Maybe your kitty is having hairball problems. Or perhaps your dog needs to shed a few pounds. Or your dog or cat has recurring bouts of loose poop —or the opposite problem. If your furry companion is afflicted with any of these conditions someone has probably suggested that you try pumpkin (the plain stuff, not the sweetened spiced pie filling) for relief. Why pumpkin? Fiber!

Note: Before making any dietary changes be sure to have your vet rule out conditions such as hypothyroidism, parasites, digestive conditions, etc.

Pumpkin, like all fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans, contains fiber (also called roughage or bulk). Fiber absorbs water and increases the bulk of the intestinal contents, slowing down or speeding up peristalsis, thereby helping to prevent and relieve constipation, control loose poop, and move hairballs through and out the right exit.

In the wild a dogs and cats get their fiber from the fur, bone, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments of prey animals they catch. If you've walked down any of our many urban canyon trails you've probably seen evidence of this in coyote scat.

The fiber that is found in cheaper commercial food is usually the indigestible by-product of food manufacturing. Look at some ingredient panels and you‘ll see beet pulp, grain hulls, grain bran, peanut shells, and powdered cellulose (often from wood pulp).

As you can see, there are a lot of sources of fiber, and they are not all the same, nor do they work the same. The type of fiber in the digestive tract is critical to determining how quickly food passes through as well as how much gas is produced. 

All fiber is not the same, and it doesn’t work in your system the same way, either. Fiber can be categorized by two distinct characteristics: soluble or insoluble. Both are present in plant-based food, but the amount of each varies in different plant food. Here are few examples: 

food (1 cup)

total fiber (grams)

insoluble fiber (grams)

soluble fiber (grams)

pumpkin, cooked

7.1

6.1

1.0

spinach, cooked

5.4

4.3

1.1

sweet potato, cooked

3.6

2.2

1.4

carrot, raw

3.3

1.7

1.6

green beans, cooked

3.7

2.1

1.6

brown rice, cooked

3.5

3.3

0.2

white rice, cooked

0.6

0.5

0.1

flax seed

25.5

11.7

13.8

 

Soluble Fiber
  • dissolves in water and forms a gel that slows down digestion -- very helpful in correcting diarrhea
  • help give stool a softer, bulkier consistency that’s easier to pass
  • increases food volume without adding calories
  • food sources: oats, peas, beans, apples, carrots, psyllium, pumpkin, and the veggie gums: xanthan gun, guar gum, inulin are all good sources of soluble fiber
Insoluble Fiber
  • absorbs water and bulks up, but passes through the GI tract unchanged
  • bulks up and helps move material through the GI tract
  • increases food volume without adding calories
  • food sources: seeds, nuts, beans, green beans, potatoes, green leafy veggies

One other feature, or perhaps concern, about fiber is gas. Again, all fiber is not equal. Soluble fiber can ferment in the large intestine, which helps maintain normal populations of gut flora along with gas. Insoluble fiber just bulks up the intestinal contents and speeds transit time.

Regularity is more than frequency, it’s also a matter of stool consistency and form. Products such as Diggin’ Your Dog Firm Up!, Nummy Tum Tum Organic Pumpkin, Perfect Form from The Honest Kitchen, Fruitables Switch, Weight Loss, and Digestive Supplement, as well as various other baked pumpkin treats can, in moderate amounts, be a healthy addition to your dog or cat’s diet.

Regardless of the type of fiber, adequate water intake in critical to avoid dehydration and constipation.