(Note: Content in this article refers to medical conditions in dogs, and you should always consult a veterinarian when seeking medical advice.)
When one of our dogs develops loose stools or diarrhea, one of our first go-to’s is often canned pumpkin, as recommended by many veterinarians. It is fiber-rich and can help firm up stools quickly. We keep a can or two on hand at all times for these situations.
What is Canned Pumpkin?
Canned pumpkin is simply raw pumpkin that has been pureed and canned. It is high in fiber and low in fat and cholesterol. It is not to be confused with pumpkin pie filling, which also comes in a similar sized can.
Be sure that you purchase plain pumpkin and not canned pumpkin pie filling, as the filling adds sugar and other ingredients that may not be safe for your dog. Sometimes it includes xylitol, an artificial sweetener, which is toxic to dogs. So avoid that at all costs!
When veterinarians recommend canned pumpkin for dog diarrhea, they are referring to pure pumpkin without any added ingredients whatsoever.
In addition to its high fiber content, pumpkin is a great source of potassium and beta-carotene, a carotenoid that converts to vitamin A. It also has vitamins C, E and some B, as well as magnesium.
What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?
Diarrhea in a dog is usually due to an acute inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. There are many possible causes for this condition, ranging from dietary changes to serious illnesses.
If your dog is having chronic diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, you should take them to the veterinarian, as this could indicate a serious medical issue.
Diarrhea is a symptom of many viral infections (parvovirus, distemper, coronavirus, etc.), intestinal parasites (worms, giardia, coccidia, etc.), and diseases (liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, etc.). Poisoning, intestinal obstruction, and reactions to medicines can also cause diarrhea. Trying to treat the symptoms of a serious illness without treating the illness itself is a dangerous approach.
Likewise, if your puppy is having diarrhea of any kind lasting more than a day, you should see your vet. It is not normal, and the puppy should be diagnosed and treated.
If your dog has infrequent or mild cases of diarrhea, you can try to treat the symptoms yourself. Just like with people, often these cases are an upset stomach that will resolve itself in short time.
Some of the most common causes of mild cases of diarrhea in dogs include: stress, a sudden change in the brand or type of dog food, and ingesting something new like table scraps or vegetation.
Benefits of Canned Pumpkin for Dogs
While there is certainly nutritional value for dogs in pumpkin, its biggest benefits are for the digestive system. Although it sounds counterintuitive, pumpkin can actually help treat both diarrhea and constipation, and in both cases, it is the fiber that does most of the work.
If your vet recommends canned pumpkin for your dog’s diarrhea, the soluble fiber content works to absorb the excess water in the gastrointestinal tract, giving your dog’s stool extra bulk and firmness. Fiber fermentation also produces fatty acids that give energy to cells and lower the pH level of the intestines.
For constipation, the fiber’s absorption of water can help ease the stool’s passage through the intestinal tract. With a constipated dog, t’s important to keep your dog hydrated, and even moreso when you add fiber to your dog’s diet. Dehydration only makes constipation worse.
Why not use fresh pumpkin? Although we usually think that fresh vegetables are healthier than canned, in the case of pumpkin for diarrhea, it’s not the case. Because it has less water content, canned pumpkin has a higher concentration of fiber than fresh pumpkin, and fiber it what we want in this situation. It’s also a lot more convenient when your dog has a sudden case of diarrhea at 11pm!
Treating Dog Diarrhea with Canned Pumpkin
Let’s be honest. As dog owners, we know way more about our dogs’ stools than we’d like to admit. Regular, well-formed stools are one indication that our dog is in good health. So when one of our pups develops loose stools or diarrhea, we should be alarmed.
Diarrhea in dogs can have a number of causes, ranging from ingestion of a fatty food to serious illnesses. But as with many short term ailments, we often never know the true cause and chalk it up to “something he ate.”
If your vet suggests using pumpkin for diarrhea, they will also tell you how much of it to feed your dog. Typically, it ranges anywhere from a spoonful for little dog to as much as half a cup for a very large dog, but 1-2 tablespoons of pumpkin is a common amount for most dogs. While some dogs love the taste, others are picky and it’s best to stir it into their regular food to help mask the flavor.
We recommend Libby’s Canned Pumpkin (Amazon affiliate link), but any canned pumpkin free of additives should be fine.
Store the opened can in the fridge after covering it. If you have a small dog and won’t be using an entire can, you can break it into portions and freeze it in bags to thaw and use as needed.
Beware: Pumpkin will change the color of your dog’s stool to orange. If you’re not expecting this, it can be somewhat disturbing, so don’t be freaked out the first time you see this!
If your dog’s diarrhea persists more than a day or so, it’s important that you contact your vet to find out what is causing it. Diarrhea is a symptom of many illnesses and should not be dismissed as insignificant.
Risks of Pumpkin for Dogs
Although pumpkin is generally safe for most dogs when given in moderate amounts, feeding your dog too much pumpkin can pose risks. Any excess of fiber in a dog’s diet can stress the digestive tract which may limit the absorption of nutrients. Stick to moderate amounts of pumpkin and your dog should be fine.
If you are curious as to what other types of people foods that can potentially be risky for dogs to consume, take a look at our in-depth guide to Human Foods Toxic to Dogs.
Other Foods to Give Your Dog with Diarrhea
While pumpkin often works wonder for dog diarrhea, there are several other foods that vets recommend in the alternative. Different foods will work better for different dogs. Once you find one that works, consider yourself lucky and stick with it!
Alternative foods you might try if pumpkin doesn’t work include:
- Baked and Mashed Sweet Potatoes – A good source of fiber, they work similarly to pumpkin.
- Boiled and Mashed Carrots – Bland and loaded with nutrients, they can carrots can help with digestive issues.
- Boiled Chicken and White Rice – A 3-1 ratio of rice to chicken works well.
- Wheat or Oat Bran – Sprinkle some on top of your dog’s food.
Other Uses for Canned Pumpkin
Transitioning from One Food to Another
Pumpkin is also an effective way of transitioning from one food to another. Often, a sudden change in food can upset a dog’s stomach. By adding some pumpkin to each meal (as well as gradually mixing the new food with the old), this transition can be less stressful on your dog’s digestive system.
Pumpkin often has the effect of making a dog feel fuller when eating. When a dog needs to lose weight, substituting some pumpkin for a portion of the dog’s food can reduce the number of calories without leaving the dog feeling hungry. A rough guide is substituting one tablespoon of pumpkin for 1/4 cup food.
Canned pumpkin can certainly provide health benefits and treat diarrhea in some cases for dogs. It’s inexpensive, readily available, a great source of dietary fiber, and low risk. Definitely talk to your vet to see if they recommend trying canned pumpkin for dog diarrhea.