Fall is officially in full swing, and pumpkin is soon to be everywhere you look. This seasonal favorite adds warmth and comfort to any dish it touches, from pumpkin pies to pumpkin spice lattes. It’s bound to be part of your diet this time of year, but is it okay to feed it to your cat? Absolutely—and while pumpkin tends to drop off the cultural radar come December, it can be a delicious and beneficial dietary supplement for cats year-round.
Cats tend to enjoy the flavor of pumpkin, and it’s very good for them as well. It’s often recommended for digestive issues. With its high nutritional value and low-calorie count, it can help with weight loss as well. Add a little to your cat’s food, and they’ll likely lap it up like it’s a special treat. It’s important to note that while pumpkin itself is a healthy choice for cats, many of the holiday favorites that include pumpkin are best left for human consumption only.
Though it’s often associated with sweet, decadent treats, pumpkin has a number of health benefits for humans. According to Shape, “Pumpkin calories clock in at just 49 per cup of purée, plus that serving sneaks in 3 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein, and a whopping 250 percent of your daily value of vitamin A.” It even has twice the beta-carotene of spinach.
Pumpkin is excellent for digestive health because of its high fiber content. A 2010 study by James M. Lattimer and Mark D. Haub showed that fiber helps the body absorb nutrients and decreases the risk of obesity. It aids in weight loss by slowing the digestive process, allowing those who consume it to feel full longer. It can also reduce the risk of cancers that affect the digestive tract. In addition to its digestive benefits, pumpkin can also aid with eye health, immunity, blood pressure, diabetes, and more.
The digestive health benefits of pumpkin extend to felines as well. In fact, many veterinarians recommend pumpkin to treat digestive woes. “It will get the colon moving a little better in cats predisposed to constipation,” says Dr. Angelo Maggiolo, medical director of County Animal Clinic in Yonkers, New York.
While pumpkin is packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc, cats should already be getting enough of these necessary nutrients if they’re on a well-balanced diet.
Pumpkin is a great option for obese cats. As mentioned above, the fiber content will keep them feeling as full as they did before, but pumpkin has far fewer calories than standard cat food. It can also help to reduce hairballs and prevent anal sac issues when fed at mealtime. If you’re feeding your cat pumpkin to support weight loss, aim to replace about 20% of their food with pumpkin.
Canned pumpkin is a popular choice for cats, as it requires no preparation and can be refrigerated for up to a week after opening. Unlike fresh pumpkin, it can easily be found year-round. If you opt to feed your cat canned pumpkin, it’s important to make sure you’re getting plain, unsweetened pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling.
Cats can eat fresh pumpkin, served raw or cooked. When opting for fresh pumpkin, avoid feeding the stem, skin, or pulp to your cat, as those parts lack the nutritional value that the flesh of the pumpkin has. To feed your cat fresh pumpkin, simply chop it up into bite-size pieces or blend it into a purée.
It’s easy to incorporate pumpkin into your cat’s diet. As with any dietary change, you’ll want to do so gradually. “Just 2-3 tablespoons is probably enough at first—you don’t want to shock your cat’s system and give her an upset tummy,” advises Vetted. If you’d like recommendations based on your cat’s specific needs, your veterinarian can offer further guidance.
Most cats do quite well with pumpkin, though as with any food, adverse reactions are possible. Consuming too much pumpkin can cause diarrhea. If this occurs, skip or reduce the amount of pumpkin in the next meal and consult your veterinarian to make dietary adjustments if the issue persists.
Unfortunately, pumpkin pie is best left off the menu for cats. While pumpkin itself is good for cats, the other ingredients traditionally found in pumpkin pie, like sugar and nutmeg, can actually be harmful to them.
Like the flesh of a pumpkin, pumpkin seeds are full of fiber and other nutrients and are safe for cats to eat in moderation. They can be ground up and added to food or fed to cats whole. While they’re safe to eat raw, cats may prefer them lightly toasted. “One or two toasted pumpkin seeds a day can be a healthy alternative to store-bought cat treats,” suggests The Nest.
Though it may be tempting to “recycle” a jack-o-lantern by feeding it to your cat, it’s unwise to do so. “It may have rotted by sitting outside too long,” warns PetMD. If you find that your cat has gotten into an old jack-o-lantern, it’s best to monitor them and take them to the vet if any issues arise.