Well, fall is almost here, and you know what that means: every time you turn around, you’ll be confronted with another pumpkin-flavored item. Pumpkin latte, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, and even pumpkin beer! Orange (er, pumpkin) is the new black, it seems. And whether you’re a fan of the pumpkin rage or not, one thing is for sure: pumpkin is healthy for you, and it’s healthy for your pet, too!
When you look at the large, round, unassuming orange globe, chances are you are merely plotting which scary face to carve into it this year. But inside that hard shell is a wonderland of nutrition just waiting to be consumed by you and your pets. What makes pumpkin so good for our pets can be summed up in one word: fiber.
The Benefits of Pumpkin for Pets
Pumpkin can be used to treat both diarrhea and constipation because of its fiber content. And while this may seem counter-intuitive (how can something treat two conditions that seem to be polar opposites?), what fiber really does is just help keep your pet regular.
Both dogs and cats can develop diarrhea, though our canine friends seem to find themselves in this predicament a little more often due to what we like to call “dietary indiscretion,” or “counter surfing.” Pets with diarrhea have watery stools. Pumpkin, or the fiber in pumpkin, slows digestion, allowing the colon to absorb water, thereby firming up the stool. In addition, the fiber itself can absorb water, further contributing to a firmer stool.
As they age, our feline friends are prone to constipation, especially as their kidney function declines. In the case of constipated pets, stool spends too long passing through the colon, so too much water is absorbed, which leads to dry, hard feces that are difficult to pass. Fiber’s ability to absorb water keeps the stool a bit more hydrated, and it also adds bulk to the stool, which will stimulate the colon walls to contract and move the stool through the digestive tract in a timely manner.
In addition to regulating our pet’s digestive tract, fiber benefits pets who may be carrying a few extra pounds by making them feel fuller longer. Pumpkin can play a role in the management of overweight pets in this way.
Commercial diets are, for the most part, formulated to be complete and balanced with all of the necessary vitamins and minerals our pets need, so while they aren’t too many pets around with vitamin deficiencies, getting these nutrients fresh from the source can’t hurt. Brightly colored pumpkins are chock full of vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids that support the immune system, contribute to healthy skin and fur, and even help prevent cancer.
Of course, pumpkin is not a miracle fruit, though it may taste heaven sent in your latte. If your pet has ongoing problems with diarrhea or constipation, a visit to your veterinarian is in order. But don’t be surprised if pumpkin is part of the treatment plan. Just a teaspoon to a tablespoon (depending on your pet’s size) may be prescribed to help regulate your pet’s bowel movements.
And if carving and roasting a pumpkin sounds too daunting, never fear; canned pumpkin will do the trick just as well. Be sure to steer clear of pumpkin pie filling, though, as it’s loaded with sugar and spices that your pet doesn’t need. Plain canned pumpkin is preferred, and most pets scarf it up as quickly as you do your pumpkin muffin!
If you're up for getting your paws a little dirty, try this recipe from Dr. Ernie Ward for pet-friendly pumpkin meatballs.
1 lb. ground chicken
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
1/4 c. parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, then roll into 1-inch meatballs and place each 1/2-inch apart. Bake for 15 minutes or until slightly brown on top. Let cool and serve. Freeze unused portions you’re not using in the next few days.