As ghoulish faces grin from bright orange pumpkins in celebration of Halloween, we thought it would be good to highlight what to do with them once the lantern Spook Fest is over. As the Woodland Trust points out, 18 thousand tonnes of pumpkin get chucked away in the UK after Halloween each year! It would be a shame to just let them rot or be thrown in the dustbin when they can be so beneficial to the health of our dogs and for wildlife! Isobel Hunt takes a look at the health benefits of pumpkins.

Pumpkins are packed full of nutrients and nutraceuticals. This blog looks at:

  • The health benefits of pumpkins with thanks to the Adored Beast Apothecary, Dogs First, Dog’s Naturally, and Bella and Duke where you can find more information.
  • How they can help feed the birds and other wildlife but not hedgehogs (they can become unwell) with thanks to the Woodland Trust and Hedgehog Street. 
Prudence helping prepare the pumpkin!

Health benefits for dogs

Pumpkins are rich in fibre and contain a good variety of vitamins and minerals including:

  • Vitamin A – beta carotene in the pumpkin converts to Vitamin A in the body. This is good for the eyes and boosts overall immunity and skin health
  • Antioxidants – beta carotene and other carotenoids help lower cancer risk and degenerative disease 
  • Vitamin C – vital for immune health
  • Vitamin E – prevents cell damage, reduces blood pressure and promotes healthy skin and hair
  • Potassium – helps regulate blood pressure, improves muscle health, and assists in metabolism
  • Zinc – improves skin and coat health
  • Iron – vital for red blood cell formation and haemoglobin
  • Phosphorus – key to bone health
  • Magnesium – important in the functioning of hormones and maintaining calcium movement into muscles

Most dogs, regardless of their diet, will benefit from the addition of a little bit of a variety of fresh food added here and there. Nutrient-rich pumpkin is a good choice as highlighted by the following key benefits.

Please note that if you decide to feed pumpkin to your dogs (or yourself) make sure to use the fresh pieces carved out when making your Jack-o-lantern and not when it’s beginning to decompose

Gut health

Pumpkin is a great source of the fibre that’s needed to maintain gut health in general so it’s a good addition to the diet sometimes. It can also help soothe digestive upsets. It may sound weird, but pumpkin can ease your dog’s discomfort from both diarrhoea and constipation. The secret is in the fibre! If the stools are runny, the soluble fibre in pumpkin flesh can absorb the excess water.  For the opposite problem, it can work as a laxative due to the high water and fibre content in the pumpkin helping to bulk up and soften the stool. Some relief either way! The other good thing about fibre such as pumpkin is that it also acts as a prebiotic. This lowers the pH level and feeds the probiotics ((beneficial bacteria) in the gut.

You can feed fresh pumpkin (pureed is best) or tinned (but choose pure pumpkin, not pie filling). Don’t use a pumpkin that’s going off. You only need a little so the rest can be frozen (or made into soup or pumpkin pies for you!). Check out the Adored Beast Apothecary (1) for more information and tips on how to feed pumpkins to your dog. They also feature a recipe for some tasty pumpkin treats.

Worm control

As highlighted by vet Mark Elliot (2), the repeated use of chemical wormers in our animals is causing two major problems:

  • Pollution in our watercourses which is affecting wildlife from source to sea
  • The spread of anthelmintic-resistant parasites

Hedgerow Hounds has a useful blog (3) about the various worms your dog can get along with holistic solutions.

Ironically, chemical wormers don’t prevent parasite infestation and you may be administering them unnecessarily if your dog (or any other animal you look after) doesn’t have a problem. This adds to their chemical load (not good for their health) and pollutes our watercourses. An increasing number of vets now advise that it’s important to do a regular worm count of your dog’s stool and to only use a worming product if it’s necessary. The Hedgerow Hounds blog has a Q and A session with (4) who offer a range of these tests. Some vets offer their own worm counts including Dr Iris Ege, who says that if you’re worried about gut health after using chemical wormers, a combination of pre and probiotics can help.

The other aspect to consider is natural worm prevention. As Iris Ege says (5):

A healthy microbiome and lymphatic system of the gastroIntestinal tract are crucial to overall health as well as being the cornerstones of a robust resistance to parasites.

A fresh species-appropriate diet will help keep your dog healthy and optimise his or her resistance to parasites (external as well as internal). Pre and probiotics along with digestive enzymes may be useful too. Another popular addition to the diet are ground pumpkin seeds. As Dogs First highlighted from a research paper by Dotto et al. (6):

Pumpkin seeds may be tiny, but they are densely packed with useful nutrients and nutraceuticals such as amino acids, phytosterols, unsaturated fatty acids, phenolic compounds, tocopherols, cucurbitacins and valuable minerals. All these bioactive compounds are important to a healthy life and well-being.

Pumpkins are part of the Cucurbitaceae family which also includes cucumbers, gourds, melons and squashes. As the team at Bella and Duke point out (7), ground raw pumpkin seeds release a bioactive compound called cucurbitacin. This amino acid paralyzes the worms and prevents them from attaching to the gut thereby helping to eliminate them. In their look at the benefits of pumpkin seeds in worm control, Dogs First (8) highlighted research (9) that shows them to be as similarly effective as fenbendazole (a key chemical wormer ingredient). Raw organic seeds are best (definitely not the salted roasted variety humans eat). Check out Dogs Naturally for more information (10) on how to feed them to your dog.

Pumpkins also make great enrichment for pigs and chickens. Please note it should only be given to them if it hasn’t been through a kitchen first, as it is illegal to feed waste food to livestock and farm animals in the UK.

Helping wildlife

There are several things you could do once Halloween is over and you’ve harvested the fresh pumpkin flesh for you and your dog:

  • Put them on the compost heap. If necessary, cover them over to thwart any hedgehog raiders (see below) and remove the seeds if you don’t want to grow pumpkins. If you don’t have a compost bin or pile, check your local recycling centre, nearby farms, or community gardens to see if they collect old pumpkins for composting.
  • Bury chunks at least 25cm underground to provide a feast for insects and worms and help improve soil fertility. Again remove the seeds if you’re not going into pumpkin production.
  • Save the seeds. As mentioned above, they are highly nutritious and many birds and small mammals will eat pumpkin seeds if you offer them in your garden either scattered or in a feeder as a special treat. Breaking some of them up with a rolling pin or a food processor would make them easier for smaller birds to tackle. You can feed them alone, mix them with other seeds or add them to suet cakes. The RSPB has advice on general bird feeding (11)
  • Make a pumpkin bird feeder or a snack-o-lantern to hang up or place on your bird table. Be sure to only fill them with enough seed for the wildlife to eat within a few days to prevent the seed from spoiling

Seed eating birds

Pumpkin seeds are likely to attract birds such as Greenfinches, House Sparrows, Starlings, BlueTits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Nuthatches and Jays which are tempted by the high nutritional value of the seeds. This is particularly important for birds preparing for winter and especially those who may be about to migrate or have just arrived from a such long journey in need of recuperation.

Seed eating Great Tit

The Woodland Trust has some great tips for making a feeder and for seed preparation (12). Please note that the feeder should be cleaned out every few days and the pumpkin should be composted once it starts to rot as it could harm the birds feeding on it.


This links to a very important point about leaving pumpkins out for the wildlife in your garden. There’s a need to be wary. Birds, squirrels and foxes all love pumpkins and as food becomes scarcer towards the end of autumn, a little extra food in your garden (please don’t just dump pumpkins in the woods) would be appreciated.

HOWEVER, please note that hedgehogs can become seriously ill from eating pumpkins so it’s important that they are placed above ground or buried for the minibeasts.

Eating too much pumpkin can lead to bloating of the stomach for a hedgehog. It can also cause diarrhoea which in turn will lead to dehydration. This is not good at the best of times but can be particularly fatal for a hedgehog in the build-up to their hibernation period when they should be putting on sufficient weight to help them through the winter. As vet Sian Tranter says (13):

“The pumpkin presents an easy meal and they may gorge on the flesh. This large amount of fibrous fruit is likely to cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea. So, not strictly speaking toxic, but not good for the hogs!”

Please heed the following advice from Hedgehog Street (14):

“To hang the pumpkins off the ground safely out of the reach of ‘hogs”.


Happy Halloween

Useful links

1 Adored Beast Apothecary Pumpkin for Dogs: Good or Bad Idea?

2 Peticide by vet Dr. Mark Elliot – highlights the problems for wildlife, animal and human health caused by the overuse of chemicals in the veterinary industry.

3 The Holistic Approach to Worming by Caroline Hearne of Hedgerow Hounds


5 A Holistic View of Worms and Worming by vet Dr. Iris Ege of AP Vets

6 The potential of pumpkin seeds as a functional food ingredient: A review by Dotto et al. in Science Direct 2020

7 Bella and Duke information on worms and worming in cats and dogs

8 Dogs First – pumpkin information.

9 In vitro and in vivo anthelmintic activity of pumpkin seeds and pomegranate peels extracts against Ascaridia galli – a Science Direct article by Amer et al., 2018

10 Health Benefits of Pumpkin for Dogs Dogs Naturally

11 Ways to feed birds RSPB

12 Woodland Trust What to do with Pumpkins and Pumpkin Seeds

13 Can Hedgehogs Eat Pumpkins by vet Sian Tranter

14 Hedgehog Street – a great source of general hedgehog information

Thanks to Prudence from Anna Webb Dogs

Isobel Hunt

Isobel is a Co-Founder and active CAM4animals supporter along with her Jack Russell who has integrated veterinary care. She has a background in wildlife conservation and writing, and is passionate about the importance of addressing animal welfare and environmental issues.

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