By Rebecca DiFabbio
Pumpkin is a popular fall and winter flavor that many people look forward to each year. While humans can enjoy an array of pumpkin treats, what about our feline friends?
Health Benefits of Pumpkin for Cats
Plain pumpkin is a good source of fiber for cats. In fact, many veterinarians turn to pumpkin as a remedy for constipation in feline patients.
Dr. Angelo Maggiolo, medical director of County Animal Clinic in Yonkers, New York, often recommends pumpkin as an easy fix for mild cases of constipation in cats. “It will get the colon moving a little better in cats predisposed to constipation,” he says.
The fiber found in pumpkin also adds bulk to the diet, making cats feel more satiated, explains Dr. Heather Meyers, a veterinarian for Carolina Pets Hospital in Wesley Chapel, North Carolina. This is especially beneficial for obese cats who are on a diet. Adding pumpkin at mealtime may even help prevent painful anal sac problems or help reduce hairballs.
And while pumpkin is a good source of vitamins A and C, which help support vision and immune system health, Meyers advises that it’s not necessary to use pumpkin as a vitamin supplement. “Cats are generally not deficient in these vitamins if they’re on a well-balanced diet,” she says.
Pumpkin also contains zinc, which can help improve a cat’s skin and coat, and cucurbitacin, a biochemical compound that is thought to have some activity against intestinal parasites. However, with a well-balanced diet and proper veterinary care, most of these concerns can be taken care of without the need for pumpkin.
How to Serve Pumpkin to Cats
If your cat enjoys pumpkin, the best way to serve it is straight out of the can. Avoid any canned pumpkin products that contain added flavoring or sugars, especially if your cat has diabetes. “You truly just want plain pumpkin,” Meyers says. Mix between one and four teaspoons of canned pumpkin with cat food one to two times a day. Your veterinarian can advise the specific quantity of pumpkin to serve, depending on your cat’s condition.
If your finicky cat refuses pumpkin, consult your veterinarian for alternatives. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, one to four teaspoons per meal of psyllium or one to two tablespoons of wheat bran can also be added to canned food as fiber supplements. As long as your cat is well hydrated, any of these additives may assist in treating constipation. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian first, before making any changes to your cat’s diet.
Risks of Pumpkins for Cats
Pumpkin is a relatively easy and safe additive, Maggiolo assures. While it’s unlikely that pumpkin will upset a cat’s stomach, eating too much can possibly cause diarrhea. If this happens, it’s best to skip the next serving or feed a smaller amount. Your veterinarian can advise you how to modify the serving size, if symptoms occur.
Keep in mind that you should not serve the stem, skin, or pulp of a pumpkin to your cat. These parts of the pumpkin simply don’t have a high enough nutritional value to be beneficial for your cat. It is also best to avoid feeding leftover jack-o-lantern, as it may have rotted by sitting outside too long. Plain canned pumpkin is the best option for your pet, and will stay fresh in the refrigerator up to about a week after opening.
Even though your feline friend may not be able to have a bite of your Thanksgiving pie, there is definitely a place for plain pumpkin in his diet.