Can Cats Eat Tomatoes?
Can cats eat tomatoes? You’ve probably had this nagging question at the back of your mind as you watched your little feline companion chomp down on one of these red balls of pure goodness. Well, they’re balls of pure goodness for us, but do they only have goodness in store for our cats?
There’s a lot of conflicting information on the internet about whether tomatoes are kosher for cats or not. The first time I tried to google the subject I left with my head swimming. A lot of websites swear that cats and tomatoes don’t mix while a slew of others swear that they do. It’s really not a first glance type of thing; it needed a little more research from some authoritative sources.
My first instinct, which I think is likely to be yours as well, is that tomatoes should be okay for cats. My cat steals my tomatoes all the time, even rummaging through the rubbish in my bin to get at the ones I throw away. What’s more, some cat foods list tomato as an ingredient. Many cats do the same and appear to be just fine. I’ve seen countless videos of cats eating fruits and vegetables. They seemed just fine too. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Technically, Tomatoes are OK for Cats
Ripe tomatoes are okay for cats. The tomatoes used in cat food, for one, are ripe. This has been supported by many experts in the field. A Michigan State University veterinarian says that we the belief that cats shouldn’t eat tomatoes is a myth. He even admits to giving his cats and dogs tomatoes and various other ripe fruits, sometimes cooking the tomatoes into a paste before offering them to his pets.
Other veterinarians say they’ve never heard of cats contracting illnesses from eating ripe tomatoes. The fact that tomatoes are a listed ingredient in a majority of cat foods is a testament to this, as cats haven’t been reported to be ill after eating the cat food.
Can Tomatoes Be Toxic for Cats?
Again, there’s a lot of conflicting information online on the subject. It helps to know where to look. Wisegeek.com, for example says that all kinds of tomatoes are toxic to cats. According to them, even one cherry tomato can cause severe gastrointestinal upset. Yikes!
Some websites make the claim already made in this article; that ripe tomatoes are okay for cats. It’s the unripe ones and the green parts of the plants that are toxic. But that’s hardly saying anything. What is it about the ripe fruit that makes it safe? What is it about the unripe fruit and the green parts of the plant that make them toxic? If we could pinpoint the exact toxin in certain parts of the tomato plant, then we could definitively say what was safe and what wasn’t.
The Solanine Factor
Some websites site solanine, a toxin present in all plants of the nightshade family, as the culprit that makes tomatoes poisonous. According to an article on Tomatocasual.com, solanine is the poisonous toxin in tomatoes that makes them dangerous for cats. Of course the same article says that this toxin is only contained in unripe tomatoes and should not be a cause for concern in ripe ones.
Tomatine or Solanine?
It’s important to note something about solanine: It’s not the main toxin in tomatoes. Tomatoes actually have an abundance of tomatine. Tomatine is also contained in the fruit, so it might seem a bit strange that ripe tomatoes are perfectly safe for cats despite having tomatine. However, there are a few explanations for this.
First, the levels of tomatine in tomato fruits diminish as the fruit ripens. An unrelated, but interesting fact is that tomatoes also have trace amounts of nicotine that also diminish as the fruit ripens. Maybe eating an unripe tomato is a great alternative to smoking tobacco.
Generally speaking, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and a bunch of other plants related to nightshade produce toxic alkaloids together with nicotine. Meanwhile, while solanine is present in significant quantities in potatoes, it isn’t the case with tomatoes. Tomatoes have more of tomatine, which is also a toxin. However, it isn’t as potent a toxin as solanine. As mentioned earlier, the concentration of solanine in the fruit also reduces drastically as the fruit ripens.
The Green Parts
That said, it’s also important that you do not allow your cat to eat the green parts of the tomato plant. These parts have heavy concentrations of tomatine and some solanine. When a cat ingests these toxins, it can experience some terrible symptoms:
- Excess production of saliva
- Gastrointestinal upset
You probably won’t have to worry about your adult cat eating the green parts of the tomato plant. Cats are extremely choosy with their food. The taste of the green parts isn’t even remotely close to something a cat might find pleasing. Kittens, on the other hand, are extremely curious. If you aren’t careful about them, you’ll have a serious case of “curiosity killed the kitten”. If your kitten or young cat is used to staying indoors, you should be watchful when you let it out so that its inquisitiveness doesn’t lead it to eating tomato plants and other even more dangerous plants.
The Case of the Allergy
Ripe tomatoes are safe, we’ve already established that. However, your cat might still harbor an allergy to the fruit. Try to watch out for symptoms like diarrhoea, irritability, nausea, and loss of balance when your cat eats ripe tomatoes or foods where ripe tomatoes are part of the ingredients. If these symptoms manifest themselves, then your cat probably has an allergy.
Are Tomatoes Good?
We know tomatoes aren’t bad for cats, but does that mean they’re good? Tomatoes have plenty of fibre and water, which help in digestion. These can clean up the cat’s colon and prevent domestication.
As far as the carbohydrates in tomatoes are concerned, cats don’t really benefit. A cat’s intestines are designed to get protein from different sources, like meat. Cats don’t have the requisite resources to digest carbohydrates. For one, they lack the enzyme amylase that digests carbohydrates. Humans have this enzyme in their saliva and so can digest carbohydrates just fine. So while your cat might enjoy tomatoes, they won’t really do anything for it. You’ll still have to give it real food.
Any change in this diet, whether it involves tomatoes or otherwise, might have an adverse effect on your cat, so you shouldn’t switch things up drastically. Tomatoes, on the other hand, should be offered to your cat as no more than a regular snack.
When it comes to tomato greens, you might be thinking everything is okay if you cook them. As it turns out, the alkaloids contained in them aren’t flushed out by cooking. The enzymes that produce them will be killed, sure, but the alkaloids themselves will remain. Your cat could still be poisoned by these alkaloids.
Can cats eat tomatoes? Yes they can if the tomatoes are ripe. Should they eat tomatoes? Not as their main diet, and definitely not if they’re allergic to the fruit. Be sure to give your cat only what’s good for him or her and the two of you will have many happy years together.