Your fall pumpkin may get an interested sniff from dogs and cats, but can they eat it without having a negative impact on their health? While raw pumpkin is not ideal for cat or dog (or human!) consumption, canned and cooked fresh pumpkin, along with pumpkin seeds, can be a healthy addition to their diet.
Pumpkin Health Benefits for Pets, Inside and Out
This nutrition powerhouse is great for people and can have a variety of health benefits for pets too. Here are some:
Urinary Tract Support: Anecdotal evidence and a few studies published in the human medical literature support the use of pumpkin seed to help relieve some types of urinary incontinence. While specific research on the ingredient’s usefulness in dogs and cats is lacking, trying a nutritional supplement that contains pumpkin seeds (like Vetriscience’s Bladder Strength) is a welcome option for some owners.
Regular Digestion: Our furry friends need fiber to stay regular just like we do, and pumpkin is a great source for pets and their parents. Its benefits go both ways – diarrhea as well as constipation can be treated with j plain pumpkin, not sweetened or spiced, fed to your pet daily until the condition has cleared. Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian in Fort Collins, Colorado, says, “For dietary fiber supplementation, I generally recommend that cats and small dogs get about a teaspoon of canned pumpkin mixed in with each meal. Larger dogs can handle up to a tablespoon or so.”
Furballs: The fiber in pumpkin can help move furballs along through your cat’s digestive tract and into the litter box, rather than hacked up onto the carpet. Over a period of time, regularly including about a teaspoon a day of pumpkin in your cat’s diet will also help prevent the formation of new furballs. Try giving it to your cat right out of the can – some felines enjoy the flavor and will eat it plain. But if she turns up her nose at it, mix it with a small amount of canned food and watch it disappear.
Skin and Coat: The essential fatty acids contained in pumpkin seeds help moisturize your pet’s skin and fur from the inside out. Although they may enjoy slurping down the fresh, slimy version, most pets prefer toasted pumpkin seeds. Spread them evenly onto a baking sheet, lightly coat with cooking oil, roast in a 375-degree oven for 5 or 10 minutes, and cool before serving one or two as a daily treat. Leftover seeds should be stored in an airtight container. Dr. Coates adds that “grinding up the pumpkin seeds and mixing them in with food is the best way to make sure your pet is getting the maximum benefit from the seed.”
Parasites: Pumpkin seeds contain cucurbitacin, a biochemical compound that is thought to have some activity against intestinal parasites. Research is mixed, and owners should certainly not rely solely on pumpkin seeds if their dog or cat is infested with worms, but adding pumpkin seeds to the diet may have a mild protective effect against gastrointestinal parasites.
The most effective way to prepare seeds for this purpose is by grinding up fresh or properly preserved pumpkin seeds into a powder. Give your cat or dog 1 teaspoon three times a day, mixed into a marble-sized portion of canned food and given as a treat. You can sprinkle it on your pet’s food at mealtime instead, but doing so runs the risk of the full dosage not being consumed each time it’s administered.
Nutrition: Pumpkin flesh and seeds are loaded with beta-carotene (which is converted by the body into vitamin A), iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc. They also contain antioxidants, which may prevent some cancers from forming and boost the immune system to help your pet stay healthy. Just don’t overdo the portion sizes, since minerals like iron and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A can accumulate to unhealthy, even toxic, levels. A teaspoon to a tablespoon with each meal is plenty.
Weight Loss: Obesity is a common issue that is just as dangerous for animals as it is for humans. If your pooch or kitty can stand to drop a few pounds, mix a teaspoon to tablespoon of canned pumpkin into their diet dog or cat food. The extra fiber and water found in canned pumpkin helps their tummy feel full, and they’ll enjoy the new taste treat.
The Best Ways to Buy and Cook Pumpkin
The typical 15-ounce can of canned pumpkin contains 29 tablespoons - obviously too much for one pet (or even two) to consume within a reasonable period of time. So, unless your pet family is particularly large or you have many other pet parents with whom to share your pumpkin bounty, a significant amount will end up in the garbage unless the extra is dealt with.
The best way to store leftover canned pumpkin is in the freezer since it will only last a week in the refrigerator. Scoop your canned pumpkin into an ice cube tray, freeze, and pop out the cubes into a freezer bag. Thaw one out when you need it, mix with a spoon to blend any separation of water, and refrigerate any leftover pumpkin cube to serve at your pet’s next meal. If you don’t want to retrieve pumpkin cubes from the freezer every other day, count out a week’s worth of servings into small freezer containers. Put them into the freezer and take out one container at a time to thaw and serve to your pet throughout the week.