That Amazing Pumpkin

This is another piece expanded from Northern Virginia Today that published easrly Oct 2018.

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Did you know there are over 40 kinds of pumpkins?  They range in size from the tiny Jack Be Little to the huge Atlantic Giant.  Pumpkins come in a variety of colors including the orange, blueish, white, and multicolored. Botanically speaking, pumpkins are members of the squash family. Considered vegetables for culinary purposes, pumpkins are fruits because they are the seed-bearing fruits of flowering plants.

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Uhura – (c) West Wind Dog Training

Some of you may be thinking “Karen, why are you talking about pumpkins in a pet column?” Simple, pumpkins are a great thing for many of our pets! Why not cover the Great Pumpkin (see what I did there) at this time of year?

Pumpkins are high in fiber, low in fat and cholesterol, and loaded with various vitamins and minerals.  The seeds contain Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Pumpkin can help prevent hairballs in cats.  Pumpkin is often recommended to help with diarrhea and constipation in pets. However, this does not mean you should go self-treating issues. You need to know what is causing the problem and if pumpkin will help. Being high in fiber and lower in fat and cholesterol, pumpkin can be used as part of a weight loss program. When working on weight loss with my dogs, I often replace part of one meal with a blend of rice and vegetables with a good canned dog food. Even my dogs not watching weight love getting a scoop of this in their food.  If you do not want to go through the hassle of cleaning and cooking pumpkin, buy canned puree.  Do not buy the premade pie filling as it is sweetened.

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Foster – (c) West Wind Dog Training

Pumpkins and their seeds make great treats for various rodents.  My daughter’s rat and chinchilla love them. Many of our small pets have loved chewing on pumpkin chunks. However, since dietary needs vary species to species, make certain this is an appropriate treat for your specific pet.

Pumpkins are great for enrichment.  At the end of the Halloween season, many zoos ask for pumpkins to be donated for enrichment activities.  Holes are great for climbing through.  Other foods can be hidden inside the fruit. You can make bird feeders out of them. Pumpkins can be hung for more challenging activities.  Many things good zoos do for habitat enrichment can be adapted for our pets.  You can hang pumpkins from tree branches and fill them with seeds and dried mealworms and make a temporary bird feeder. However, I would not use pumpkins that have been used with fog machines, painted, or left out and beginning to mold. Be careful however, these may also attract bear and other wild life you may not want hanging around.

Mix together pureed pumpkin, plain yogurt and peanut butter (make sure there is no xylitol in the yogurt or peanut butter) and fill a Kong or similar toy meant to hold things to be licked out.  Freeze for a longer lasting treat.

Finally, you can use pumpkin in a variety of dog cookie recipes (rats, mice and other small pets may like these too).

1 can pureed pumpkin

½ cup peanut butter

½ cup rolled oats,

enough rice flour to make a stiff dough you can roll. 

Preheat oven to 350F.  Roll dough to ¼” thick.  Cut with cookie cutter and bake 8 – 10 minutes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or lightly oiled. Variations on this include omitting peanut butter and using a baked, mashed apple or a large, shredded carrot.  If making treats for small pets, use a bottle cap as a cookie cutter.

Next time you go shopping, get some pumpkin. It is a great food for many pets and can add a healthier form of enrichment to their lives.

– Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Traning

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