Pity the poor pumpkin: Since its domestication by early farmers around 10,000 years ago, few cultivars have been more burdened by myth and misinformation than this unassuming winter squash. But pumpkins are good for much more than warding away evil spirits (when carved) or acting as a delivery system for nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves (when pureed for pie).
As it happens, pumpkins are nutritional powerhouses, pharmacological wonders and offer tasty treats for both humans and their pets. Here are some facts worth knowing about the health benefits of these amazing orange orbs.
What Are the Health Benefits of Pumpkin?
As fruits go (yes, pumpkins are classified as a fruit, not a vegetable) pumpkins are known to nutrition experts as a superfood, meaning that their flesh and seeds are particularly nutrient-dense and packed with essential vitamins and minerals.
In particular, pumpkins are loaded with A, B and C vitamins, which support heart health, boost the immune system and promote healthy vision, among many other benefits. Pumpkins are also good sources of iron, copper, manganese and potassium, which support everything from your circulatory system to healthy brain development.
While a pie is the most common way we get pumpkin in our diet, it’s not the healthiest method. Luckily, pumpkins are surprisingly versatile. The seeds make great snacks or salad toppings, and the flesh can be used in soups, casseroles or even eaten raw for maximum nutritional benefit.
That’s all well and good for humans. But what does pumpkin do for dogs? Is it safe for cats?
Is Pumpkin Good for Pets?
For the most part, yes! Adding a little bit of pumpkin into their diets can give your dog or cat many of the same nutritional benefits that humans enjoy.
Does Pumpkin Help Dogs With Diarrhea?
Obviously, you should consult your veterinarian to rule out serious disease, but if your dog or cat is merely suffering from an upset tummy, adding some pureed pumpkin to their food can help bulk up stool and ease their symptoms.
It should be given in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. Mix in no more than 4 tablespoons per serving for dogs and just 1 or 2 teaspoons for cats.
Can Pumpkin Kill Worms?
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For centuries, pumpkin has been touted as a natural antiparasitic — a folk remedy to treat intestinal worms in both humans and animals. Even today, there’s a lot of buzz out there about this legendary property of pumpkins — but behind that legend is a complicated truth.
Pumpkins contain a biochemical compound called cucurbitacin. Research has shown the compound itself may have pharmacological benefits that could be employed in treatments for cancer or heart problems, for example. The compound is also known to have anti-inflammatory and, yes, some antiparasitic properties.
What Is Toxic Squash Syndrome?
However, it’s nothing you or your pets should be eating — too much cucurbitacin can be highly toxic.
Not that you’d want to eat it anyway. Cucurbitacin is exceedingly bitter, way too bitter for human consumption — most people would find it inedible. If you do feed your pet fresh pumpkin that you’ve grown or purchased at a farmer’s market, take care to taste it yourself first. While it’s not common, a pumpkin can have what’s known as toxic squash syndrome, where its natural cucurbitacin levels are so high that it would be dangerous to consume. You’ll know it from the first bite. If it’s too bitter for you to eat, you shouldn’t be giving it to your pet.
Luckily, generations of human farmers have carefully cultivated pumpkins to lower the cucurbitacin content. You may still get some when you eat pumpkin or pumpkin seeds, but it will be in such minute amounts that it won’t make you sick.
Of course, at such dilute levels, cucurbitacin likely won’t be powerful enough to give your pet any real medicinal benefit against worms either. As with any suspected parasitic infection in your dog or cat, contact your vet immediately. They have an arsenal of highly effective, well-tolerated medications that can resolve most infections before they turn deadly.
Is Canned Pumpkin Good For Dogs and Cats?
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Canned pumpkin is safe for dogs and cats. If you’re looking for the best canned options, choose an organic label or something with low sodium. And whatever you do, do not give your pet canned pumpkin pie filling. These prepared fillings may contain spices and artificial sweeteners that can be toxic to dogs and cats, or at the very least make their stomach troubles even worse.
Pumpkin seeds are generally okay to feed your pet, as long as you grind them up to mix with their food. But don’t make a habit of giving your pet whole seeds; they can pose a choking hazard, especially for cats and small dogs, and eating too many can cause digestive problems.