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Cats and Nutrition: We Investigate the Power of Pumpkin

Although pumpkin is often recommended as a remedy for feline digestive issues, we could find no studies on its effects -- so we asked an expert.

Arden Moore  |  Dec 13th 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our November/December 2016 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

Stashed prominently on my pantry shelf is a can of pumpkin ready to dish out at the first signs of digestive upset in my cat, Casey, or my dogs Kona and Cleo. For as long as I can remember, canned pumpkin has been the recommended go-to food to ease mild constipation or diarrhea. But good luck finding any peer-reviewed scientific studies in veterinary journals validating pumpkin’s health claims for cats.

“I was unable to find a single experimental study in the peer-reviewed veterinary literature of the clinical use of pumpkin in cats for any conditions,” said Dr. Tony Buffington, emeritus professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

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Photo by Shutterstock

What about the idea that dishing up a dollop of canned pumpkin can help prevent hairballs?

“Again, I could not find any published studies of this claim,” Buffington said. “But canned pumpkin has been fed to cats as far as I can tell for many years. When a cat has a bout of GI dysfunction, the owner (or veterinarian) reads on the Internet that pumpkin might help. They try it and the problem resolves, so they naturally conclude that pumpkin affected the cure.”

Here are the pumpkin facts: This Halloween-orange food is a fruit, not a vegetable. It is loaded with fiber (both soluble and insoluble) as well as vitamin C (touted for being an antioxidant that boosts the immune system), potassium (at levels higher than a banana) and carotenoids (specifically, beta-carotene) that, according to the National Institutes of Health, yield more anticancer effects than supplement-based forms.

One teaspoon of canned pumpkin contains about 20 calories, 94 percent water, and 1 percent total fiber, according to Buffington.

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Photo by Shutterstock

“Canned cat food contains about 80 percent water and less than 1 percent fiber,” he said.

Pumpkin is gaining popularity in pet food and supplements. Weruva, based in Natick, Massachusetts, manufacturers Pumpkin Patch Up! — a supplement touted for being a great source of healthy fiber for cats and dogs.

“Our pumpkin is in a pouch, pureed, and more gravy-like in texture as opposed to canned pumpkin, which is typically pastier,” said David Forman, co-owner of Weruva.

Marketed as a healthier option to canned pumpkin, Castor & Pollux (now part of Merrick and Nestle Purina) offers the Ultramix Real Pumpkin Ultrablend.

“Our brand is more balanced, fortified, and designed specifically for cats,” said Betsy Berger, Merrick communications manager. “It is less taxing on a pet’s digestive system, and the brown rice, bananas, carrots, peas, and cranberries are all pureed.”

To separate fact from fiction regarding pumpkins, what’s your conclusion,?

“Based upon all of this,” Buffington said, “I suggest you consider adding a question mark to your title: The Power of Pumpkin?”

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Photo by Shutterstock

More pumpkin insights to ponder

Shelf life: An opened can of pumpkin with a lid stays fresh for about five days in the refrigerator.

Freeze it: Take an empty ice cube tray, add a dollop of canned pumpkin or the Castor & Pollux brand with water, and let it freeze. Grab a pumpkin “popsicle” when needed, let it melt, and dish it up to your cat.

What to avoid: Steer clear of serving pulp from your decaying Halloween pumpkin or a tablespoon from your pumpkin pie to your cat. The pulp can be too taxing on her digestive system, and the pie contains spices and sugar

About the author: Arden Moore is a pet-behavior consultant, author, and master pet first-aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Chipper. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter. For Catster print magazine, she promises to give advice about healthy eating habits for your feline. Email your questions to arden@fourleggedlife.com