Can I Give My Cat Tomatoes?
There are only a couple of ingredients that are viewed as mandatory for a respectable salad. One of them is lettuce of some variety (obviously), but the other one is far more exciting: tomatoes. Even people who claim to ‘hate’ tomatoes use them in a wide variety of dishes—many of these self-professed tomato haters eat tomatoes on a daily basis in some form. Tomatoes have earned a place in all sorts of food, from pasta and pizza sauces, to soups, to salads, to sandwiches and burgers. Since tomatoes are present in nearly all of our favorite savory dishes, they are one that our pets are often exposed to.
When you’re chopping up vegetables for a dinner salad, it is easy to toss bite-sized pieces of various ingredients to your cat. But, as a responsible pet owner, you know to do a little research before feeding your feline friend a new food. So, can cats, whose stomachs are notoriously picky, eat tomatoes?
The answer: surprisingly, yes, cats can eat tomatoes. While many plant foods are toxic to cats (or so high in starchy carbohydrates that they wreak havoc on their digestive systems), tomatoes are generally considered safe in small amounts. However, it’s important to make sure that the tomatoes are fully ripe, because unripe tomatoes can be very toxic to cats.
Health Benefits of Feeding Your Cat Tomatoes?
What are the health benefits of tomatoes for cats? Actually, they are pretty minimal. Though tomatoes are loaded with the vitamins and minerals that herbivores and many omnivores need to thrive, our cats are obligate carnivores. While our carnivorous cats need many of the same nutrients that we do, their bodies are formulated to acquire these nutrients in different ways. We, as primarily herbivorous humans, get most of our micronutrients from plant sources. Cats evolved differently—their bodies have adapted to pull whatever micronutrients they cannot manufacture on their own from the muscle and organ meats of prey animals.
Since cats’ bodies are accustomed to pulling nutrition out of meat sources, they have largely lost the ability to meet their micronutrient needs with plant sources. Cats are actually lacking many of the enzymes required for digesting high-carbohydrate plant sources. This is most obvious when looking at their saliva: while humans have amylase, a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme, in our saliva, cats do not. So, when you feed a cat tomatoes, it’s a lot like if you fed a person grass. It may fill up their stomach, but they certainly are not going to get much nutrition out of it.
The only noticeable benefit your cat will get from eating tomatoes is dietary fiber. Though cats do not need nearly as much plant fiber as we do (after all, meat contains none whatsoever), a small amount may be beneficial to their health—especially if they are overweight. Since most cats are eating kibble instead of whole prey animals, they often miss out on the benefits of the indigestible animal parts like hair, bones and connective tissues. In an ideal world, our cats would eat whole prey animals all day long. But, in the modern world, indigestible plant fiber makes a good substitute.
The water and fiber found in tomatoes can help regulate your cat’s digestion if they struggle with constipation. Combined with their high water content, tomatoes’ fiber will help ‘sweep out’ your cat’s colon, encouraging fuller, more frequent bowel movements. Just remember that your cat is not adapted to eating large amounts of high-fiber foods—eating just a little bit too much can result in indigestion, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Things to Keep in Mind
Stomach troubles are the biggest problem associated with eating fresh, ripe tomatoes. Though some claim that these versatile fruits are high in the toxic chemical solanine, they are actually much higher in tomatine. Tomatine is not nearly as toxic as solanine, and as the tomato ripens, its tomatine concentration drops dramatically.
Still, since cats are very small and have a low tolerance for plant foods, you may want to familiarize yourself with symptoms of tomatine toxicity. If your cat has severe digestive problems, physical weakness, poor coordination, or frequent stumbling, seek treatment at the vet’s office. As long as they are treated, most cats can expect to make a full recovery.
In the end, you should not be too concerned if your cat gobbles up a slice of ripe tomato off the kitchen floor. Ripe tomatoes, if given in small amounts, are not toxic to your cat, and may have some small health benefits. Cats who are overweight or suffering from constipation may benefit from eating foods like tomatoes, which are high in fiber and water that can improve digestion and keep your cat satiated for longer. Just remember to avoid letting your cat eat unripe tomatoes, or the leaves and stems of the tomato plant, which can result in tomatine toxicity.
Cat Eating Tomato Video: