Having a large garden and letting your furry friend run free in it is often a big problem for gardeners. You have all that space, you don’t want to confine your pet and it just wouldn’t be fair to your loved one. Pets can pose huge problems for gardens though and gardens can pose huge problems for pets. Sometimes dogs just don’t know what not to eat, they overrun your garden and chew up your produce and plants. So what about tomatoes specifically? Are they bad for your dog? Is there something to worry about if your pet gets into your garden and eats it all up?
The answer is maybe. There are materials in tomato fruit and tomato plants that can be harmful to canines. Mostly, this harmful material is found in the plants. So, if you feed them a tomato, it is less likely to do harm than if they entered your garden and ate the plant portion as it grew. One of the chemicals found in tomato plants is atropine. It’s present in the fruit, but more abundant in the plant and leaves. Atropine can cause harm to your pet in high doses. It’s not something to pay a ton of attention to, but if your dog rummages through your garden and eats up a large portion of your tomato plants, you may want to look for some of the symptoms of atropine poisoning. These can be confused with a lot of common pet sicknesses, but usually include fatigue (sleeping a lot), weakness and shakiness. More serious symptoms are paralysis and cardiac arrest. Obviously, if you saw either of those latter two symptoms in your pet, you would act immediately. It’s also important to remember that atropine is still present in the tomato fruit itself, just in lower quantity. As the tomato ripens the atropine is metabolized and less of the substance is found in the fruit. So, if you really want to feed your dog tomatoes, you may want to let them ripen longer first.
Another chemical found in tomatoes is tomatine (go figure given the name). It’s an alkaloid which also can affect your dog’s health. Like atropine, it is metabolized as the fruit ripens, so a tomato that has been on the vine longer is usually safer for your pet. If your dog is eating commercially grown tomatoes from the supermarket, you can probably bet there will be little tomatine in them. These tomatoes are often picked while green and given plenty of time to ripen as they are shipped out to various markets, like yours. Some side effects of tomatine poisoning that you may see in your canine are stomach problems, rapid, involuntary movements and a general feeling of weakness.
Of course, tomatoes for dogs is not necessarily an only negative proposition. Like humans, who benefit from the lycopene in tomatoes, it’s possible that dogs do as well. There is no known research on the positive effects of lycopene on dogs, but the research is under investigation. What is known, is that dogs need minerals, antioxidants and vitamins just like any human. Many canine foods are supplemented with critical nutrients and we may see a day where lycopene is included so that dogs can realize the health benefits of tomatoes without suffering from negative side effects.
I think a general rule of thumb with tomatoes and dogs is; stick to dog food. In small doses they are fine, but there is still some harmful chemicals in tomatoes and tomato plants. If your dog gets into your garden space and chews up the plants, just monitor him/her to make sure everything is ok. If they’ve ingested a large amount, you may want to call your vet. I know it’s tempting to show off your produce to everyone, even your pet, but when you’re sharing your tomatoes, try and keep them for your human pals.
Personally, I don’t have pets. When friends come over with a dog, I generally keep them out of my garden. That is the best prevention for this dilemma. Just don’t have dogs rummaging through your tomato crop. The way I look at it, is I have enough pests in my garden. Now I know, dog people could never look at their “best friend” as a pest. But, when it comes to gardening, dogs are an accessory that can contradict your goals. You may love animals, and you may love dogs, but you’ll have to keep those passions separate. If you think about it, by really caring for your pup, you’ll want to keep him or her out of harm’s way, and that means away from tomatoes or other vegetables that could be a diet and health issue. It’s a win-win. Your dog will be safe and your plants will be too.
To summarize: tomatoes in large doses are bad for dogs. Tomatoes in small doses are relatively benign. In fact, the positive effects of lycopene on dogs is unknown, and there may be some benefit to a tomato every now and then.