The holidays are fast approaching. And as always, many holiday menus will include turkey, dressing or stuffing, and the star of the dessert show: pumpkin pie. As your tail-wagging family members wait on the dinner table sidelines for morsels of holiday goodness, you may be wondering: is pumpkin pie a human food you can share with them?
The short answer is: yes, pumpkin is a healthy treat for your dogs. But things get a little more complicated when we’re talking about pumpkin pie. A small spoonful of pie won’t harm your dog, but when combined with all the other tasty morsels being offered to our canine companions during the holidays, will it be healthy? What should you know about pumpkin pie in order to keep your dog safe?
Let’s look at pumpkin pie and its effects on your canine companion.
Health benefits of pumpkin
Antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and a healthy dose of dietary fiber all help pumpkin support your dog’s health. (For a more detailed look at this superfood, check out Pumpkin’s blog on the health benefits of pumpkin here.) In brief:
Vitamin A: This vitamin aids in eye and brain development.
Vitamin C, Vitamin E: These antioxidants protect against free radicals that can damage cells through oxidation. They also boost your dog’s immune system, protect their bodies from some cancers, and reduce inflammation, as well as protecting their brains from the effects of cognitive aging.
Potassium: This helps your dog digest and process nutrients. It’s an electrolyte that strengthens the electrical charges of their heart, nerves, and muscles.
Beta Carotene: This is a form of vitamin A that supports eye health.
Dietary fiber: Fiber regulates the digestive system by pushing food and waste through the body smoothly. It can also help overweight dogs feel full for longer after meals. The high fiber content of pumpkin can help treat both diarrhea and constipation!
Prebiotics: Prebiotic properties found in pumpkin regulate the growth of good bacteria in your dog’s intestines and inhibit the growth of bad bacteria that can cause intestinal upset.
Now let’s look at how all those benefits change when pumpkin turns into pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin pie ingredients
The ingredients in that delicious pie we all love can spell trouble for your dog. Let’s look at them and see which additions to your pie recipe cause trouble – and which ones are okay.
The pie crust: We make our flaky pie crusts with butter or oils to bind the flour and make it flaky. These oils can overwhelm your dog’s digestive system. One small bite of crust won’t cause your dog’s tummy to rebel, but when you add in all the other ingredients – plus the tasty morsels that were shared earlier – your dog could end up with a severe upset stomach or even pancreatitis, which can be deadly.
Pumpkin filling: You can make pie filling with pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins, which is a healthy choice. But you can also use canned pumpkins from your local grocery store.
Raw pumpkin: Steamed or roasted and used as a pie filling, raw pumpkin doesn’t have the preservatives that some canned pumpkin brands contain. You also have control over which additional ingredients you include in your pie filling if you use raw pumpkin.
Canned: There are organic canned pumpkin choices out there, including canned pumpkin that only contains fresh pumpkin. These are the healthiest canned pumpkin choices for your dog.
Pumpkin pie filling – which is not the same as just canned pumpkin – can include spices (we’ll talk about those in a minute), sugars, or artificial sweeteners (if you purchase a sugar-free filling). Artificial sweeteners, especially xylitol, can be extremely toxic for your dog, requiring veterinary care if ingested.
Some canned pumpkin pie fillings include preservatives – one of which, potassium metabisulfite, can cause an allergic reaction in some dogs, with a large exposure affecting your dog’s nervous and circulatory systems. Always read the labels of canned pie fillings and choose ones with as few additives and preservatives as possible.
Salt: Canned pumpkin with no additional ingredients contains 12 mg of salt. But pumpkin pie mix can contain up to 600 mg of salt, leaving your dog at risk for salt toxicity or poisoning.
Dairy: Pumpkin pie contains milk or cream. Canned milk can have additives and preservatives, as well as sugars, so it’s best to avoid using it if you want to give your dog a bite of pumpkin pie. And many dogs are lactose intolerant, which means drinking milk of any kind will cause them to suffer from abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
Whipped cream: Who hasn’t ordered a Puppuccino for their dogs at the drive-thru window? Dogs love them, but the fats and sugars in whipped cream – when combined with the other holiday dinner offerings they receive – can spell trouble.
Sugars: Processed sugars are never a good idea for your dog’s digestive system. Try making your pie with honey instead of sugar if you want to be able to share it with your dog. Honey offers many health benefits!
Eggs: Dogs love eggs, but they shouldn’t eat them raw because of the salmonella risk. The eggs in pumpkin pie, once cooked, are safe for your dog.
Spices: Pumpkin spice is everywhere in the fall. We love pumpkin spice lattes, breads, ice cream, pancakes and even cakes and cookies. Pumpkin spice typically includes cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. These spices spell trouble for your dog and could cause some serious health problems.
Here’s a rundown of the risks that typical pumpkin pie spices present to your dog.
Cinnamon: Depending on the dose your dog ingests, cinnamon may cause no health problems and even have some benefits. However, too much can be toxic – it can lead to low blood sugar, liver disease, vomiting, diarrhea, and heart rate instability. It can also irritate the skin in your dog’s mouth.
Cloves and Allspice: Dogs can have cloves in small quantities. The amount called for in most recipes won’t be toxic for your dog. (Cats, though, can have adverse reactions to clove oil, which contains eugenol, an aromatic enzyme that can cause liver toxicity in cats.)
Ginger: This spice is generally fine for dogs. The amount of ginger used in most recipes won’t be toxic for your dog. However, if they eat a lot of dried ginger, it can irritate their mouth.
Nutmeg: This is the sinister spice in pumpkin pies. Nutmeg is toxic for dogs – it contains myristicin, found in the nut’s oil. Nutmeg is toxic in quantities as small as 5 grams, with small dogs needing even less to cause symptoms.
Nutmeg toxicity can last up to 48 hours after ingestion, with symptoms including:
- Increase in heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal pain
If you suspect your sneaky snacker has gotten into the nutmeg – or eaten a whole pumpkin pie – seek veterinary care immediately or call the Pet Poison Helpline.
Pumpkin pie and your dog
Our dogs love to eat what we eat, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for them. Raw pumpkin is a healthy treat – as are sweet potatoes, pumpkin meat or seeds, and the commercial pumpkin dog treats you find at local pet stores.
For dogs, pumpkin pie has all the health benefits of pumpkin, but its other ingredients create risks that outweigh these benefits. If you want to offer your pup a small spoonful of pumpkin pie, it probably won’t do any harm. But add it to all the other offerings your pooch receives during the holiday dinner and it could lead to stomach trouble – or worse.
Dogs should be on a well-balanced diet. Well-balanced dog food should make up 90% of your dog’s daily calories. Treats, like that spoonful of pumpkin pie, piece of turkey, or roasted vegetable, can make up the remaining 10% of their diet. Give them a higher proportion of treats and you risk your dog suffering indigestion, diarrhea, vomiting or worse.
If you want to share your holiday meal with your dog, it’s best to prepare a separate portion that’s plain and cooked and doesn’t include spices, salts, or fats. It’s also a good idea to limit your dog’s access to holiday foods – and to be watchful of the tasty morsels being offered by all your guests.
Setting out a bowl of commercial pumpkin treats (or some plain veggies or turkey morsels) for your guests to offer to your dog will help ensure your dog eats only what they’re supposed to.