Pumpkins grab the spotlight as Halloween decorations, but their power as a popular go-to aid for cats with digestive issues is yet to be proven scientifically by veterinarians.
“I don’t see any benefits of pumpkin for cats, except as a tasty treat,” says Dr. Jean Hofve, founder of the LittleBigCat website and author of the book What Cats Should Eat: A Holistic Veterinarian’s Guide to Your Cat’s Optimal Diet. “Cats cannot convert beta-carotene like people and dogs do, and while there is a moderately good antioxidant amount in pumpkin, there is not much fiber,” she says. “In fact, 1 cup of cooked pumpkin only has 3 grams of fiber, and most people are giving a teaspoon or two of pumpkin to their cats, not a full cup.”
A fix for tummy troubles?
For decades, canned pumpkin has been sought by some pet parents as a safe and yummy way to deal with diarrhea or constipation issues in cats. The premise — unproven in veterinary studies — surmises that the water in canned pumpkin helps relieve constipation, while its fiber helps create stools in cats wrestling with diarrhea bouts.
Additionally, there is no peer-reviewed veterinary literature of the clinical use of pumpkin in cats for any conditions, according to 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. “When a cat has a bout of GI dysfunction, the owner (or veterinarian) reads on the internet that pumpkin might help,” he says. “They try it and the problem resolves, so they naturally conclude that pumpkin affected the cure.”
For the record, canned pumpkin contains fiber, water, potassium, vitamins A, C and K plus calcium and phosphorus, and about 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup, according to Dr. Hofve. “That’s four times the carbs that cats need daily,” she says. “Pumpkin does taste good to some cats and does contain water to help them stay hydrated.”
What does Dr. Hofve recommend for cats dealing with constipation or diarrhea to soothe their digestive tracts? “Try adding a pinch of plain Metamucil (ground psyllium husks) or marshmallow root for fiber,” she says. “If your cat is terribly constipated, check with your veterinarian, who may give your cat an enema. You can also try topping your cat’s food with pumfu or pumpkin seed tofu that is low in carbs and high in protein. Pumfu recipes are online and easy to make.”
Pick the perfect pumpkin
If your cat does enjoy pumpkin, read the label. Buy cans of 100% pumpkin that do not contain fillers or sugars. Never give your cat a teaspoon of pumpkin pie filling or a slice of pumpkin pie, because both contain sugar and spices that can cause digestive upset. Veterinary toxicologists say that cinnamon and nutmeg can be mildly toxic if ingested by cats.