At some point, all chicken keepers have to contend with parasites in their flock. Many of us are looking for less toxic natural remedies. There are lots of posts in online groups about using pumpkin seeds as a natural dewormer. If that were true it would be a welcome solution so I did a bit of reading to see if the claims were borne out by experience.
Pumpkins are a species of squash native to Mexico. Since colonial exploration pumpkins have spread around the world: in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean pumpkin seeds are part of everyday cuisine, and culinary and medical traditions in India and other parts of Asia also incorporated this food into a place of importance. Currently China is the biggest global producer of pumpkins and pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin seeds—also known as pepitas (Spanish for ‘little seed of squash’)—are flat, dark green seeds. Some are encased in a yellow-white shell and some are without shells. In North America pumpkins are iconic and almost exclusively associated with Halloween jack-o-lanterns and Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.
Like cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, and squash, pumpkins belong to the gourd or Cucurbitaceae family. The most common species of pumpkin used as a source of seeds are Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, and Cucurbita mixta.
Seeds from pumpkins and other squashes, cucumber and cantaloupe are rich in the amino acid cucubitacin. It is this chemical that has been found to act as a paralytic agent to tape worms and roundworms in some some studies. So is feeding your birds pumpkin seeds a natural dewormer?
Whenever I’m looking for fact-based information I wade through all the online posts from well-intentioned chicken keepers and google research studies that are backed up by science. There are mentions of curcubitacin being explored in a variety of livestock (e.g. goats, sheep and horses) as a substitute for conventional dewormers. Some studies were done in labs while others on goats and sheep. One study, specific to chickens, showed pumpkin seeds were moderately effective compared to chemical dewormers.
Highlight from my reading:
- There are well over 100 types of pumpkins: which ones contain the most curcubitacin?
- Curcubitacin can be extracted via hot water, cold water, or an alcohol based extraction (tincture). The medicinal properties may not be available just by eating the seeds.
- Extracts can be administered to livestock in a number of ways: ground seeds, drench or oil. The latter two were found to be more reliable as the amounts given could be more accurately gauged than by ingestion.
- The anti-parasitic benefits are the result of the extracts of pumpkin seeds. It hasn’t been proven that feeding pumpkin seeds has been effective or as effective as chemical dewormers.
- There isn’t a standard dosage requirement for pumpkin seeds to be effective.
- Studies have shown that curcubitacin is somewhat effective on some parasites (roundworms and tapeworms) and totally ineffective on others. When folks recommend pumpkin seeds as a dewormer which species are they referring to?
- Studies have been done specific to chickens and pumpkin seeds but the focus was on weight gain rather than deworming.
My takeaway is that pumpkin seeds might be effective in preventing or treating mild number of worms, but are probably most effective when used in conjunction with other natural remedies like garlic and apple cider vinegar or traditional dewormers (e.g. Ivermectin or Fenbendazole). If you want to confirm what internal parasites your birds are carrying have your veterinarian do a fecal float test. Once you know what you’re dealing with then you’ll be better able to determine what treatment will be most appropriate.
I am a volunteer with, and recipient of weekly produce donations from our local food recovery program. I get loads of pumpkins in the fall and my flock is happy to peck away at the flesh and the seeds. Perhaps they are working to prevent or get rid of roundworms. If not, pumpkin has all kinds of other nutritional benefits: they are high in fibre, protein, omega-6 fats, vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B9 (folate) and K, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, antioxidants, fatty acids and potassium. They also contain beta-carotenes that contribute to the darker yellow-orange colours of egg yolks.
Credits: National Institute of Health; Research Gate; Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education; World’s Healthiest Foods. All photos: Bitchin’ Chickens