Perhaps it’s part of our collective experience with dogs and domestication that we want to share our food with our pets. After all, many would consider it an act of love. You undoubtedly know about the ones that you shouldn’t give your pup, such as chocolate, onions, or grapes. But you may wonder if the same caution applies to pumpkin vs. sweet potato for dogs. The question is a valid one.
It turns out that while they both offer some health benefits, there’s a compelling reason not to give your pup one of these foods. That applies to offering it to your dog raw or prepared as well as in his regular diet. Let’s delve into the facts about giving your pet these foods to get to the truth of the matter.
It’s vital to begin by saying that neither pumpkins nor sweet potatoes as a treat should make up more than 10 percent of your dog’s daily caloric intake. As nutritionally rich as they are, neither one is a complete food that provides all the essential vitamins and minerals. That’s what your pet’s commercial diet does. But are pumpkins and sweet potatoes good treats?
Raw and canned pumpkin aren’t much different in their nutritional value. Both are over 90 percent water and are low in calories. The latter is probably easier to give your pet. It also has more carbohydrates and dietary fiber, making it the better choice between the two. Pumpkin provides an excellent source of vitamin A, potassium, and other vital nutrients.
Pumpkin is also low in fat and sugar. The fiber content makes it filling and can help your pup stay sated longer. Some vets also recommend it for pets recovering from GI distress for this same reason. Pumpkin acts as a prebiotic in dogs. It can enhance the growth of good bacteria in your pup’s gut. However, the key is moderation.
To clarify, we are referring to plain canned pumpkin and not pie filling. The latter has four times the calories and less of the nutrients that would make the plain version a healthy choice for your pup. It also contains significant amounts of sugars that make it inappropriate to give to puppies or diabetic dogs. Some products may contain other ingredients that may not agree with your pup.
The difference between boiled sweet potatoes and canned varies slightly. While the former has fewer calories, it also has less protein and more fiber. The latter supports good digestive health and is one reason why veterinarians may recommend vegetables to your pet’s diet in general. It’s worth noting that sweet potatoes in any form have more sugar than pumpkin. Therefore, you should limit the amount.
Needless to say, candied sweet potatoes are off the table for the same reasons as pie filling. The added fat and sugar negate any health benefits that sweet potatoes may offer. We suggest saving it for the dinner table.
However, comparing the overall nutritional value of pumpkins and sweet potatoes, the former has the edge on several fronts if you were trying to choose between the two. It is lower in calories and a better source of nutrients. However, there is one other caveat that warrants discussion.
We’ll preface by saying that there isn’t anything toxic per se in either pumpkins or sweet potatoes. It’s not giving your pup macadamia nuts or any other poisonous food. Our cautions have focused primarily on caloric intake and sugar content. Excess amounts can lead to obesity, which is indeed something any pet owner wants to avoid. The risk lies elsewhere.
Sweet Potatoes and Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)
While sweet potatoes are safe on the surface, new concerns have come to light about a rare heart condition called diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This condition has a genetic link in breeds, such as the Irish Wolfhound and Boxer. Veterinarians raised the red flag when DCM started occurring in dogs that weren’t genetically predisposed to getting it.
Cases in dogs that develop a form associated with taurine deficiencies also increased in breeds, such as the Golden Retriever. Taurine is a vital amino acid or protein-building block. Symptoms of DCM include:
- Shortness of breath
An investigation by the FDA has found compelling evidence to suggest a link between DCM and the so-called boutique or grain-free diets. Many of these food substitute ingredients such as lentils and peas for grains. Sweet potatoes were another possible culprit in 42 percent of the cases.
Since that time, the FDA has urged caution and recommending that pet owners reconsider what food they give their pets.
The fact remains that dogs need the carbohydrates that grains can provide to supply energy for their red blood cells and, more importantly, their brains. Also, to be fair, this investigation is ongoing. Researchers aren’t yet sure about what is causing the spike in DCM cases. Right now, all they have is a correlation which doesn’t equate to causation.
However, we’d suggest playing it safe and choosing pumpkin over sweet potatoes until scientists resolve this issue.
Tips for Adding Pumpkin to Your Dog’s Diet
It’s essential to introduce new foods slowly to your pet. You want to make sure that he’s going to like it. It’s also vital to ensure that the pumpkin agrees with your pup’s digestive system. You can try offering him a teaspoon on its own or mixed in your dog’s regular diet. Then, wait.
Food allergies typically exist with animal proteins instead of plant-based foods. However, it’s still a smart idea to monitor your pup the first time after giving him pumpkin to play it safe.
Many dog owners like to give their pets the same foods they eat simply because they know what they’re giving their animals. We understand the importance of the act of sharing for bonding. If you’re considering adding pumpkins or sweet potatoes to your pup’s diet, we suggest opting for the former until the science about sweet potatoes and DCM is complete.