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Can Cats Eat Tomatoes? Facts & Safety Tips

Dean Eby

By Dean Eby

tomatoes on a cutting board

When it comes to the foods that you can and can’t feed your cat, we usually hope for very clear lines and definitive answers. You want to know whether a food is safe or not, and gray areas are not comforting when offering new food to your cat. Tomatoes are a food in that gray area. If you look around at different information sources, you’re likely to find a few different answers regarding the toxicity of this plant for felines. But what is the truth?

The truth is a bit complicated. You might read in some places that all tomatoes are poisonous for cats. At the same time, you might find tomatoes listed as an ingredient in cat foods. Both of these can’t be true simultaneously, can they? Well, sort of. As it turns out, ripe tomato flesh is perfectly safe for cats to consume. However, other parts of the tomato plant and tomato flesh that are not fully ripe could pose a potential hazard for a housecat. Sound a little confusing? Don’t worry. Everything will be clear by the end of this article.

Are Tomatoes Toxic to Cats?

When discussing the toxicity of tomatoes as they relate to cats, you have to make some distinctions between the different parts of the plant and tomato. Furthermore, you must discuss ripe and unripe tomatoes separately. In some cases, tomatoes can be toxic to cats, and so can the other parts of the tomato plant. But tomatoes aren’t always toxic for cats. At times, tomatoes are safe for cats to eat.

Can Cats Eat Ripe Tomatoes?

Ripe tomatoes are the only safe tomatoes for cats to consume. If your cat eats a completely ripe tomato, it shouldn’t suffer any ill effects. You still shouldn’t overfeed tomatoes to your cat as they can cause stomach discomfort. Cats are obligate carnivores and can’t digest plant matter as well as humans or dogs. But there’s nothing in a ripe tomato that’s toxic or dangerous for your cat to eat.

British shorthair cat and tomatoes
Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

Can Cats Eat Unripe Tomatoes?

This is where things start to get interesting. Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family of plants, which includes nightshade, potatoes, eggplants, and more. These plants produce toxic alkaloids that can be harmful or deadly for many creatures if ingested. But the ripened vegetables of these plants have very low concentrations of these dangerous toxins. Rather, the toxins are mainly concentrated in the plant and the fruits that aren’t yet ripe. Stems, leaves, roots, and fruits not yet ready for harvest are all sources of toxins that could easily harm your cat. Unripe tomatoes are not safe for cats to consume.

Are Tomato Plants Poisonous to Cats?

Similar to unripe tomatoes, all the other parts of the tomato plant contain dangerous toxins that could potentially harm your cat. It’s ok for your cat to eat some ripe tomato flesh, but it should never get the chance to consume any part of the tomato plant.

unripe tomatoes
Image Credit: AnnTS, Pixabay

Tomatine and Solanine

Luckily, tomato plants aren’t anywhere near as toxic as other plants in the nightshade family like eggplants and potatoes. If your cat eats part of a tomato plant, it’s far less likely to experience dire consequences than if it eats part of any other nightshade plant. That’s because the toxic alkaloids produced by the tomato plant are different than those made by other plants in the same family.

Most nightshade plants produce solanine, which can be deadly for animals that consume it. Tomato plants, on the other hand, contain tomatine rather than solanine. Granted, they still contain some solanine, but only in small amounts; mainly, tomatoes have tomatine.

While tomatine is still a toxic alkaloid that can be harmful in high doses, it’s nowhere near as dangerous or potent as solanine. This means that tomatoes and tomato plants are far less toxic than other nightshade plants, though you still don’t want your cat to consume any part of the tomato plant, other than the ripened fruit.

Side Effects of Eating Tomatoes for a Cat

Any time you introduce a new food to your feline, it could result in stomach discomfort. This is especially true of any fruits, vegetables, or plant matter since cats don’t have the same ability to digest plants that we do. If you feed too much tomato to your cat, it could result in diarrhea.

Things look a little worse if your cat happens to eat any part of the tomato plant aside from the ripe fruit. Should your cat eat part of the tomato plant, it could cause severe stomach pain, hypersalivation, loss of appetite, weakness, depression, reduced heart rate, and more.

sick cat covered in blanket lies on the window in winter
Image Credit: Germanova Antonina, Shutterstock

What Should You Do if Your Cat Eats a Tomato Plant?

Unfortunately, accidents do sometimes happen. While your cat shouldn’t be too attracted to the tomato plant, if your neighbor is growing some in their garden and your inquisitive cat happens to consume some, it could become a problem. If such a situation occurs, you should seek professional veterinary assistance immediately.

Luckily, the tomato plant isn’t nearly as toxic as a potato plant or eggplant, but it still could cause some health issues for your cat. If your cat happens to eat part of a potato plant, you’ll need to get it to the animal hospital as quickly as you can. Time is limited, as these plants can be fatal for felines when consumed.

Once you get to the vet or animal hospital, they’ll likely want to induce vomiting. However, this is something that only a professional should attempt. You shouldn’t try to get your cat to vomit on your own. More than likely, you’ll just end up hurting your cat and making things even worse. Instead, call the vet as soon as you determine that your cat has consumed part of a plant that it shouldn’t have and let the professionals handle it from there. They’re better equipped to handle such situations.

Are Tomatoes Safe for Felines?

Ripe tomatoes are safe for cats to eat in small amounts. Any new food can cause stomach pain and gastrointestinal issues for your feline, so be sure to offer tomatoes in moderation. Never let your cat eat a tomato that’s not fully ripened or any part of the tomato plant. Since the tomato plant is part of the nightshade family, it produces toxic alkaloids that could be hazardous if your cat consumes any part of the tomato plant or an unripe tomato.

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Featured Image Credit: _Alicja_, Pixabay

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