This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Schutzhund USA Magazine.
Part of what we do in our frequent involvement with working dog handlers is give presentations on general nutrition. During these, we often touch on the importance of a meat diet versus many of the trendy ingredients. One of our favorite examples is pumpkin and the very limited nutritional value it provides to dogs. This elicited a very good question at one of our recent talks that seemed like a good thing to share.
Question: Why does my vet suggest pumpkin for some of our dogs with digestive issues if it has little nutritional value?
Nutritional Value of Pumpkin for Dogs
As we mentioned earlier, there really isn’t very much of nutritional value in pumpkin for dogs but that’s not to say there isn’t any. There are a couple nutrients in pumpkin in high enough concentration to benefit your working dog.
- Carbohydrates: There are carbohydrates in pumpkin although it’s not a great carb source in either quantity or quality from a digestibility standpoint. If it’s carbohydrates you’re looking for, you could get five times the carbs from something like rice.
- Beta-Carotene: Pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene which dogs convert to Vitamin A. In excessive quantities, Vitamin A is toxic to dogs but it would take quite a bit of pumpkin, consumed regularly, to cause a problem.
Those two are about the extent of the nutritional value of pumpkin. There’s also a bit of Vitamin C and a little Iron but in very small quantities. From a nutrient standpoint, it’s hard to see much benefit to your dog.
So Why Would a Vet Recommend It?
It’s not the nutrients your vet is interested in. It’s the fiber. Pumpkin has a pretty good amount of the right kind of fiber to have a prebiotic effect on your dog. This basically improves the overall digestive health of the dog and can help alleviate things like gas, diarrhea and constipation. Prebiotics are definitely a good thing and we’re big believers in better overall canine health through healthier digestion.
Would We Recommend Pumpkin?
When your vet recommends pumpkin, they’re treating a problem. Our business is providing nutrition to help avoid those problems so we’d probably recommend a different approach. A food that’s properly formulated for a working dog already has plenty of prebiotics to support a healthy gut environment and shouldn’t require you to supplement with pumpkin. If your otherwise healthy working dog is having digestive issues that require pumpkin supplementation, we’d encourage you to re-evaluate your feeding program and consider other factors which may be affecting your dog’s digestive health.