Only in the United States, people consume approximately 88lbs of tomatoes per year and person, which is a lot of tomatoes! They are juicy, work great in salads, on hamburgers, as a side to any dish and as a healthy snack, and tomatoes are also used to make pasta sauce, ketchup and much more.
The bottom line is that we eat a lot more tomatoes than we might even realize, and considering how many of us have dogs, and how often we tend to let our dogs have a taste of our food, there is something we need to ask ourselves – are tomatoes safe for dogs to eat?
Knowledge is your weapon when trying to keep your four-legged friend safe and doing some research to see what is okay for dogs and what isn’t could potentially save your dog’s life someday. Now – let’s talk about tomatoes.
What Is a Tomato?
The tomato comes from a plant known by the scientific name Solanum lycopersicum, and by its common name “tomato plant.” It has its origins in Latin America, and the name comes from “tomatl” – a word in the Aztec language Nahuatl that was later changed to “tomate” by the Spaniards.
The tomato was brought back to Europe during the Spanish colonization of the Americas and eventually spread across the world, and that was the beginning of the global love for tomatoes that we are now experiencing.
Humans eat tomatoes both raw, cooked, fried, made into drinks, sauces and more, and it is a plant that is surprisingly easy to grow. It consists of 95% water, somewhere around 4% carbohydrates and less than 1% of both protein and fat; they are low in calories and rich in vitamin C.
The stem, leaves and the not yet ripe fruit of the plant are unsafe to eat both for humans and dogs, as they contain small amounts of solanine and tomatine – the first being a toxic alkaloid known to exist in, for example, potato leaves. No studies have been made to confirm what consumption would do to a dog, nor to a human, but it is best to stay away from stems, leaves, and unripe fruit.
There is some debate regarding whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, but the truth is that it is both. Fruits are known for being the ripened flower ovary of a plant and it contains seeds, so while this makes the tomato a fruit – most nutritionists consider the tomato a vegetable. This is probably due to most people thinking of vegetables as something you add to the main dish, while the fruit is usually used as a sweet dessert or a snack.
Tomatoes & Dogs
Now let’s look at whether it is okay for our dogs to taste ripe tomato or food items where tomato is one of the ingredients. As mentioned previously, they should never eat unripe fruit due to the levels of solanine, but as the fruit ripens these levels are no longer considered toxic.
This means that there is no real harm in giving your dog the occasional tomato, provided it is fully ripe and that the stem and leaves have been removed. Lack of research makes it difficult to understand the potential long-term effects, so it might, therefore, be better to avoid tomato when giving healthy snacks to our dogs.
Tomatoes do contain certain nutrients that could be beneficial for our dogs, such as fiber to aid with digestion. They also contain beta-carotene that improves cognition, lycopene known to reduce the risk of heart disease, vitamin A and Vitamin C for improved vision and better skin, and they are low in calories.
Simply put – there is no reason to panic if your hungry little fur friend would happen to eat a piece of tomato or lick up some ketchup, but there is also no point in giving your pup tomatoes unless you have to, as there are other vegetables and fruits that come with the same nutrients and fewer health risks, and which you could choose to feed instead.
Tomato Used in Dog Food
For those of you who have ever looked through the ingredients of a few different dog food products, you may have noticed that some contain something called “tomato pomace” (sometimes referred to as dried tomato pomace), and now you are probably wondering if this is okay for your dog to eat?
Tomato Pomace is a by-product obtained during the process of creating ketchup, tomato soup, tomato juice, and other tomato-based products; and it consists of crushed-up skin, seeds and tomato pulp.
It only recently started to be used in the making of dog food products, and it was once a waste-product that would be thrown away after the juicing processes for the previously mentioned food products.
It is high in digestible fiber that helps regulate bowel movements and digestion, and it helps the canine body to absorb more nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Soluble fiber can also help regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol.
Tomato pomace is a dried tomato product, which means that it contains a lot more fiber than a fresh tomato since the water content has already been removed. Is it a nutritious component in dog food? This is where it gets interesting, as it depends on the quality of the tomatoes used to produce the tomato pomace.
A lower quality tomato means fewer nutrients, and a higher quality tomato means more nutrients. What we can say though is that tomato pomace is safe to be used in dog food, and it should not be considered a red flag.
The Dangers of Growing Tomato Plants
The real issue with tomatoes and dogs is if you are growing tomato plants in your garden, or if you have tomato plants growing in pots inside. Considering the risks that come with consuming stems, unripe fruit, and leaves – your dog could get him- or herself in trouble if deciding to chew on the plant.
It is something that can be hard to control if your dog spends time in the yard alone, and by the time you realize they’ve eaten from it – it might already be too late.
For dog owners, it is best to refrain from growing your own tomatoes, because even if your dog has never shown interest in chewing up house plants or plants growing in the yard before, there is no way to tell what your pup might set his mind to.
You also want to double check with people whom you are visiting to make sure they don’t have tomato plants within the reach of your dog, to avoid a costly trip to the vet and a potentially life-threatening condition. If you do feel the need to keep tomato plants at home, just make sure you keep separate from your dog.
Symptoms of Solanine Poisoning
Unfortunately, solanine poisoning in dogs is a real thing, and while it is rare, it is not unheard of. Solanine is mostly found in unripe fruit, stems, and leaves, but ripe tomatoes also contain a very small amount, which could potentially be harmful if consumed in very large quantities.
There are a few symptoms to look for if you think your dog might have eaten off a tomato plant, or if they have gotten into a stash of unripe tomatoes, and the sooner you get your dog to the vet, the better are his or her chances of a full recovery. Some symptoms of Solanine poisoning are the following:
+ Abnormal heart rate
+ Muscle weakness
+ Loss of coordination
It is unlikely that your dog will eat enough tomatoes, leaves or stems for it to cause a significant effect, but there is always a risk, as every dog tends to react differently to tomatoes and other foods. Just because one dog was okay after eating half a tomato plant, another may be affected after consuming as little as one leaf.
There are other fruits and vegetables that you should consider giving your dog instead, and that will provide them with the same or better nutrients than tomato would. Carrots, apples, celery, bananas, strawberries, and blueberries are all great options for snacks; they are safe for your dogs to consume (including the plants, except for the banana peel, which could cause an obstruction), and packed with vitamins and other antioxidants.
If you want to let your dog taste a piece of tomato there is nothing stopping you from doing so, but you do need to make sure the tomato is completely ripe and freed from the stem and any leaves. It is sometimes used in dog food, and it is considered safe to give to dogs.
However, using it as a regular snack is unwise, due to the serotonin levels that may or may not be dangerous in larger quantities, and it would be wiser to pick another fruit or vegetable for your dog. Use common sense, and keep those tomato plants away to avoid any unpleasant and unwanted accidents.