Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family of plants. Because other plants in this family are known to be incredibly toxic to both humans and animals, many people are concerned about feeding their dogs tomatoes in fear of poisoning their dog.
The toxin found in nightshades is called solanine, which is used by the plant to repel insects. Solanine poisoning is characterized by stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and cardiac dysrhythmia. In extreme cases, it can cause paralysis, hypothermia, and even lead to death.
In tomatoes, solanine is found mainly in the stems and leaves of the plant. Unripe tomatoes also contain some amount of solanine, but this is removed by the time the fruit is ripe and red. In general, you can assume that green parts of the tomato contain solanine, while red parts don’t.
So what does this mean for our canine companions? It means that dogs can eat tomatoes, as long as they’re ripe, regardless of cultivar. In fact, tomatoes are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals that dogs need for a balanced diet, such as beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium. Some dogs absolutely love the taste of tomatoes, and they can make an excellent replacement for other more calorie-dense (and unhealthy) treats.
How to Feed Tomatoes to Your Dog Safely
As with any new food, there is a risk that your dog may react negatively. Some dogs can be allergic to tomatoes, while others may develop digestive or gastrointestinal issues. Other dogs may have certain conditions that are exacerbated by tomatoes and other similar fruits. That’s why it’s so important to speak with your vet or nutritionist before trying out new foods.
Your vet will be able to tell you whether or not tomatoes are acceptable and safe food for your dog. They can also recommend serving sizes as well as danger signs to watch for. Dogs with allergies can react quite severely, and in some cases even go into anaphylactic shock, which may lead to death if not treated. The chances of this happening are incredibly low, but it’s always better to be cautious and start off slow.
When feeding tomatoes to your dog, make sure to wash them thoroughly and remove all stems, leaves, and vines. You can serve tomatoes to your dog either raw or cooked, whichever they prefer. Don’t add additives like salt, as these are unhealthy and unnecessary.
Signs of Solanine Poisoning
Solanine poisoning generally isn’t a concern if you feed your dog store-bought tomatoes as you can control the amount and type they eat. The situation changes if you have tomato plants on your property. Some dogs are compulsive eaters and they may decide that unripened tomatoes off the vine are a great snack when you’re not around. You may even find that your dog chews the stems and leaves of a tomato plant, which contain high amounts of solanine.
It’s important that you keep your dog away from your tomato plants for this reason. You should at least fence off your tomato plants from the rest of the garden, or only allow your dog access to the garden while under your supervision.
Early signs of solanine poisoning include vomiting, confusion, diarrhea, and drowsiness. If you suspect that your dog has been eating green tomatoes or parts of the tomato plant, take your dog to the vet immediately. The earlier your dog is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis and outlook.
What About Tomato Soup and Tomato Sauce?
Ripe tomatoes and cooked tomatoes are both safe for dogs to eat. Tomato-based products should be treated with a bit more caution, as these may contain additional ingredients that may not be good for your dog.
Commercial tomato sauces contain many extra ingredients, including sugar, salt, preservatives, and soy sauce. These ingredients can be unhealthy for your dog and should be avoided. The same is true for commercial tomato soups, which may also contain extra cream that can result in an upset stomach. Always be sure to check the label for any potentially toxic compounds. If you do decide to feed your dog tomato sauce or soup, do so in very small amounts.
A good alternative to commercial tomato sauces and soups is to prepare them yourself. You have more control over what goes into the sauce and how it’s prepared. You can go easy on the salt and sugar in order to make it healthier for your canine best friend. (But keep in mind that tomatoes lose much of their nutritional benefit after they’re cooked. So stick to uncooked, ripe tomatoes whenever possible.)
Despite being part of the nightshade family, ripe tomatoes are safe for your dog to eat. As long as you avoid the green parts of the plant and start off slowly, you’ll soon have your dog asking for more.
Related: Can Dogs Eat Strawberries?