It is always important to be cautious about giving your dog people food. Many things that humans eat without a second thought can make your dog sick. Some things can even put her life in jeopardy.
But there are also people foods that are perfectly safe for your dog (in moderation). Some foods are even capable of providing health benefits for your four-legged companion.
Pumpkin is a great example – it is full of nutritious things for your pup’s body, it poses no danger to your pet (it actually appears in many commercial dog food ingredient lists), and most dogs find it delicious.
We’ll talk about pumpkin for dogs below and explain what it is about this fall favorite that makes it so good for dogs.
Pumpkins are pretty strange food items.
They’re huge, they’re orange, and they’re mostly hollow.
And the cultural practice of carving them into frightening or funny-looking Jack-o’-lanterns doesn’t make them any less bizarre (carving a face into a fruit, sticking a candle inside it, and then sticking the thing on your porch is just a weird thing to do).
So, let’s talk about the basics.
Pumpkin is treated as a vegetable in many culinary contexts, but it is, in fact, a fruit — anything with seeds is, technically speaking.
Pumpkin is a cultivar (a selectively bred plant variety that usually differs from the natural form) of a plant called Cucurbita pepo. Several other important foods — including summer squash, winter squash, and zucchini — are also cultivars that are derived from the plant.
Perhaps not coincidentally, these are also people foods that are often recommended for dogs.
Unlike some of these other cultivars which could be best described as moderately nutritious, pumpkin is popping with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
One cup of raw pumpkin contains:
OK, so now that you know that pumpkin is typically safe – even nutritious – for dogs, you need to know what to do with that giant orange gourd in front of you.
Which parts of the pumpkin are safe for your pet to eat? Can you give it to your dog raw, or do you have to cook it first? What about the seeds? And how do you go about butchering this thing?
I’ll leave the pumpkin-dissection instruction to other corners of the internet (although I’d definitely recommend caution with the knife), but the other questions have pretty straight-forward answers:
Pumpkin is a pretty nutritious food. It even appears alongside tomatoes and blueberries on some “superfood” lists. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that it provides a number of health benefits to those who eat it (whether they have two feet or four).
Some of the most notable health benefits pumpkin is known to provide your dog include:
The first four benefits are primarily due to the amount of fiber in the fruit, but it is pumpkin’s antioxidants that help to support your dog’s immune system and brain.
Pumpkin also provides a number of health benefits for humans, and although these have yet to be conclusively demonstrated in canines, your dog may enjoy these benefits too. Some of the most notable include:
Pumpkin is clearly a great snack to add to your dog’s diet, but it’s most commonly used by dog owners in a pseudo-medicinal context.
Canned pumpkin puree is a remarkably effective, affordable, and safe treatment for occasional canine diarrhea.
Just mix in a teaspoon to a tablespoon’s worth (depending on your dog’s size) with your dog’s food whenever he is suffering from doo-doo-rhea.
Pumpkin puree is essentially autumn-flavored fiber, so it will help slow down your dog’s digestive tract. It’ll also help absorb a lot of the fluid in your dog’s intestines and firm up his stool.
It’ll usually help put an end to your dog’s digestive difficulties in about 12 to 24 hours.
Obviously, you’ll want to contact your vet if your dog’s diarrhea doesn’t resolve within a couple of days, or if he exhibits any other troubling symptoms, including obvious signs of pain, lack of appetite, or bloating.
It’s hard to say how much pumpkin is safe for your dog to eat.
Talk to your vet if you decide to make pumpkin a regular part of your dog’s diet and follow his or her advice. Individual dogs may have unique needs or issues that will influence how much pumpkin as appropriate for your pup.
There isn’t anything toxic about pumpkin, so it shouldn’t poison your dog. It is, however, loaded with fiber. And while a reasonable amount of fiber is great, excessive amounts can be very hard on your dog’s intestines (and, potentially, your carpet).
To be on the safe side, start slowly.
Give your pooch about a tablespoon’s worth of pumpkin (perhaps a bit less if you have a tiny dog) and see how his body reacts over the next 24 hours or so. If he tolerates this well, you can gradually increase the amount you give him.
You probably won’t ever want to let him have more than a few tablespoons a day, but again, let your vet set an upper limit.
Again, be sure to feed pumpkin in moderation, as too much will cause your dog some intestinal distress, but it is usually fine to feed your pup the odd slice from time to time.
In fact, you may even want to keep a can of pureed pumpkin on hand for when your pet’s digestive system stops working the way it should. I always do!
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.