Round, red, juicy, delicious. Tomatoes. Packed full of vitamin C. Humans eat tons of them, literally: according to the Department of Agriculture, each person eats about 88 lbs of tomatoes per year in the U.S. Considering how many Americans have dogs, and how often we share some of our human foods with our dogs, you have to imagine people are tempted to share their tomatoes with their pets. But can dogs eat tomatoes?
The answer is yes and no. Snacking on the flesh of a fresh red tomato isn’t going to hurt your dog. But dogs should never eat tomato leaves or stems, and they can’t have green, unripe tomatoes, either. After the fruit ripens, the levels of solanine are no longer toxic.
Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family, which means they contain a substance called solanine in the stem and leaves. Solanine is dangerous for dogs in large amounts. (Nightshades also include tomatillos, potatoes, eggplant, bell and hot peppers, blueberries, and goji berries.)
Because solanine is most prevalent in tomato stems and leaves (the green parts), as well as in the green fruit before it ripens, dog owners with vegetable gardens should make sure their dogs are kept away from tomato plants. Exposure or ingestion of unripe tomatoes and their stems and leaves can be dangerous.
This doesn’t mean you have to hide tomatoes from your dog. Just store them safely out of reach. And if you’re tempted to share a bite of tomato with your dog, make sure the tomato is fully ripe, and that the stem and leaves have been removed.
The good news is that solanine poisoning is rare in dogs. If you suspect that your dog has consumed raw tomatoes, including stems and leaves, look for the following symptoms:
Gastrointestinal upset (an upset stomach)
Loss of coordination
Fortunately, this kind of reaction is rare, and poisoning is treatable. Your dog would probably have to eat large amounts of stems and leaves of the tomato to get seriously ill. However, minor symptoms, including gastrointestinal distress, can occur from even small amounts. If your dog has eaten green tomatoes or tomato leaves or stems, especially in large quantities, keep an eye on them, and call your veterinarian to be safe. And if your dog shows any of the above signs, go to the emergency vet right away.
Some dogs may show an allergic reaction to tomatoes, but again, this is quite rare. An allergic reaction could manifest as hives, coughing, wheezing, swelling, or difficulty breathing. Any of these reactions warrant a call to the vet, just to be safe.
Although the stems and leaves of tomatoes are bad for dogs, ripe tomato flesh is actually considered non-toxic. So don’t worry if your dog sneaks a tomato out of your salad—it’s perfectly safe for them to snack on a ripe tomato! Tomatoes are chock-full of fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and can even be a digestive aid—as long as they’re ripe.
Many dogs don’t even like tomatoes because of the texture (and because, hey, it’s not a juicy steak). But if your dog is curious, you can offer them a bite-sized piece of ripe tomato. Or, try tossing a grape or cherry tomato into their mouths. Some dogs love the sweet, juicy vegetable/fruit, and others—like mine—will just spit it out and walk away.
A word of caution—some dogs will show more interested in tomato foods like tomato sauce, probably because it often comes with delicious pasta (which in some European countries is commonly fed to dogs). However, tomato sauce contains additional ingredients like garlic and onions, which can also cause an upset stomach. If you’re going to feed your dog tomatoes, it’s best to stick to small pieces of whole, ripe tomatoes and skip the sauce.
If your dog shows an interest in a tomato garden or plant, it’s best to ensure that the dog cannot access the plants or ingest any of the unripened tomatoes or green parts of the tomato plants. If you have an outdoor garden, consider fencing it off. If you grow your tomatoes indoors, be sure that they’re where your dog cannot reach them. If your dog accidentally gets into the garden, watch her for the symptoms listed above and call the vet if you have any concerns.
We offer a collection of articles on foods that are healthy or dangerous for dogs to eat, covering everything from grains, fruits, and vegetables. You might also be interested in reading “Can My Dog Eat Potatoes?”
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