Pumpkin Spice – Naughty or Nice?

Holiday Halloween PumpkinBy Charlotte Flint, DVM
Staff Veterinarian at Pet Poison Helpline

Pumpkin spice foods and drinks are a huge trend this fall!  In addition to the classic Starbucks lattes, we have seen pumpkin spice cookies, breads, bars, ice cream, yogurts, granolas and other cereals, soups, coffees, teas, beer, and other drinks in local stores and restaurants.  A restaurant in California is even selling a pumpkin spice latte hamburger!  As there is no escape from pumpkin spice this fall, it is important to know if these products are toxic if your pet accidentally ingests them.

Pumpkin spice products may or may not actually contain pumpkin.  Pumpkin is not toxic to pets but can cause stomach upset, especially diarrhea because of its fiber content.

Pumpkin spice products are usually flavored with a mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice.  It is important to remember the small amounts of these spices added to flavor foods usually will not be toxic to pets, and the risk of toxicity is highest if a pet gets into essential oils or the spices directly.  Ingestion of very large amounts of cinnamon can potentially cause vomiting, diarrhea, lowered blood sugar, irritation of the mouth and lungs, and possibly changes in heart rate and issues with the liver.  Nutmeg contains a toxin called myristicin, and toxicity can cause symptoms including hallucinations, disorientation, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, dry mouth, abdominal pain, and possibly seizures.   Ingestion of large amounts of ginger can cause stomach upset and lethargy.  Cloves and allspice both contain a compound called eugenol, which can cause liver toxicity in cats.

The other ingredients in pumpkin spice flavored foods are usually the greatest toxic concern.  The caffeine in coffee drinks and alcohol in beer and other alcoholic drinks can cause serious toxicity when ingested by pets.  Rich cookies, breads, and other baked goods can cause stomach upset and possibly pancreatitis, a serious inflammation of the pancreas.  Some baked goods may also contain other toxic ingredients such as raisins, xylitol, macadamia nuts, or chocolate.  Many pets are lactose-intolerant, so yogurts, ice cream, and other milk-based foods can also result in stomach upset.

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to a potential toxin, contact your veterinarian or call Pet Poison Helpline right away at 1-800-213-6680.