Adding a dollop of this fruit to your pup's bowl could have surprising health benefits.
dog fall food pumpkin
Credit: Getty / Mireille Roy

Pumpkins aren’t just great for jack- o’-lanterns and Thanksgiving pies. Many veterinarians recommend adding the fruit (yes, winter squash is technically not a veg) to Bowser’s bowl to address issues such as digestion, weight management and diabetes. While pumpkin won’t prevent doggie health problems, it’s often used to help treat them. And it’s nutritious: pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A and potassium (important for a healthy coat, muscles and kidney function) and is also relatively high-fiber.

Ana S. Grum, D.V.M., Ph.D., a carnivore nutrition specialist in the animal sciences department at Ohio State University, spent four years working with colleagues to create home-cooked food for dogs with various medical conditions—and often mixed in canned pumpkin. She found it to be particularly helpful for improving gastrointestinal issues. In cases of diarrhea, “the pumpkin’s fiber acts like a sponge,” says Grum, “sopping up water and helping the stool become more firm.”

It can also soothe upset tummies. “It’s most useful for cases of what we call ‘dietary indiscretion’—meaning the dog has eaten something it shouldn’t have,” says Yvonne Stemwedel, D.V.M., of Adobe Animal Hospital in Petaluma, California. The pumpkin’s fiber can keep good gut bacteria flourishing and multiplying, adds Grum, which can help reduce inflammation, discomfort and indigestion.

Pumpkin’s nutrient profile also makes it ideal for weight management. Grum explains that because mammals—including dogs—don’t have the intestinal enzymes to digest most dietary fibers, the pumpkin moves through the GI tract without breaking down, so it doesn’t add calories to the canine’s diet. Plus it helps the dog feel full, so she’s likely to eat less. And for pups with diabetes, the pumpkin’s fiber can slow sugar absorption from their regular food, preventing blood sugar spikes.

When adding pumpkin to your pooch’s diet, nutrition experts recommend the unseasoned, unsweetened canned variety or fresh pumpkin that has been cooked and mashed. (Resist the temptation to repurpose old porch pumpkins; they can be moldy inside.) Feeding your dog raw pumpkin is also a no-no—it can actually irritate the stomach—as can pumpkin pie filling, which includes sugar, sodium and spices.

Plain cooked pumpkin is generally considered safe for dogs and is unlikely to cause harm with long-term use, but it’s always a good idea to consult your vet before embarking on a new doggie diet— especially if your pooch has a major medical concern, such as diabetes. Grum recommends mixing pumpkin into your pet’s food twice a day and starting small: 1 teaspoon for small dogs (5 to 24 pounds), 1 1/2 teaspoons for medium dogs (25 to 49 pounds), 2 teaspoons for medium-large dogs (50 to 74 pounds) and 1 tablespoon for dogs 75 pounds and up. If the pup’s condition doesn’t improve after a few days, it’s OK to add another teaspoon per meal, but Grum advises against exceeding 4 teaspoons per meal for dogs under 75 pounds. Too much pumpkin can have the opposite GI effect, causing diarrhea or uncomfortable gas.

EatingWell, October 2020