Dogs can eat a variety of foods humans typically consume. However, quite a few of those foods are not meant for consumption by your pet – which includes onions, chocolate, macadamias, blue cheese, milk, and every other food item that contains caffeine or alcohol. Are tomatoes included in this “almost-forbidden” food list too?
Though not staple dog food, dogs can eat tomatoes occasionally. But there are certain risks that you must be wary of. Green, unripe tomatoes, and the stems and leaves of the plant contain tomatine and other compounds that could pose major health issues to your dog upon ingestion.
Keep reading to learn when is it okay to feed your dog tomatoes, the quantity deemed acceptable, etc. and whether there are any benefits to feeding dogs tomatoes in the first place.
Why is Tomato Considered Bad for Dogs?
Most pet dog owners are usually extra-cautious about feeding their dogs tomatoes as the vegetable belongs to the “nightshade plant” family, called Solanaceae. For those unaware, the nightshade plant family comprises eggplant, bell peppers, potatoes, etc. too. These plants produce solanine, a toxic alkaloid, among other hazardous compounds.
The Solanine Factor
Solanine is not necessarily bad – at least not for the specific plants themselves. The chemical compound, in fact, constitutes the defense mechanism of these plants, rendering them unattractive or unappetizing to insects and animals that try to consume them. The compound also ensures no fungal or bacterial infections in the plants.
Solanine, however, becomes an issue when it’s consumed by humans and animals. Nightshade vegetables, when ingested in large quantities, could be inflammatory. If your vet has confirmed an inflammatory condition in your pet, such as inflammatory bowel syndrome, nightshade vegetables or plants should be strictly out of bounds for your dog.
“Tomatine” is Another Element to Be Wary Of
Besides containing solanine, raw tomatoes have a slightly altered form of alkaloid too, called tomatine. Tomatine is found in all green portions of the tomato plant, which include its leaves and stems. Green tomatoes are also rich sources of tomatine. Kindly note the phrase “green tomatoes” here denotes unripened, immature tomatoes and not the naturally green tomato variety.
Like solanine, tomatine is also toxic but not as noxious as the former. Tomatine is a comparatively benign glycoalkaloid found in the leaves and stems of tomato plants and also in the unripened (green) tomato fruit. Raw tomatoes are much more likely to have the stem and leaves attached to them, which only further increases their toxicity.
Tomatine and Solanine are Primarily Animal-Hostile
Tomatine and solanine are major threats to dogs and other grazing animals as humans are unlikely to eat or cook dishes that contain tomato plant leaves or stems. Tomato plant leaves and stems are not sold in grocery shops either. Also, unripe tomatoes are not part of the human diet in pretty much all cultures across the globe. Dogs are at risk as they have the tendency to rummage around.
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When ingested in large quantities, the chemical compounds could cause gastrointestinal issues and a host of other medical concerns in your pet canine, including liver and heart damage. Foliage and green tomatoes could even hurt grazing animals, such as horses and cows.
Can tomatine consumption be fatal in dogs? Tomatine can be poisonous, and there have been instances of dogs having died eating leaves of the tomato plant. However, such occurrences are extremely rare. For a canine to die of tomatine poisoning, it should have consumed tomato leaves or any tomatine-rich part of the plant in huge quantities.
Though dogs and most other animals can eat all kinds of stuff without limits, most dogs do not reach the stage of having consumed too much tomatine. Before falling prey to the toxic compound, the canine is more likely to experience vomiting and diarrhea first.
Signs of Tomato Poisoning in Your Dog, and Likely Treatment
If you have a tomato plant in your backyard and your dog isn’t trained to not eat plants, the chances of your dog chewing on the leaves and stems of the plant or eating green tomatoes are high.
The following are tomato or tomatine poisoning signs you should look out for if your dog ends up munching on those raw tomatoes:
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Loss of coordination
- Cardiac issues
- Muscle weakness
These symptoms are not common and manifest only if your dog has consumed inordinate amounts of green tomatoes, which is a hard feat to achieve for any dog. Regardless, it’s always recommended to keep your canine pet away from your tomato garden – either by fencing the area off or closely supervising your dog’s activity when it’s let loose.
Also, make sure your dog has no stomach issues if you are planning to feed the dog ripe tomatoes. There are some dogs – based on their breed and/or body composition – that could have problems assimilating tomatoes and other acidic foods. If your dog has gut issues and it happens to eat tomatoes in increased quantities, serious allergic reactions are likely. In certain rare scenarios, a potentially fatal condition called anaphylaxis could also be likely.
If you are not sure your dog has an underlying medical condition, such as gastrointestinal issues or acid reflux, and you are considering feeding the dog tomatoes, let your vet know what you and your dog are up to.
If your dog experiences any of the symptoms mentioned above, take it to a vet at the earliest. For poisoning, the treatment typically administered is fluid therapy wherein fluids and electrolytes are pumped into the canine’s body to remedy the dehydration linked with the poisoning and flush out the toxins. Fluid therapy could be delivered either via the veins or the abdominal wall or under the skin.
How to Feed Dogs Ripe Tomatoes and The Benefits
If you’ve confirmed your dog is not predisposed to tomatine poisoning, go ahead and feed your dog some tomatoes. However, make sure you select red, ripe tomatoes that have their leaves, vines, and stems removed. When green and young, a tomato contains increased levels of tomatine and solanine. The concentration of those compounds decreases rapidly as the tomato matures or ripens, rendering them safe for consumption.
Also, serve your pet fresh tomatoes, with zero additives like salt. Most importantly, make sure the tomatoes were grown organically or with little to no use of pesticides. Also, make sure the vegetable is rinsed well, particularly if it isn’t organic. As an additional safety measure, you may peel off the skin of the tomato before feeding it to your pet.
To confirm your dog can safely ingest ripe tomatoes, start feeding your dog tomatoes in small quantities, and wait for visible reactions. If your dog can seemingly digest or tolerate the vegetable, go ahead and add tomatoes to your dog’s list of snacks. A dog that has no issues eating tomatoes would not just relish it but will also benefit from it.
Tomatoes are high in fiber – which is great for digestion and general gut health – and low in calories. Healthy digestion means regular bowel movements. Most importantly, tomatoes have lycopene that helps bring down heart disease risks and promotes strong and healthy bones.
Here are a few other canine-beneficial nutrients found in ripe tomatoes:
- Beta-carotene boosts cognition and prevents metabolic syndrome
- Vitamin C is great for your dog’s skin
- Vitamin A helps with its vision
Fully grown tomatoes also contain folate, potassium, and other minerals that ensure muscle health and controlled blood pressure. Unlike a potato, another nightshade vegetable, tomatoes have zero starch in them, which means tomatoes are a lot more digestion-friendly too.
Feeding Your Dog Tomato-Based Products
Like ripe tomatoes, dogs can safely consume cooked tomatoes too. Many dog foods, in fact, have tomato pomace as a common ingredient. Tomato pomace is essentially a by-product of tomato or it is what’s left over after the tomatoes have been processed for juice, soup, ketchup, etc. Pomace typically consists of tomato skin, seeds, and pulp.
As far as tomato-based products go, certain things need consideration. Store-bought tomato-based products, such as soups, sauces, and juices, are deemed unhealthy for canines because they contain sugar, salt, artificial flavors, and other harmful ingredients.
Most tomato or red sauces (including tomato soups) also contain onions, garlic, and chives which are not great for your dog. If your pet really fancies tomato soups and sauces, make those foods or condiments at home.
If you’re making ketchup at home, keep things simple or plain. Do not throw in spicy flavors such as sriracha or jalapeno. Dogs do not have digestive tracts designed to assimilate foods such as jalapenos or serrano. Sriracha, on the other hand, can be too spicy for your dog to handle.
After having considered the pros and cons of feeding a dog tomatoes, it is safe to say that canines should not have issues ingesting ripe, red tomatoes. The toxicities mentioned above develop only if the consumption is in massive amounts. On the other hand, even smaller quantities of green or unripe tomatoes should not be on your dog’s food plate.
If you grow your own tomatoes, that’s great because you’ll have organic tomatoes to feed your pet. But you need to be a bit careful with your dog’s interaction with your tomato garden as some dogs have the tendency to nibble on plants, particularly if the puppy is young.
Shawn Manaher is a serial entrepreneur but when he isn’t working, he loves dogs. He’s owned different pets over the years, and always gives a part of his heart to each pet.