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Pumpkin: Scary or Sweet?



Updated 24/10/2016

H B Turner

Should we feed pumpkin & squash to dogs?

For some reason I’ve always had an uncomfortable/irrational negative feeling when people recommend pumpkin or any other of the myriad of varieties of squash, and I have avoided feeding them, or even eating them myself, other than the odd courgette.
Upon further investigation is appears that the calcium to phosphorous ratio within them is not optimum for the use of the body, recommendations being 1:1 or technically 1:0.8 (AAFCO) and squash being closer to 1:2. However recommendations for laboratory animals are between 2:1 & 1:2, as long as Vitamin D levels are high enough, so this shouldn’t be a problem right?

Pumpkin contains high amounts of both alpha and beta carotene, known to boost immune function in older dogs and with side effects of too much being Carotenemia (skin discolouration), known to be harmless and reversed when ingestion is halted, but would we even notice a skin pigmentation change on a non-hairless dog? Pumpkin has over 8,500 i.u. of Vitamin A per 100g (USDA), with recommendations being around 5,000 i.u. and a maximum of 250,000 i.u. (AAFCO) how could this be a risk?

These recommendations are per units per kilogram, not of dogs, but of substance fed, meaning the 8,500 i.u. per 100g of pumpkin, translates to 85,000 i.u. per kilo, within tolerance, but 15 times the daily recommendation.

O.K., so what does that mean?

A Calcium/Phosphate ratio of 1:2, even when providing bones with a ratio of 1:1, cannot be majorly altered, this can lead to increased calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia), this can:

  • weaken bones
    • causing bone pain and muscle weakness
  • create kidney stones
    • also causing excessive thirst frequent urination
  • Effect digestion
    • stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, constipation
  • interfere with brain function
    • causing confusion, lethargy and fatigue
  • effect heart function

Excess quantities of Vitamin A (hypervitaminosis) can lead to:

  • Bone Hypertrophy (bone growths)
  • Ankylosing Spondylosis (bone fusion) of the cervical vertebrae
  • Effects foetal brain and eye development
  • Congenital birth defects – malformations of the eye, skull, lungs & heart
  • Increased inter-cranial pressure (pseudotumor cerebri)
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Skin Irritation
  • Pain in Joints and Bones
  • Coma
  • Death

Prognosis – Guarded to poor due to irreversible liver damage

It also:

  • reduces bone mineral density
  • increases fracture risk

Long term high Vitamin A consumption is associated with an increased risk of:

Kidney damage and aging increase the risk of toxicity, levels of chronic toxicity in people are at 50,000 i.u. per day

These excesses are usually caused by too much liver, rather than coming from vegetable sources, however an important other issue with excess amounts of Vitamin A is that it interferes with Vitamin D absorption, adding to the issue caused by the calcium/phosphorous imbalance, contrary to recommendations and leading to bone loss.

Therefore, the combination of both the calcium/phosphate imbalance and the high amount of Vitamin A causes somewhat of a nutrient clash with far reaching consequences. However, regardless of these repercussions the fact that pumpkin/squash are high in starch (48.3%), which negates protein digestion (see How Starch Negates Proteins), and has a high Glycemic Index (75) is enough for me to personally justify my natural reluctance to feed pumpkin and other squashes, especially as pumpkin has the lowest carb load of the entire squash family.

Further research has brought about another, even stronger reason to avoid these, being the Phenol, Gallic Acid (also found in sweet potato) known to be the source of allergies & intolerances in dogs, which fed on a regular basis can lead to:-

  • Itching
  • Infections of the skin & ear
  • Hot Spots
  • Chronic diarrhoea and/or IBD
  • Vomiting
  • Sreizures
  • Behavioural Problems/hyperactivity
  • Pancreatitis
  • Chronic Liver Disease
  • Lethargy
  • Cancer

Unfortunately the list is not random, dogs with allergies or intolerance to phenols, but given them regularly simply move down the list in ever decreasing health (Khalsa, D. 2015).

With many companies adding pumpkin and other forms of squash into their recipes and a number of nutritionists recommending it as a nutrient source, you the reader must make your own decision.

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