Back to Basics on Pumpkins
Pumpkin spice flavor is everywhere during fall and winter. However, in the pet world, pumpkin is popular year-round. Dog with diarrhea? Cat with constipation? Pumpkin seems to be the popular home remedy for every pet's digestive issue. It makes sense too. Fiber is known to help with some digestive issues, and pumpkin is a source of fiber. Pumpkin is accessible, affordable, and comes conveniently in a can. Is the pumpkin maybe too good to be true?
Pumpkin’s nutrient profile
Pumpkin is rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.1 It is a great source of beta-carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A. It is high in antioxidants like vitamins E and C, which can help combat free radicals. It is a high-fiber, low-calorie food that can help with satiety (the feeling of being full) and weight loss.2 Pumpkin as a source of fiber is why it is commonly recommended as a digestive remedy.
How fiber supports healthy digestion
Fiber is beneficial for gastrointestinal disease because of its ability to alter stool quality and beneficial gut bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids which are food for colonocytes (cells of the colon).3,4 Insoluble fibers absorb water and are less likely to be fermented by gut bacteria, which results in increased fecal bulk.5 This makes them helpful when the stools are soft or loose.3,5 Soluble fibers have an osmotic effect, which leads to drawing water into the intestines, resulting in softer stools. This makes them helpful for constipation. Soluble fiber sources are also more fermentable by the gut microbes, which means they can serve as prebiotics or provide butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that colonocytes use as fuel.3 Pumpkin provides both insoluble and soluble fibers.6
Not so helpful after all
How fiber can support digestive health makes pumpkin seem like a reasonable choice for pet owners to help resolve digestive issues. However, the amount of fiber that is typically supplemented to the pet, is likely not enough for any therapeutic benefit. Studies investigating fiber dosing for colitis (inflammation of the colon often leading to soft stool and diarrhea), have reported dosing for dogs of 12g psyllium per 20lb. per day.4,7 This amount of psyllium provides about 9.3g of total dietary fiber. According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of canned pumpkin provides 2.9g of total dietary fiber.1 To match the studies’ fiber dosage, 321g of canned pumpkin would be needed. This would be about 3/4 of a can for a typical 15oz (425g) can of pumpkin.
Anecdotally, recommendations for pumpkin dosage can range from 2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons per 20lb. dog per meal. This range unfortunately does not come close to the therapeutic fiber level provided by psyllium dosage.
What if the owner actually tries to provide enough pumpkin to meet the therapeutic fiber level? The amount of pumpkin needed to do that would be 347g (1 & 1/2 cup), which provides 118 calories. 118 calories likely exceed 10% of the recommended treat allowance for a 20 lb. dog, so giving this amount risks unbalancing the dog’s diet. Not to mention it is also a lot of pumpkin!
While adding canned pumpkin to a pet’s food may not be the cure-all solution for all gastrointestinal problems, it can be utilized. Pumpkin can be a healthy part of a dog’s diet. It can be part of a complete and balanced meal or be given as a healthy treat. It is a nutritious and delicious vegetable that a dog would likely enjoy.
- USDA. FoodData Central. Published April 1, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2022. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168450/nutrients
- Shepherd M. 2021. Canine and feline obesity management. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 51(3):653-667. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2021.01.005
- Lappin MR, Zug A, Hovenga C, Gagne J, Cross E. 2022. Efficacy of feeding a diet containing a high concentration of mixed fiber sources for management of acute large bowel diarrhea in dogs in shelters. J Vet Intern Med. 36(2):488-492. doi:10.1111/jvim.16360
- Alves JC, Santos A, Jorge P, Pitães A. 2021. The use of soluble fibre for the management of chronic idiopathic large-bowel diarrhoea in police working dogs. BMC Vet Res. 17(1):100. doi:10.1186/s12917-021-02809-w
- Lenox CE. 2021. Nutritional management for dogs and cats with gastrointestinal diseases. Vet Clin Small Anim Pract. 51(3):669-684. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2021.01.006
- Kulaitienė J, Jarienė E, Danilčenko H, et al. 2014. Chemical composition of pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima D.) flesh flours used for food. J of Food Agri Enviro. 12(3&4):61-64.
- Leib MS. 2000. Treatment of chronic idiopathic large-bowel diarrhea in dogs with a highly digestible diet and soluble fiber: A retrospective review of 37 cases. J Vet Intern Med. 14(1):27-32. doi:10.1111/j.1939-1676.2000.tb01495.x
About the author: Dan Su, MS, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition) works at BSM Partners as Manager of Nutrition Services. His areas of expertise include nutritional management of dogs and cats, and the culinary arts. As a food and animal enthusiast, Dan loves to give his pets food names. He is the proud owner of a cat named Gravy.
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