‘Tis the season for pumpkin spice, but is this beloved fall treat safe for Fido? Sort of. Pumpkin, though not the spices associated with it, is actually great for dogs! But there are some caveats to giving pumpkin to your pooch, so be careful. Read on to find out more, and, of course, if you have questions or doubts, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. All dogs are different, and your specific pet’s needs and sensitivities may vary.
What Are the Health Benefits of Pumpkin for Dogs?
Pumpkin boasts some serious health benefits for your dog.
- Adding pumpkin to your dog’s diet or dog treats is a great way to soothe and regulate a dog’s digestive system, providing relief from both diarrhea and constipation.
- If your pooch has the poops, fiber in pumpkin can help make your dog’s stools more solid and regular, and its prebiotic properties regulate the growth of good bacteria in your dog’s intestines (and curb the growth of bad stuff).
- Conversely, if your canine is constipated, adding pumpkin to his or her pet food can help, too. Adding pumpkin to your dog’s food can help ease mild constipation.
- Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, which Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS, says is crucial for brain and eye development. When combined with vitamin C, E, and other antioxidants in pumpkin, pups benefit from all-around immune support.
- Pumpkin is also a great source of vitamin E, potassium, and beta carotene. “Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that keeps away those free radicals that can trigger abnormal cell growth,” Dr. Claudine Sievert told us. “It also keeps your dog’s internal organs working healthy (as well as promotes overall heart health). Carotenoids help maintain your dog’s eye and skin health. Iron keeps your dog’s hemoglobin levels up, while potassium has a big role in maintaining your dog’s muscles.”
- Pumpkin can also help in weight control because it’s high in fiber content and low in calories.
Keep in mind, though, much of the success of feeding pumpkin to dogs also depends on the cause of their gastrointestinal issues. If feeding your pooch pumpkin doesn’t seem to be helping your baby get back to his or herself, talk to your veterinarian.
How Much Pumpkin to Give Your Dog
Like anything else, with pumpkin, you can very well have too much of a good thing.
- If you are including pumpkin to your dog’s diet to treat diarrhea or constipation, one to four tablespoons added to their regular dog food is fine—but start out with just a little bit of pumpkin and work your way up to larger amounts to be sure your dog doesn’t have any sensitivity or negative reactions. Dr. Woodnutt explains, “Adding extra fiber to the diet can help dogs with chronic, low-grade diarrhea. However, too much fiber can also cause diarrhea, so it’s worth being careful.” As for specific amounts, Dr. Leslie Brooks, DVM, and BetterPet advisor cautions, “We usually tell dog owners to give canned pumpkin to help firm up the stool in cases of soft stools or diarrhea, but in small amounts—no more than 1 tablespoon for a large/giant breed dog or 1 to 2 teaspoons for a small to medium breed dog, once or twice a day.”
- Be sure your dog drinks plenty of water when adding pumpkin or any other fiber-rich ingredients to their diet to prevent dehydration.
- Go by weight in terms of the maximum amount of pumpkin to feed your dog: Small dogs can have a teaspoon or so per day, while big dogs can handle a tablespoon or two.
- Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, but too much vitamin A can be toxic to dogs, so when in doubt, err on the side of caution and feed Fido less rather than more.
If you aren’t sure how much pumpkin your dog can eat safely, check with your vet.
Keep Your Pumpkin Plain
Pumpkin is best served plain to canines, so skip the pie filling, spices, and seasonings that we often associate with yummy human treats.
- Canned pumpkin actually has more nutrients than fresh pumpkin. This is because fresh pumpkin has a higher water content than canned pumpkin.
- Spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, plus additives, fillers, and added sugars in many pumpkin products and recipes (like pies, pie fillings, cookies, cakes, syrups, and pumpkin pie spice mixes) can actually make your dog very sick. “Cinnamon can cause vomiting and diarrhea,” Dr. Sievert says. “Large amounts (often used in pumpkin spice flavorings) can cause low blood sugar and issues of the liver. Nutmeg contains the toxin myristicin, which can cause disorientation, high blood pressure, and seizures in your dog. Ginger can cause stomach upset.”
- Be absolutely sure to check the ingredients list and read labels very carefully: Only buy canned pumpkin pie filling without xylitol, which can be deadly for dogs.
Plain canned pumpkin without added sugars, ingredients, or fillers, as well as plain fresh pumpkin and pumpkin flesh, are safe bets for your dog.
One thing to be sure to avoid is sugar-free canned pumpkin, Dr. Woodnutt warns. “The main concern is with sugar-free canned pumpkin, which may contain xylitol,” she told us. “Since the ingredients in all of these change over time (and our understanding of toxins develops, too), the safest bet is to avoid everything but 100% pumpkin.”
Steer Clear of Some Pumpkin Parts
Not all parts of a pumpkin are created equal. If you’re feeding your dog fresh pumpkin, keep the following rules in mind:
- Pumpkin pulp (the stringy, gooey part in the center) should be avoided.
- Feeding your dog pumpkin skin and stems can cause upset stomach and indigestion, which is usually what you’re trying to fix by giving them pumpkin in the first place.
Carved Pumpkins Are a No-Go
Don’t recycle an old Jack O’Lantern as a snack for your dog! Carved pumpkins, especially ones that have been sitting outside for a while, can breed mold and bacteria, which can make your beloved pet pretty sick (and that’s scary).
How to Prepare Pumpkin for Your Dog
If you feed your dog plain fresh pumpkin, be sure to bake it until soft first. Remove the pumpkin seeds and let it cool before serving. Canned pumpkin puree can be served as is, and you can make your own pumpkin puree using this easy recipe. But let’s be real—you’ll probably want to kick it up a notch for your furbaby, right? Dr. Sievert gave us this recipe for DIY pumpkin treats using ingredients you can get from the grocery store or already have at home:
- 2.5 cups whole wheat or oat flour
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 3 tbsps. peanut or almond butter
Melt all of these ingredients in the oven, mix them up, create small cookie shapes, and put them back in the oven for 30 minutes at 180℉.
Save the Seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain oils that are great for your dog’s urinary tract and may help with canine incontinence. If your dogs pees a little too much, ask your veterinarian if adding pumpkin seeds to his or her diet can help with urinary health. The seeds are also full of Omega 3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties that can help dislodge kidney stones.
If you get the all-clear to give your dog pumpkin seeds, it’s important to prepare them properly.
- Veterinarians generally recommend using raw, organic pumpkin seeds—never salted—and roasting, peeling, and grinding them first.
- Feeding your dog plain raw pumpkin seeds can be dangerous, as these seeds grow rancid quickly. Cleaning and roasting your pumpkin seeds at 350℉ for about an hour can add a month to their shelf life and also improve their taste.
- Be sure to grind your roasted pumpkin seeds before adding them to your dog’s food to avoid the risk of choking.
- Store any leftover pumpkin seeds in sealed bags to preserve their freshness.
How to Store Pumpkin for Your Dog
Chances are you may have some leftover pumpkin. No problem! Here’s how store your extra stash:
- You can freeze pureed pumpkin (and if you want to make it into frozen treats, just freeze it in an ice cube tray so you’ll have individual pieces).
- If you’re going to use the rest of your pumpkin relatively quickly, put it in an airtight container and keep it refrigerated.
Of course, we’re pretty partial to pumpkin here at Pumpkin. If you aren’t sure whether pumpkin is safe for your pet or if your dog is having digestive issues that pumpkin can’t fix, be sure to book an appointment with your veterinarian—especially because Pumpkin pet insurance covers diagnostics and treatment for eligible digestive illnesses.