People like giving pets pumpkin, but is it good for them?

Lisa Freeman, J86, V91, N96, head of the veterinary nutrition service at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, fills us in

I hear from owners—and vets—all the time that they’ve added pumpkin to a dog or cat’s diet to increase the fiber. Dog and cats don’t require any fiber in their diets. But it can help with issues such as diarrhea, constipation, diabetes, and high fat levels in the blood, as well as to help overweight pets feel full while on a weight-loss diet.

Typically, I see people giving anywhere from ¼ teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of pumpkin at meals to increase a pet’s fiber intake. Unfortunately, this may not help and, in some cases, may cause problems. That’s because if you wanted to give the same amounts of fiber to your pet that is found in one high-fiber therapeutic diet, you’d need to feed more than 2 ½ cups of pumpkin per day to a cat and nearly 12 cups per day to a medium-sized dog!

The miniscule amount and type of fiber in pumpkin usually limit its effectiveness as a fiber source. But pumpkin also can contain ingredients that undermine a pet’s health. While canned pumpkin is only 83 calories per cup, canned pumpkin-pie mix is up to 281 calories per cup due to added sugar, which can pack on the pounds. Too many calories from pumpkin (anything more than 10 percent of total calorie intake) can unbalance your pet’s diet. And canned pumpkin without salt contains only 12 milligrams of sodium per cup, but some canned pumpkin brands with salt contain nearly 600 milligrams of sodium per cup—way too much sodium for a dog or cat with heart or kidney disease.

Finally, by adding a lot of fiber from pumpkin you may accidentally decrease how much protein and other nutrients your pet can absorb from their food, putting them at risk for deficiencies.

So, what’s a better way to add fiber to your dog or cat’s diet? Talk to your veterinarian, who can recommend an appropriate fiber supplement or prescribe a therapeutic diet that contains increased amounts of the specific types of types of fiber—which each have different effects in the gastrointestinal tract and throughout the body—needed to address your pet’s individual needs.

For any pet health issue, owners should contact their veterinarian. You can find more answers to common questions about pet nutrition from the Tufts Clinical Nutrition Service at Petfoodology.

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