Pumpkin Ingestion Warning!

This article has been provided tot he practice by the VPIS (Veterinary Poisons Information Service):

Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo pepo) is a popular autumnal fruit, which has become part of many families’ Halloween festivities. Pets may be exposed at this time of year and poisoning is possible, depending on the source of plant material.

Cucurbitaceae contain bitter tasting substances called tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacins.

Although these substances tend to be bred out of shop-bought fruit, can sometimes be produced spontaneously in food products and lead to adverse effects. Very occasionally, these substances may be found in shop-bought pumpkins through mutation, environmental stress or cross contamination with a wild species. The higher the concentration of cucurbitacins, the more bitter the taste. Cucurbitacins are not denatured through cooking.

Ingestion of non-bitter plant material is unlikely to cause severe signs in animals. Mild, self-limiting gastrointestinal upset can be anticipated in non-herbivores.

However, ingestion of bitter fruit or roots can cause more significant gastrointestinal signs, including abdominal pain, haemorrhagic diarrhoea and severe vomiting. There have also been reports of dehydration, collapse, elevated liver and kidney enzymes. Supportive treatment should include aggressive rehydration and pain relief, as required. The liver and renal function should be monitored, as well as monitoring for potential anaemia.
Based on information from human reports, it can take several days for a full recovery. In chronic exposure, for example field animals which have grazed on the plants, the majority of cases are fatal and therefore the prognosis is poor.

When presented with a possible pumpkin toxicity, it is helpful to establish whether the plant material is bitter.

This may be determined by asking the owner if the plants are home-grown and whether the have eaten the pumpkin themselves.