Much confusion and controversy surround the subject of whether pumpkin seeds are a "natural dewormer" for chickens. I am always open to and interested in things that will help me keep my flock healthy. That having been said, I am not one inclined to accept claims that seem too good to be true at face value. I have researched the subject and concluded that that there is no evidence of pumpkin seeds being a general dewormer in chickens. My intention here is to share the information and sources with you so that you can form your own opinions based on facts, not simply what we might like to believe.
The issue of dewormers aside momentarily, my chickens love pumpkins, so whether or not there are any intestinal benefits, they will be treated with this nutritious snack because they enjoy it. Here is my recipe for Peeps' Pumpkin Pie; I hope you try it and that your flock enjoys it as much as mine does!
Peeps' Pumpkin Pie
raw pumpkin flesh & seeds, ground in a food processor or blender
old fashioned oats or steel cut oats
Omega Ultra Egg
Omega Ultra Egg
a dash of cinnamon
a drizzle of molasses (Here's my rationale for adding molasses: if pumpkin seeds are able to paralyze certain intestinal worms as claimed, the worms are not dead and still must be expelled by the bird; molasses acts as a laxative, expediting evacuation. Sounds plausible to me, but who knows?)
Freeze in ice cube trays or plastic containers for nutritious, winter boredom-busters!
Now, back to the technical stuff...
Backyard chicken-keepers are at a disadvantage in addressing internal parasites in their flocks because no studies have been done with either natural or chemical wormers in chickens. According to The Chicken Vet, “(m)ost worm medications have no claim for laying hens. As such, they won’t tell you how long not to eat the eggs after treatment like many antibiotics do. The reason is simple....the research has not been done. It literally costs millions of dollars to get label claims on medications verified to the satisfaction of licensing bodies. Because modern egg farms have essentially no worm infections, it is not cost effective to get the claim on the drug in question.” That is also true of alternative/natural/non-manufactured/herbal remedies, including the ingestion of pumpkin seeds. The research simply has not been done to prove or disprove the effectiveness of pumpkin seeds as a preventative worming measure or treatment option.
There is, however, some literature on the use of pumpkin seeds as dewormers in test tubes, horses and, to a limited degree, in humans. Let’s take a look at some of that literature to get a better understanding of what the pumpkin seeds claims and conclusions are given the data available.
Pumpkins are one variety of the Curcurbita plant family, others include: autumn squash, summer squash, and butternut squash. “[R]esearchers have shown that an ingredient in curcurbita seeds- an unusual amino acid called curcurbitin found only in certain species- kills worms in the test tube. In adequate doses this substance is also believed to paralyze worms in a person’s intestines, enabling the body to flush them out naturally. Tapeworms and roundworms in particular are susceptible. Getting a high enough concentration of the herb to expel worms can be challenging, however, partly because the concentration of curcurbitin varies widely among Curcurbita plants. The concentration of curcurbitin in Curcurbitapepo (pumpkin) can range as much as five percent. Such variations may explain why some investigators have declared the herb ineffective for intestinal worms; there may not have been enough curcurbitin in their samples,or possibly in the variety they were testing. In fact, no one seems quite sure how many curcurbita seeds (or how much curcurbitin) it takes to vanquish worms.These unknowns make it difficult to endorse or dismiss this traditional remedy. Studies on the effectiveness and safety of this substance are conflicting, or there are not enough studies to draw a conclusion.”1
Another article, Dewormer Adjuncts, Control Without, or Along With, Chemicals, written by Karen Briggs and three veterinarians for TheHorse.com essentially echoes the findings of the Pierce publication cited above. This article reviews possible strategies for reducing the risk of parasite transmission in horses. One of the conclusions reached is as follows: “Pumpkin seeds have been used as an herbal remedy for treating parasite infections in horses because the seeds contain the amino acid cucurbitin, which many herbalists consider to be a natural anthelmintic. However, the efficacy of organic/herbal dewormers has never been demonstrated in formal, controlled studies.” 2
Each chicken-keeper should form their own opinions based on facts. Beware of the argument “I feed my chickens pumpkin seeds and they have never had worms therefore, pumpkin seeds are an effective, natural wormer.” That proposition is flawed and unsupported by any evidence. My healthy flock has never had problems with worms either and I do not routinely feed them pumpkin seeds. Those are both coincidences, not evidence of anything.
Taking all of the research into consideration, my opinions are:
1. Since there is no scientific evidence anywhere to suggest that curcurbitin is capable of deworming or reducing the worm load in chickens, I will not rely on pumpkin seeds as a preventative measure or as a treatment option for worm infestations in my flock should it ever be necessary.
2. Since my chickens enjoy pumpkins, I will feed them pumpkins and make them Peeps' Pumpkin Pie while we eagerly await studies of curcurbitin use in chickens.
1 The Apha Practical Guide to Natural Medicines: The First Authoritative Home Reference For Herbs And Natural Remedies, Andrea Pierce, HarperCollins, 1999.
2 Dewormer Adjuncts, Control Without, or Along With, Chemicals, Karen Briggs with Craig Reinemeyer, DVM, PHD; Dennis French, DVM, MS, DIPL, ABVP; and Ray Kaplan, DVM, PHD. www.TheHorse.com, October 2004.
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