Pumpkin is a good source of soluble fiber, which helps regulate bowel movements and gastric emptying.1 It may also provide a variety of nutrients, including alkaloids, flavonoids and oleic acid.2 However, is it safe to give it to your pet as a bowl add-in or topper? Learn how pumpkin may aid in optimizing your pet's health.
Where Does Pumpkin Come From?
Known for their distinct orange hue and round shape, pumpkins have been widely cultivated for centuries in the U.S., Europe, Africa and Asia.3 This plant's origins are not clear, but the oldest evidence of domesticated pumpkin seeds was found in Mexico, in the Oaxaca Highlands. This coincides with the belief that pumpkin was first cultivated in Central America some 7,500 years ago.4
Aside from being made into soups, puree and baked goods, pumpkins are also used in traditional medicine. Pumpkin seed oil, a popular salad ingredient, is not only packed with bioactive compounds like α-tocopherol, γ-tocopherol, α-tocotrienol and γ-tocotrienol, but it's also safe for animals.5,6 According to a 2020 animal study published in African Health Sciences, giving pumpkin seed oil to test animals helped alleviate oxidative stress and lower the risk of liver injury.7
In fact, pumpkin's bioactive compounds are so powerful that pumpkin extracts taken from different parts of the pumpkin plant have been found to have antidiabetic, antibacterial, antioxidant and anticancer properties.8 The good news is that you can share pumpkin with your pets, as long as you give them fresh, gently cooked (steamed or baked) pumpkin. Healthy additions like pumpkin should only make up less than 10% of their daily caloric intake.
While some sites may say that pumpkin is unsafe for pets due to the risk of overconsumption, note that misinformation about many healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds abounds on the internet. This is because websites have labeled all risks (such as the risk of over-consumption causing gastrointestinal issues, or choking on pumpkin stems) as "toxicities," which isn't true but has managed to confuse millions of pet lovers, nonetheless.
Where Do Pumpkins Grow?
Pumpkins are so hardy that they're able to grow in any continent in the world, except Antarctica. However, there's only one place that proudly calls itself the "Pumpkin Capital of the World": Morton, Illinois. About 95% of all pumpkins cultivated in the U.S. are grown in Illinois, with 80% of canned pumpkin coming from Morton alone.9
Provide Pets With Enough Fiber for Healthy Digestion
Pumpkin is a fiber-rich food that you can give to your pets as a healthy addition to food. The fiber in pumpkin can assist your pet's digestive tract by helping stop the overgrowth of bad bacteria in their intestines. It also reduces symptoms of diarrhea and constipation by regulating the speed of intestinal transit time — slowing it down during periods of diarrhea and speeding it up during constipation.10 A two-tablespoon serving of boiled pumpkin can give your pets about 0.34 grams of fiber.11
However, remember that a small amount of fiber is very important, but a diet loaded with fiber can be detrimental as well. If your dog is experiencing digestive issues like constipation and loose stools, giving them about one teaspoon of pumpkin for every 10 pounds of body weight, mixed in with their food one to two times a day, is enough to help alleviate these problems.
Help Curb Inflammation With Pumpkin's Phytochemicals
Pumpkin is highly regarded for its medicinal properties, which is thanks to the surplus of phytochemicals it contains, including alkaloids, flavonoids and oleic acid.12
In a 2020 study from CyTA Journal of Food, researchers noted that pumpkin is rich in bioactive compounds, like beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein — three carotenoids that are well-known for their ability to help curb inflammation, oxidative damage and mitochondrial dysfunction.13,14
Beta-carotene, considered the most prominent member of all the carotenoids, is a strong antioxidant and precursor of vitamin A. In the Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition, beta-carotene is said to have protective properties against abnormal tissue growths, eye disorders and cardiovascular disease.15
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoid antioxidants that play crucial roles in eye health and disease prevention. In a 2016 study from the Annual Review of Nutrition, researchers discuss how lutein and zeaxanthin help curb inflammation by preventing the production of oxidation-induced cytokines and the expression of inflammation-related genes, which may help stop the development of chronic diseases related to inflammation.16
Protect Your Pets From Oxidative Damage With Vitamin C
A two-tablespoon serving of pumpkin provides 1.44 milligrams of vitamin C,17 which is essential for strengthening your pet's immune system to combat diseases. Vitamin C is also a well-known antioxidant and free radical scavenger, which may help protect your pet from inflammation and even cancer.18,19,20
Did You Know?
The world's heaviest pumpkin was harvested in Germany. It weighed a whopping 1,600 pounds, which is about the weight of a full-grown giraffe!21,22
Here's How You Can Give Pumpkin to Your Pets
"Pumpkin is a safe treat or food topper for pets; just make sure that treats like this make up less than 10% of their daily caloric intake."
Feed your pets 100% plain, pure pumpkin that's gently cooked. Don't give them pumpkin pie filling or other processed products that boast pumpkin as their main ingredient, such as pumpkin pie mixes or pumpkin pudding, as these may contain high levels of sugar or additives that are not beneficial for pets and can worsen GI issues.
In addition, some pumpkin-flavored products may also undergo intense processing, which may deplete pumpkin's nutritional content while adding preservatives and artificial flavorings or coloring.23
Ideally, you should always choose fresh, steamed pumpkin for your pets to avoid exposing them to possible harmful components in the heavily processed canned products. Organic, "spray-free" pumpkin is the best choice, but since it's not included in the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list, it may be safe to buy conventional varieties.24
However, note that while the plant's skin and stem aren't toxic, these may be tough for your dogs to chew or digest. It's best that you stick to giving them gently cooked pumpkin flesh to help them digest their food easily.25 If fresh pumpkin is unavailable, you can opt for 100% pure, canned pumpkin from trustworthy organic brands.
Pumpkin Seeds Are Just as Nutritious as the Fruit
Raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds make great training treats. You can also add a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds (grind them up if you have small dogs) as "toppers" to your pet's meals. Pumpkin seeds not only add texture to their food but are also loaded with amino acids, phytosterols, phenolic compounds and cucurbitacins. These bioactive compounds make pumpkin seeds a promising medicinal ingredient, thanks to their anthelmintic, antidiabetic, antidepressant and cytoprotective properties.
Aside from these, cucurbitacins help curb microbiological and parasitic infections in animals. In a 2020 study from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers note the antiparasitic abilities of pumpkin seeds, thanks to cucurbitine, cucurbitacin B and cucurmosin.26,27
However, do not rely on pumpkin seeds alone to remove parasites from your pet's digestive tract. If you suspect that they're suffering from parasitic infections, seek the advice of an integrative pet care professional immediately.
Check Out My Pumpkin Almond Cookies Recipe
Here's a great example of how to transform pumpkin into a healthy pet treat. For this recipe, you can use either cooked pumpkin or canned, 100% pure, organic pumpkin, whichever you have on hand:
Pumpkin Almond Cookies for Pets
✓ 1/4 cup coconut flour
✓ 1 pastured egg
✓ 1/2 cup 100% pure pumpkin puree
✓ 1 tablespoon almond butter
✓ 2 tablespoons coconut oil
✓ A dash of cinnamon, ginger or clove (optional, but provides great bioactive molecules for your dog!)
- Add all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
- Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
- Let cool before serving to your pets.