Is Pumpkin Good for my Pet?
Your Halloween pumpkins 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, Inside and Out
This nutrition powerhouse is great for people and can have a variety of health benefits for pets when given in small doses. Here are some:
- Urinary Tract Support: Veterinarians believe that the oils contained in the seeds and flesh of pumpkins support urinary health in dogs and cats. Anyone whose pet has had kidney or bladder stones (or the horror of both) can attest to how much suffering they cause your pooch or kitty. Regularly adding pumpkin to your pet’s diet can help avoid this painful condition.
- 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 eliminated with just 1 or two tablespoons of plain pumpkin, not sweetened or spiced, fed to your pet daily until the condition has cleared. Base the amount given on your pet’s size.
- 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 her right out of the can – most 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 antioxidants and 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 them toasted. Spread seeds 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.
- Parasites: Tapeworms and other intestinal parasites become paralyzed by cucurbitin, an amino acid in pumpkin seeds that acts as a natural de-worming agent. 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, vitamin A, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc. They also contain antioxidants, which may prevent some cancers from forming and help your pet stay healthy and young. 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 or two per day 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 some soaked dry kibble with a tablespoon of canned pumpkin. The mushy kibble makes them think they’re eating more, the pumpkin fiber helps their tummy feel full, and they’ll enjoy the new taste treat.
The Best Ways to Buy and Cook Pumpkin
Unfortunately, pumpkin by itself is not a commercial baby food flavor; it’s usually mixed with sweet potatoes. So it’s not a good idea to feed this form of pumpkin to your pet, however tempting the small jars may be to reduce waste from leftovers. The typical 15-ounce can in which pumpkin is packed contains 29 tablespoons - obviously too much for one pet (or even two) to consume within a week. 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 the 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.
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