Updated - Jan 28th, 2021
Tomatoes are one of the most commonly eaten vegetables in the United States, according to Statista. Per capita, we consume between 22-24 lbs of them every year. That’s a lot of tomatoes!
Most of our consumption is through ketchup, salsa, and sauce. The US Dept. of Agriculture also says 97% of home gardens include tomato plants. So offering an occasional tomato to our dogs is common, but is it safe?
The quick answer is that tomatoes are safe for your dog if they are fully ripe (red). If not, there are very serious risks with them.
Let’s look deeper into the tomato and tomato plant to see why.
The down and dirty about tomatoes
The tomato is from the Solanaceae, or Nightshade family, just like white potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. They all contain Solanine and Alpha tomatine, which are toxic to both humans and animals.
The green parts of the tomato plant – the stem, leaves, roots, and unripe fruit – are where Solanine and tomatine is found. The solanine toxicity level is 5%, but as the tomato ripens and becomes red, the toxins decrease to minimal amounts, making them safe for your dog.
The stem and leaves of the plant never lose the 5% toxicity level, making them toxic at all times for your dog.
Signs of tomatine poisoning
If your dog gets into a tomato plant and eats the stem, leaves, the roots, or an unripe tomato, the following signs would show a toxic level of solanine or tomatine. Seek help from your veterinarian immediately.
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Lethargy or drowsiness
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of coordination
Unless your dog has eaten a large amount of the green parts of tomato or a plant, there probably won’t be much more than diarrhea or vomiting. But since there is no clear, proven amount that is safe, it’s better to take precaution and block all plants and green tomatoes from sneaky snackers.
Health benefits of the tomato
If you offer your tail-wagger a ripe, red tomato chunk, there are many health benefits.
Let’s look at the benefits of tomatoes for your dog’s diet.
Tomatoes are low in calories and high in soluble fiber with the added nutrient punch of Lycopene, beta-carotene, potassium and the antioxidant vitamins A and C. Let’s see how these improve your dog’s health.
- Vitamin A: Besides supporting cell function, reproduction, and the immune system, Vitamin A is what beta-carotene becomes once inside a body. Beta-carotene promotes healthy vision.
- Vitamin C: This is a powerful antioxidant that searches out and eliminates free radical molecules that can damage cells. It also supports the immune system by reducing inflammation, fighting some cancers, and reducing cognitive aging.
Dogs synthesize Vitamin C naturally in their livers. If they have high levels of anxiety or have extreme activity levels, it can hinder the liver’s ability to process vitamins. Providing a boost of Vitamin C can support liver synthesis.
- Lycopene and beta carotene: These are carotenoids; powerful antioxidants that seek out and eliminate damage to cells from free-radical molecules. They’re responsible for the red color in the tomato and thought to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and improve the immune system.
- Potassium: Supports healthy kidney and heart function, promotes proper bone density, regulates fluid levels, and helps muscle development.
- Dietary Fiber: Fiber keeps your pup’s bowel movements regular by ensuring things move along the digestive tract. It also helps with weight management by keeping your dog fuller longer after meals. Fiber also slows digestion, which keeps blood sugar from spiking or dropping quickly.
Tomato pomace in commercial dog foods
Many commercial dog foods contain tomato pomace as an additive. Pomace is the crushed up seeds, skin, and pulp of a ripe tomato and holds nutritional benefits for dogs.
Tomato pomace is a soluble fiber offering antioxidants to promote healthy digestion, reduce inflammation, and improve stool quality for your dog. This is the big reason dog food manufacturers include tomato pomace in their foods.
What forms of tomato are safe?
Tomatoes will absorb the toxins from the air into their skins, so organic fruit – like in most home gardens – is the safest and most nutritious for your canine companion.
In large quantities, no fruit or vegetables are completely safe. Moderation is key when offering your dog tomatoes.
Cooking tomatoes aids in the absorption of the nutrients, especially lycopene. It doesn’t matter if they’re stewed, boiled, or dried; just make sure they’re fully ripe, red tomatoes with no added ingredients like salt, garlic, basil, etc.
These won’t add the hydration properties of fresh or cooked tomatoes, but the nutritional value is still present.
Prior to preparing your dog treat, wash off any pesticides or herbicides that could be present on the skin of the tomato.
Look for organic, ripe canned tomatoes with no added ingredients. Some canned products have added salts and sugars that aren’t healthy for your dog. Those packed in water as the only additive are the best.
Ketchup, sauces, and paste
Ketchup and tomato sauces can have many ingredients added in that are not healthy for your dog. They can also include large amounts of garlic or onions, which could cause stomach upset or intestinal upsets.
Processed tomato products like ketchup and sauce may also have added sugars or even artificial sweeteners. Be sure to read the ingredient panels to avoid sweeteners like Xylitol, which is extremely toxic to your dog.
Grape and cherry tomatoes
These are healthy and safe for your pup. They can be eaten whole, but be aware of any choking hazard if your dog gulps them down without a chew. It may be safer to cut them in half before you offer them.
Offer halved or quartered cherry or grape tomato pieces to small dogs to avoid any choking hazard.
Fried green tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes are a treat for humans, but the green tomato has tomatine and solanine, which can sicken your dog. So, as tasty as they are for us dog parents, they are a big no for pups.
Can dogs have allergies to tomatoes?
Just like humans, dogs can have an allergic reaction to many fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes are no exception. That’s why anytime you’re offering your dog a new food, it’s best to go slow with small amounts and watch for any signs of allergy.
Signs of allergy are:
- Skin rash
- Stomach upset
If any of these symptoms are present, stop offering tomatoes and talk to your vet.
Puppies are still developing their immune systems and are prone to gastrointestinal upsets more than adult dogs. Use caution whenever you offer a new food to a puppy.
Snack time! Ideas for DIY tomato dog treats
There are loads of recipes for dog treats involving tomatoes. For example, Tomato sweet potato parmesan treats and Cheesy tomato basil dog treats look good enough for me to try with my dogs as an occasional treat.
You can also try mixing up water, pureed ripe, red tomato, and some gelatin. Pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze for a hydrating snack for your dog.
Or try adding some blueberries, or cranberries to plain yogurt along with some sliced grape tomatoes for a smoothie snack.
Tomatoes added to chopped or sliced green beans, pumpkin, or broccoli make a tasty filling snack if you need to go a bit longer between meals. The fiber will keep your pup satisfied if their meal needs to be delayed without adding unnecessary calories.
Can your dog safely eat tomatoes?
Yes, if you pay attention to the color of the tomato (always red), and moderate the amount, an occasional snack of tomato is healthy and provides nutritional benefits for your dog.
However, when offering new food, watch for allergies, and always check with your veterinarian if your dog has been diagnosed with any diseases or illnesses. In the case of fruits, this is especially important if your dog has diabetes or is overweight.
To keep your dog safe, keep all tomato plants secure. If you think there has been ingestion of the green portions of the plants or any unripe fruit, see a vet immediately. Happy snacking!