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Ask a Vet: Giving a Dog Pumpkin for Diarrhea (How Much?)

Question:

My dog will eat anything that isn’t bolted down. It’s not surprising that he gets an upset stomach with diarrhea a few times a year. My friend keeps telling me to give my dog pumpkin for diarrhea but I never feed him human food and it makes me nervous! Should I give him pumpkin when he gets diarrhea? If so, how much? 

-Sonja M.

Answer:

I don’t know who first came up with the idea of treating dog diarrhea with pumpkin but it’s been around for a long time. Many of my clients try this trick before calling the clinic for medical help.

Does giving a dog pumpkin for diarrhea help? Maybe. There are no controlled studies on the topic, but anecdotally it seems to help some dogs. The thing is–most dogs get better from diarrhea within a day or two with no treatment at all, so is it really the pumpkin curing them?

A more logical approach would be to feed a diarrhea-prone dog a small amount of pumpkin every day as the fiber might improve her intestinal microbiome. A stronger microbiome could be more resistant to common causes of diarrhea. 

Still, I think it’s fine to try a reasonable amount of pumpkin for a dog with mild diarrhea. That means the dog is still eating, drinking and acting normal. 

For severe diarrhea or symptoms lasting more than 2 days, you need help from your veterinarian.

Is Giving a Dog Pumpkin for Diarrhea a Good Idea?

Dog owners often feed pumpkin to their dogs to help with diarrhea or constipation. Cooked and canned pumpkin are both high in moisture and relatively high in fiber. Pumpkin has about 60% soluble fiber and 40% insoluble fiber.(1) Each fiber type benefits digestion in different ways. 

Pumpkin helps the digestive tract because its fiber draws water into the feces as they pass through the colon. The extra fiber should help stool consistency become firmer. It might help dogs with mild problems but the amount of fiber in pumpkin is pretty small compared to high fiber dog food or fiber supplements. 

In fact, Dr. Lisa Freeman of Tufts University calculated that a medium-sized dog needs to eat 12 cups of pumpkin per day to match the amount of fiber in a prescription high fiber dog food.(2) So if your dog needs to eat a lot of fiber to maintain normal bowel habits, pumpkin is not the way to go! He would get far too many calories and too few essential nutrients eating a diet made up of only pumpkin. 

pumpkins

Canned Pumpkin vs. Cooked Pumpkin for Dogs

Canned pumpkin can be part of a dog’s healthy diet. Most canned pumpkin is 100% pumpkin with no other ingredients. 

Fresh pumpkin can be cooked the same way as any other squash. I recommend removing the seeds and cutting it into slices about 3 inches wide first. Then bake in a 375-degree oven for about 40 minutes or until the flesh is soft. After baking, allow slices to cool a bit before scraping the soft flesh away from the skin. Discard the skin and only feed your dog the cooled flesh. Store any extras in the fridge. 

In traditional Chinese medicine, pumpkin is considered a “special” food that benefits the digestive tract of dogs with an upset stomach. Dogs have evolved to have an affinity for sweet flavors, so pumpkin is the perfect treat since it’s sweet without added sugar.

Raw pumpkin is not toxic to dogs but if he eats any significant amount it’s likely to cause a belly ache. Dogs can digest some plant fiber and starch, but not in large quantities. It’s best to fully cook fresh pumpkin before feeding it to a dog or just opt for canned pumpkin.  

What Kind of Canned Pumpkin is Best?

Make sure to buy canned pumpkin that contains ONLY pure pumpkin. Some brands add salt, sugar and/or spices that your dog doesn’t need, add too many calories and could upset the digestive system. 

Ingredients to watch out for in canned pumpkin:

  • Added salt (plain pumpkin has less than 10 mg sodium per ½ cup)
  • Xylitol (a sugar substitute toxic to dogs)
  • Sugar
canned pumpkin for dogs with diarrhea-avoid pumpkin pie mix.
Make sure to choose 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix/filling.

How Much Pumpkin to Give a Dog with Diarrhea

Snacks and treats should comprise no more than 10% of a dog’s daily diet. A 30-pound dog eats about 500 calories per day. Since canned pumpkin has 45 calories per half-cup, a 30-pound dog can eat up to 1/2 a cup of pumpkin per day. 

Since pumpkin is fibrous and starchy, I recommend giving half the maximum amount to avoid digestive upset. 

Body Weight of Dog in PoundsAmount of Plain Canned Pumpkin Per Day
15 1 Tbsp.
30¼ cup
50⅓ cup
75½ cup

How Fast Does Pumpkin Work for Dog Diarrhea?

Most dogs with diarrhea get better within a couple of days with no treatment whatsoever. Dogs eating pumpkin should get better within 48 hours or see a veterinarian.

Other signs that your dog needs to see a vet: vomiting, blood in the stool, poor appetite or if he has any other unusual symptoms.

Side Effects of a Dog Eating Too Much Pumpkin

Healthy dogs can eat canned pumpkin puree occasionally without safety concerns. Dogs with sensitive digestion might need to avoid it if it causes excessive gas or diarrhea. Check with your vet before giving it to diabetic dogs as it could alter blood glucose control if you feed it to your dog regularly. 

Can Dogs Eat Pumpkin Seeds?

While pumpkin seeds are not necessarily toxic to dogs, there are other reasons not to give them to your pup. Dogs have teeth made for tearing and cutting so they chew the same way humans do. Dogs are likely to swallow pumpkin seeds whole. 

With their tough fibrous shell, whole pumpkin seeds will pass through a dog’s GI tract undigested, at best. But unshelled seed could potentially cause severe upset stomach, constipation and even intestinal obstruction if eaten in large quantities. 

7 Ways to Feed Your Pumpkin to Your Dog

  1. Canned pumpkin can be placed on top of or mixed into dry dog food at mealtime. 
  2. Try spreading it onto a saucer to distract your dog while you brush him. 
  3. Thin a little canned pumpkin with water and put it into a new/clean silicon tube used for carrying travel shampoo–let him lick it out as you squeeze the tube. This is a great novel training reward!
  4. Mix canned pumpkin with dry kibble and stuff it into a Kong toy. Freeze for a few hours then let your pup spend some time un-stuffing the Kong.
  5. Mix canned pumpkin with a little warm low-sodium chicken broth to make a nice “soup” to warm up your dog on a cold day. 
  6. You could use canned pumpkin in a puzzle toy if you freeze it into small cubes first. You could definitely use it on a lick mat but put a towel down under it in case your dog pushes some off the edge. 
  7. Make pumpkin pupsicles! Canned pumpkin freezes well by itself or you can mix it with a little yogurt to make a creamy pumpkin pupsicle.

Easy Pumpkin Dog Treats Recipe

Canned pumpkin is a wonderful ingredient to use in dog treats! It adds natural sweetness and moisture. 

Ingredients:

1 cup plain canned pumpkin

2 cups flour

1 egg

  1. In a medium bowl, add canned pumpkin, flour, and egg. Mix well until a stiff dough forms. 
  2. Roll dough out about 1/4 inch thick and cut out treat-sized shapes or squares. Place treats on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  3. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes. 
  4. Let cool before serving and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

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References

  1. Kerns, M. (2016, September 29). Pumpkins & fiber. AZ Central Healthy Living. Retrieved December 2, 2021, from https://healthyliving.azcentral.com/pumpkins-fiber-16921.html. 
  2. Lisa M. Freeman, D. V. M. (2017, August 22). The problem with pumpkin. Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School. Retrieved December 2, 2021, from https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/09/the-problem-with-pumpkin/.