Pumpkin’s nutrition benefits popular in pet food formulas

Pumpkin, a formerly seasonal ingredient, has since become a year-round choice for pet food formulators who tout its nutritional benefits.

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Pumpkin has long been a food ingredient associated with the fall months, but it’s fast becoming a staple year-round. | Kasefoto | Shutterstock.com
Pumpkin has long been a food ingredient associated with the fall months, but it’s fast becoming a staple year-round. | Kasefoto | Shutterstock.com

Pumpkin has long been a seasonally popular ingredient in both human and pet foods. It immediately brings to mind fall and the accompanying holidays, and its flavor is enjoyed in everything from drinks to desserts, from dog kibble to cat treats. But more and more pet food and treat companies are using pumpkin as a year-round ingredient, touting its nutritional value and compatibility with more premium formulations.

“You always see pumpkin seasonally used [in pet foods], like a more Starbucks approach, where it’s fall and you see more products that are less about celebrating the ingredient and the positive impact it has on animals and more about celebrating the seasonality of pumpkin,” said Mark Sapir, chief marketing officer for raw-focused premium pet food brand Stella & Chewy’s. “Now, at least for us, it’s becoming a more consistent ingredient we use across the board given its nutritional value. As we’ve gotten into the wholesome grains arena, it’s become even more attractive. As a lot more people have moved into wholesome grains where peas and legumes aren’t available, pumpkin has been more readily and widely used as a complement to other ingredients.”

Stella & Chewy's pumpkin quinoa formula

While pumpkin isn’t the cheapest ingredient to source, Stella & Chewy’s says its nutritional benefits make the extra cost worth it to pet owners. | Courtesy Stella & Chewy’s

Nutrition: Vitamin A, fiber among pumpkin’s benefits

The top reason for using pumpkin, according to pet food manufacturers, is for its wealth of nutritional benefits.

“Pumpkin is loaded with fiber, beta-carotene and B vitamins,” said Libby Burr, pet nutritional expert for pet products company West Paw and owner of pet food retailer Bridger Animal Nutrition. “This helps with digestion and supports anal gland health. Fiber in pumpkin is not only good for colon cleaning but is also a prebiotic providing nutrients for the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.”

West Paw creamy treats

West Paw’s creamy dog treats are specifically compatible with treat toys, meant to add to engagement while expanding the company’s presence in edible pet products. | Courtesy West Paw

In addition, high levels of vitamin A and zinc found in pumpkin contribute to skin and coat health, its low-calorie content makes it a good ingredient for weight control formulations, and oils found in both the seeds and the flesh may support urinary health.

Ingredient sees use in all segments of pet food

Pumpkin is a useful ingredient in everything from toppers to food to treats in both the dog and cat spaces, according to industry experts, as its nutritional and palatable benefits serve it well no matter how it’s used.

“We decided to create our Daily Dish pumpkin broth to cater to all dogs and cats and their unique dietary needs,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Company. “Some pets experience allergies or aversions to certain proteins, so we wanted to make an option for those with sensitive stomachs or special diets. It can also be used as a topper for a healthy boost to a pet’s regular food.”

Caru Daily Dish pumpkin broth

Caru’s pumpkin broth serves as a meal topper for cats and dogs, and is made with human-grade ingredients. | Courtesy Caru Pet Food Company

It’s also an accessible ingredient that seems easy for pet owners to get behind.

“There are certainly polarizing ingredients in the pet industry,” said Sapir. “There aren’t many ingredients that seem universally embraced; pumpkin seemingly is one of those ingredients, in our experience. People understand the nutritional benefits and are almost universally excited to have it as an ingredient. It’s allowed our diets to perform better; it’s allowed for better nutrition for our pet parents. Stella & Chewy’s uses pumpkin in both its wet products (such as the grass-fed beef & pumpkin recipe in its Marie’s Mix-Ins line) and in the company’s wholesome grain line (all of its raw-coated kibble wholesome grains recipes contain pumpkin)."

“We firmly believe that dog owners should be familiar with (and know how to pronounce) each and every ingredient because they can find the ingredient in their own kitchen,” said Spencer Williams, CEO and president of West Paw. “For our Creamy Treat collection we carefully selected a limited list of ingredients that are simple, clean and nutritious. Pumpkin fits right in that list.”

Other pet food ingredients to watch

Of course, pumpkin is only a piece of larger ingredient trends that include “clean” pet food labels, “superfood” options and an overall shift to “healthy” formulations.

“Clean, nutritious and familiar ingredients are popular right now,” said Williams. “This includes fruits and vegetables like sweet potato, blueberries and pumpkin. Goat's milk is another trending ingredient that is nutritious and contains probiotics. For proteins, sustainably and humanely raised organ meats, bone broths and nut butters are also trending because they are nutritious and tasty.”

Stella & Chewy’s has also seen an increase in organ meat popularity, according to Sapir.

“For the mainstream pet parent, they’re used to beef and chicken,” he said. “They’re not as familiar with organ meat. Organ meat doesn’t read as sexy on the label, but I think more and more pet parents are understanding how nutrient-dense organ meat is and how palatable it is. You’re seeing manufacturers use it more, and it’s becoming more available [in pet foods].”

Caru has chosen to focus on another traditionally fall-centric fruit growing in popularity.

“In each of our new Daily Dish broths, we chose to incorporate apples into the recipe as we’ve noticed them becoming more popular recently,” said Pettyan. “This fruit pairs very well with our pumpkin flavor and it’s chock full of fiber and vitamin C.”

The trend of using ingredients seasonally has always been popular, especially with pet owners wanting to feel like they’re “treating” their pets on special holidays. But once the ingredients become accepted and the nutritional values become clearer, it makes sense to take a closer look at those ingredients for year-round use.

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