Pumpkin Alternatives for Dogs

There is more than just pumpkin when it comes to seasonal feeding options.

Today I would like to introduce you to a very old (ancestral) AND new way of eating. As many of you know from previous blogs and podcasts, I feed my dogs a raw food diet. I have not had a processed bag of food (kibble) in my house in at least 10 years. Eating seasonally refers to the practice of consuming foods that are harvested and available during specific times of the year when they are naturally grown and at their peak freshness, I call this next level raw dog feeding. This approach to eating, unfortunately, is not very popular and in my opinion makes a lot sense for us and our pets.

Feeding your dog pumpkin, seasonally and rotationally, can offer several potential benefits. Pumpkin is a nutritious food that can be a healthy addition to your dog’s meals.

Pumpkin is rich in dietary fiber, which can help bring your dog’s digestive system back into balance. It can be particularly useful in alleviating both the occasional diarrhea and constipation in dogs. The soluble fiber in pumpkin can absorb excess water in the intestines, helping to firm up stools, while the insoluble fiber can add bulk to stools and promote regular bowel movements.

Pumpkin is relatively low in calories but can make your dog feel full due to its fiber content. Which makes a great helper when transitioning from a processed food (kibble) that is full of fiber to a low fiber raw dog food diet. Pumpkin is a good source of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as minerals like potassium and iron. These nutrients can support your dog’s overall health, including their immune system, skin, and coat.

If you have been with me awhile, you know feeding pumpkin everyday just for sake of feeding pumpkin drives me nuts! Not because pumpkin is inherently bad but nothing should be fed everyday. Plus, it is very common advice to “add pumpkin” for loose or hard stools without ever finding out the cause of those loose or hard stools. Yes, add some pumpkin for a day or two, then remove it. Do not just stay on it. Heck, I feed it just because I have some in my pantry and it is fall and I like to rotate different foods into my dogs raw food diet on a regular basis. I do not feed pumpkin in spring or summer, I have other options in those seasons.

Seasonal foods are typically harvested at their peak ripeness, which often means they are more nutrient-dense and flavorful. For example, fruits and vegetables picked at the right time tend to have higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. As we head into the colder winter months we should turn our attention to the “cellar stable” produce that is available. Those fruits and veggies that can sit on the counter for weeks, in a cellar for months before going bad. This is the time for pumpkin, squash and potatoes.

Eating seasonally can be more environmentally sustainable because it reduces the need for long-distance transportation and energy-intensive practices like greenhouse cultivation. It can also support local farmers and reduce carbon emissions associated with food transport.

Buying seasonal foods from local farmers and markets can help support the local economy and strengthen community connections. It allows consumers to develop a closer relationship with their local food sources. This is huge in my world, the less I buy from the “big” box stores or online, the better.

Eating seasonally encourages a diverse diet as it naturally rotates the types of foods you consume throughout the year. This variety can provide a broader range of nutrients and flavors in your meals. Where you and your pet live and what time of year determines the “light code” of food. If the UV index goes below a five that’s when you’re not going to have that strong UV light to grow certain foods. This causes a circadian mismatch happening in our pet’s bodies especially in thier gut biome and with thier hormones, eating seasonally can reconnect people and pets with the cycles of nature and the changing seasons, promoting a greater appreciation for the natural world.

When we talk about feeding pumpkin we are usually referring to unsweetened canned pumpkin, not freshly cooked and scooped into our pets bowl (which if you do, fantastic). Another reason to feed pumpkin only seasonlly and occassionally is some canned foods may contain BPA (Bisphenol A), a chemical compound that has been used in the production of certain plastics and epoxy resins. Health concerns about BPA generally revolve around its potential for long-term, low-level exposure and its possible association with various health conditions.

Some of the potential health effects and symptoms associated with BPA exposure, especially with chronic or long-term exposure, include hormone disruption, reproductive health concerns, developmental effects on the brain, behavior and other organs, metabolic effects, cardiovascular effects and cancer.

With the concerns about potential health risks associated with BPA exposure, many manufacturers have switched to BPA-free can linings in response to these concerns. Unfortunately, these same manufacturers claiming BPA-free linings are using chemically similar linings BPS and BPF. Like BPA, they have raised concerns about potential health effects, although they are often considered less researched and understood than BPA itself.

The name of the game when feeding your dog is rotation and now we add in seasonally. Eating the same foods every day can have an impact on the gut microbiome, which consists of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms, residing in the gastrointestinal tract. The gut microbiome is highly responsive to changes in diet, and consuming a limited range of foods regularly can lead to a reduced microbial diversity, dominance of specific bacteria and an impact on nutrient utilization and absorption.

So, what else do I rotate into my pet’s diet with pumpkin? Many varieties of squash are safe for dogs to eat and also provide some nutritional benefits. Just like pumpkin, squash is generally low in calories and contains vitamins and minerals that can be beneficial for your dog’s health.

Here are some squash varieties that are safe for dogs to consume:

**Yellow Squash:** Yellow squash is mild in flavor and easy for dogs to digest. It’s a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as dietary fiber.

**Zucchini:** Zucchini is another mild and low-calorie option for dogs. It’s rich in vitamins and minerals, including potassium and folate.

**Butternut Squash:** Butternut squash is a good source of fiber and essential nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium.

**Acorn Squash:** Acorn squash is safe for dogs and offers similar nutritional benefits to butternut squash.

**Spaghetti Squash:** Spaghetti squash is a popular winter squash variety known for its unique stringy texture that resembles spaghetti when cooked. It is a low-calorie, nutrient-rich vegetable that can be a healthy addition to your diet. This is Mo’s favorite, he knows when it’s cooking! It is a good source of vitamin C, B6 and potassium.

When feeding your dog squash, be sure to:

– Remove any seeds, skin, and tough or uncooked parts, as these can be difficult for dogs to digest. You can leave the skin on cooked yellow squash and zucchini.
– Always cook the squash to make it softer and more easily digestible. I use my InstaPot, super easy. Keep squash and all foods out of the microwave.
– Serve it in small, manageable portions as an occasional addition to your dog’s regular diet.
– Avoid adding any seasonings, spices, or oils, as these can be harmful to dogs.

Pumpkin and some squash varieties are naturally low-carbohydrate vegetables.  On the other hand, white and sweet potatoes are both naturally high in carbohydrates.  

Both white potatoes and sweet potatoes offer various health benefits, but they also have some differences in terms of nutritional content and potential limitations. 

 White potatoes are a starchy vegetable that provides a significant amount of carbohydrates, potassium,  vitamin C, B vitamins and while not as high in fiber as sweet potatoes, white potatoes still contain dietary fiber that can support digestive health and help with feelings of fullness.

Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals, including beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), vitamin C, and potassium. They contain antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage, reduce inflammation, and support overall health. Sweet potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber, and have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes.

I rarely, and I mean, I can’t remember when is the last time I added potato to my dog’s raw food. I stick to the lower carbohydrate squashes if and when I add veg to my dog’s predominantly meat based diet. If you are concerned at all about your dog’s weight eliminate the potato. 

And shall I say it again, rotate, rotate, rotate (including the proteins)! Every food has different nutrient profiles that the body would like to utilize. Plus, we now add the additional layer of the seasons. In the fall and winter stick to those cellar stable fruits and vegetables (this pretty much eliminates fruit). We will re-visit fruit in the spring and summer when there is higher UV to grow more things, by then your pet’s gut will be ready for them.