionally useless for our feline friends. They just can’t digest it. Once cooked it is broken down enough for them to get some nutritional benefit from it.
Second: See if they even like it
Give them a small amount on a spoon or a bowl that’s not their normal food bowl. Do not mix it with their food! At least. Not to start. Some pets are picky enough as it is without putting something they don’t like in their dinner and making them shun dinner just in case traces of nasty linger.
I offered LeeLoo and Cooper a bit of canned pumpkin just the other day and it was a huge no go. I don’t think they even recognized it as food. They just stared at it, stared at me and walked away. I tried a small amount, right under their noses almost on them and all I got was ear tilt warnings to get that crazy stuff out of their face! So ya… Nothing big. Just a small sampling. If they don’t like it at first, you can mix it with a bit of their normal food, just as long as it’s in a different bowl or place like a treat so they can feel confident that their food is not at risk. And, just like kids. Try it a few times, their happier times of the day to make sure the aversion wasn’t lack of hunger or just grumpiness.
Dogs are generally not as hard of a sale as with cats and will enjoy new treats offered by their favorite human!
If they like it, continue reading! If they stare at you as if you have just offered them poison (thanks a lot LeeLoo and Cooper) and keep refusing it every time, best keep the pumpkin to yourself.
Thirds: Learn Serving Size.
Serving size is always important. Below is a rule of thumb, but obviously give as much or as little as your vet recommends. They know your pet a lot better than I do!
- If your veterinarian recommended it for health purposes or you’d like to use it as a supplement to the regular diet, 1/2 tsp is good to start. If they like it and it’s helping, 1-2 tsp per meal is great. You can go up to 4 tsp or stay lower as your cat and vet think appropriate. Obvious signs of too much is diarrhea. Yech! So let’s not go there.
- Depends a lot on size:
- Mini dogs can do 1-4 teaspoons just like cats.
- Small dogs can do 1-2 tablespoons
- Big dogs 2-4 tablespoons
- Have leftover canned pumpkin and are worried it might spoil? freeze it in an ice cube tray for a hot day treat! Who says you have to do the same thing every day? Well… Maybe your cat does. Cats aren’t always great with the whole change thing. Some pets demand schedules, but for labs or good eaters using pumpkin for weight-loss, change-up can be fun!
- Dog Pumpkin Pie
- AKC: Frozen pumpkin treats, PB-Pumpkin treats and Banana-Pumpkin treats.