Pumpkin has become a staple of autumn for people, and better yet, it's one of a handful of "human" foods that are actually recommended by many veterinarians. And with good reason—it's a nutritious fruit (not a vegetable, believe it or not) that's packed with dietary fiber and antioxidants and rich in vitamins and minerals. Pumpkin is also low-calorie and unlikely to lead to obesity or other weight-related issue. In fact, it's even believed to help dogs lose weight (when offered appropriately).
The Benefits of Pumpkin for Dogs
Because pumpkin is so rich in dietary fiber while being easy for our four-legged friends to digest, it's often recommended by veterinarians to treat gastrointestinal issues including diarrhea and constipation. Pumpkin contains nearly three grams of natural fiber per one cup serving, and thus can slow down your pet's digestion and promote regular bowel movements that help maintain their gut health.
Pumpkin is also an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as potassium, iron, and other nutrients that can do everything from improve your pet's vision to help them ward off illnesses and even protect their joints as they age.
Potential Health Concerns
As with any food, you'll always want to offer in moderation (and get your veterinarian's OK). The potential danger with pumpkin is that it's chock full of vitamin A, and while dogs can benefit from added vitamins—just like humans—an overindulgence in certain vitamins can actually be toxic to pets. However, you would have to feed your dog quite a bit of pumpkin to put them at risk—some 10 to 1,000 times the recommended amount (which hovers around one to four tablespoons per day).
Pumpkin's high fiber content also means you'll want to proceed with caution, as too much pumpkin can cause stomach distress in many dogs. Be sure to stick with no more than a teaspoon or two for puppies (older dogs can handle a few tablespoons), and offer small amounts when first introducing pumpkin to your dog to be sure they can tolerate it.
And what about leftover pumpkins left outside? They may have been just fine as a doorstep decoration, but you'll want to avoid feeding those particular pumpkins to your dog; these pumpkins are usually already in a state of decay, and may be harboring mold and bacteria that could be toxic to your dog when ingested. There's also the risk of your pooch consuming any remaining paint or decorations on the pumpkin, or even chemicals or other other residue from wherever the pumpkin was displayed outside.
Additionally, the outer areas of the pumpkin, such as stems and leaves, are never meant for consumption and can be dangerous for your dog, as they pose a choking hazard and risk of intestinal blockage since they're difficult to chew and digest. If your dog does accidentally get his paws on an old pumpkin, keep an eye out for symptoms of tummy troubles and notify your veterinarian. If your dog has eaten the stem, it requires immediate veterinary intervention to address the potential for a life-threatening intestinal blockage.
How to Serve Pumpkin to Your Dog
Most dogs will go ga-ga for pureed, cooked pumpkin, which is easier for our four-legged friends to digest and absorb than its raw form. Both homemade pumpkin puree as well as canned pumpkin is safe for dogs, however, you'll want to be extra careful not to accidentally offer your dog pumpkin pie filling, which is loaded with added sugar and spices that can potentially be harmful to your pet. The same rule applies for pumpkin pie and other human pumpkin-filled treats (no matter how much your dog begs for a taste).
If you do opt for fresh pumpkin, be sure to cook it first, as it will soften the texture of the pulp and make it easier for Fido to both swallow and digest while preventing the risk of a blockage. In fact, cooking any fruit or vegetable before before handing it over to your dog is always a good idea, as it will effectively remove any harmful bacteria or chemical from the food.
Canned pumpkin also happens to be incredibly easy to add to your dog's diet. Your dog's regular kibble can be coated with canned pumpkin, or you might even want to spread some pumpkin on a bone (or inside of a Kong toy). Of course, many dogs are more than happy to lick it directly off the spoon. If you enjoy baking your own homemade treats, pumpkin is always an inexpensive yet nutritious (and delicious) ingredient.
While the seeds of most vegetables and fruits are off-limits to pets, pumpkin seeds are actually safe--and potentially healthy--for dogs. In fact, the seeds are the most nutritious part of the pumpkin, as they're rich in proteins and fatty acid as well as minerals like magnesium. There have been recent studies showing that pumpkin seeds can actually be extremely beneficial to your pet's health; the antioxidants can help boost the canine immune system while also promoting the health of their skin and coat, while omega-3 fatty acids can improve their skin and even prevent itchy rashes or other inflammation.
Just as with pureed pumpkin, it’s best to offer just a few seeds to start with (they can also be crushed and added to your dog's food). Keep in mind that the seeds' fat content has the potential to cause softer stools and other stomach upset, so be sure to check in with your pet's veterinarian before offering pumpkin seeds.