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Although October is usually the only time you see pumpkins in supermarkets they are, in fact, available from September right through to December if the weather has been right. So, there should be plenty of opportunity to use this fruit (yes, fruit!) to make a tasty pie filling or delicious wintery soup, and if there's still some left overs, pumpkin can make an excellent treat for dogs too!
Apart from being tasty pumpkin has some great health benefits. Pumpkin is becoming more and more popular as a fibre source for pets, especially for those animals that are suffering from a digestive upset such as diarrhoea. Normally, you wouldn’t think of using fibre for a pet with diarrhoea because fibre has been traditionally used for treating constipation. However, this is because the type of fibre is not being considered. So, before we start talking about pumpkins, we’re going to look at the different types of fibre and their benefits to our dog and cat’s health.
Dietary fibre is actually a type of complex carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by the enzymes in the small intestine. Sources of fibre come from plants (vegetables, grains and seeds), rather than meat, fish or dairy products (although some fibre can be obtained from shellfish).
You may hear dietary fibre being classified in many different ways however, the main two types of classification generally used and talked about are soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibres are the fibres that break down easily in the water in the digestive tract and examples used in pet foods include gums and pectins (a natural thickening agent found in fruit). Soluble fibre actually forms a thick gel in the in the stomach which delays gastric emptying time (the time it takes for food to leave the stomach). This can help pets feel fuller for longer and can be really useful if they are suffering from loose bowel movements. Another benefit of soluble fibres is that some also act as prebiotics. Prebiotics help to feed the good/healthy bacteria in the gut promoting overall digestive health. Examples of foods that contain prebiotic fibres include chicory and Jerusalem artichoke.
Insoluble fibre can be thought of as indigestible. It speeds up digestion (thus helping with constipation) adds bulk to the stools and helps to keep the system regular and healthy.
Most fibre sources contain both insoluble and soluble fibres, however the ratio between the two differs depending on the food source. Oats for example, have a good balance of both insoluble and soluble fibre whereas chicory is mostly made of soluble fibres. Examples of insoluble fibre includes cellulose, vegetable skins and peanut hulls.
In humans, the addition of dietary fibre has been shown to help with numerous conditions including obesity, diabetes mellitus, coeliac disease, colon cancer, irritable bowel disease and even migraines. In pets, fibre is needed to help keep the digestive system healthy by producing regular stools that help remove waste toxins from the body. The right types of fibre can help feed the good bacteria in the gut and help to reduce pathogenic bacteria.
High fibre diets are also often recommended for pets that need to lose weight, with the addition of insoluble fibre being added because it was thought to help reduce satiety (hunger). Sadly, there is a lack of conclusive evidence regarding this theory, although the addition of fibre in the diet can reduce the overall calories of the food. Unfortunately, higher fibre levels in pet food does reduce the palatability of the food especially for cats.
Pumpkin is becoming more and more popular as a fibre source for pets, especially for those animals that are suffering from a digestive upset such as diarrhoea.
Too much insoluble fibre in the diet can also interfere with the proper absorption of certain nutrients and minerals including calcium, zinc and iron and can cause bulky, dry stools or result in constipation. Likewise, too much soluble fibre can lead to loose, watery stools and diarrhoea.
Fresh pumpkin (but not the stuff you’ve carved out for Halloween that’s already starting to go off!) is a good source of soluble fibre and the formation of the thick gel (when it’s mixed with water in the stomach) can help reduce the number of episodes of diarrhoea.
When dogs or cats have diarrhoea they lose nutrients known as electrolytes. However, pumpkin is a good source of the electrolyte potassium as well as the antioxidant Vitamin C, iron and Vitamin A.
It’s for these benefits that some vets are recommending cooked lean meat or fish with cooked pumpkin instead of the traditional recommended cooked chicken and rice for dogs with diarrhoea.
If you cannot get hold of fresh pumpkin then canned pumpkin is a good alternative. However, steer clear of pumpkin pie fillings that contain added sugars.
Why not make your own pumpkin treats? There are plenty of recipes online, but we’ve found that many use whole wheat flour as an ingredient. If your dog has a wheat intolerance, consider swapping out the wheat flour for rice flour. Make sure your peanut butter is xylitol free too! Chelsea Dogs do a great simple recipe here.
The perfect bowel-soothing food for GI upsets and diarrhoea by Dr. Becker
The Health Benefits Pumpkin Provides for Our Pets by Dr. Patrick Mahaney.
Fascetti A.J, Delaney S.J (2012) Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition, : Wiley-Blackwell. P293
PUMPKIN: WHY IS IT SUCH A POPULAR TREATMENT FOR DIARRHEA? Dr. J Dodds.