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Grey and white cat next to tomatoes

The essentials

  • Cats can only eat ripe red tomatoes — They can’t eat unripe green tomatoes or the leaves and stems of tomato plants. Because tomatoes pose such a high risk of toxicity, many pet parents decide against feeding their cats tomatoes altogether.
  • Cats get most of their nutritional needs from animal products — They’re obligate carnivores that don’t have the enzymes needed to absorb valuable nutrients from fruits and vegetables.
  • Most cats won’t even be interested in eating tomatoes — Some curious kitties might take an interest if they see their owners eating them, but the taste probably won’t do much for them.

Of all the foods you’d think to give your pet as a treat, chances are tomato isn’t high on the list. Often mislabeled as vegetables for their savory taste, tomatoes are actually fruits belonging to the nightshade family of crops like potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tobacco. Humans enjoy several health benefits from the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found inside tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean they’re beneficial for our beloved cats and dogs, with gastrointestinal systems very different from our own.

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means their diets should consist of at least 70% meat. They can still eat certain fruits, vegetables, and grains, but they don’t require these foods as humans do. Veterinarians agree that most cats should receive  their nutrition from balanced, professionally-formulated commercial cat food. However, there are safe ways to give your cat small amounts of certain “people foods,” including tomatoes.

🚨 Never put your cat on a vegan or vegetarian diet. 

Are tomatoes safe for cats? 

While some tomatoes are safe for cats to eat in small amounts, many tomatoes are not. Unripened tomatoes and all parts of the tomato plant, including stems and leaves, contain a compound called solanine, which is toxic to cats, dogs, horses, and many other animals. If eaten in large quantities, the solanine in tomatoes can cause cats gastrointestinal distress and lead to other health problems, including lethargy, a dangerously slow heart rate (known as bradycardia), severe vomiting, and diarrhea.

Cooking green tomatoes can help neutralize the solanine in them and make them safer for your cat to eat, but even these, in large enough quantities, can lead to stomach upset. Tomato-based products like ketchup, soup, juices, and sauces aren’t usually safe because they contain toxins like garlic, onion, and salt. For these reasons, we only recommend feeding your cat one or two bites of the ripened flesh from fresh red tomatoes.

Benefits of cats eating tomatoes 

Like many other fruits and vegetables, tomatoes are packed with nutrients essential to the health of human beings. However, cats are carnivores with digestive systems undesigned to break down plant-based foods. This means they can’t absorb the nutrients in fruits and vegetables the same way we can and are incapable of receiving the same health benefits. Some possible benefits of tomatoes include:

  • Digestive health. Tomatoes are high in fiber and water, which may boost a kitty’s gastrointestinal system and help keep them hydrated. However, other potentially safer plant sources of fiber and water include spinach, blueberries, pumpkin, and green beans.
  • Boosted immune system. The magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants in tomatoes can boost a cat’s immune system and help prevent life-threatening diseases like cancer.

Risks of cats eating tomatoes 

While it’s unclear whether tomatoes can definitively benefit a cat’s health, they absolutely pose some major health risks. These include:

  • Toxicity. Cats that consume unripe tomatoes, green tomatoes, or the stems and leaves of tomato plants may experience gastrointestinal upset characterized by vomiting and diarrhea, as well as lack of energy (lethargy), weakness, and confusion.
  • Salt poisoning. Store-bought products like tomato soup, tomato sauce, and tomato juice often contain high levels of salt, which is also toxic to cats. Symptoms of salt poisoning (also known as sodium ion poisoning) include vomiting, diarrhea, reduced appetite, excessive thirst, excessive urination, lack of energy, and lack of coordination. Pets with extreme cases of salt poisoning may also experience tremors, seizures, comas, and even death.
  • Added sugars. Most store-bought tomato products also contain high amounts of added sugars that cats can’t properly digest. Exposure to these sugars can lead to unwanted weight gain and diabetes, as well as accompanying symptoms like arthritis and dental issues. Even if a product is labeled sugar-free, you should avoid feeding any to your pet, as it likely contains the artificial sweetener xylitol , a known toxin for dogs and a potential toxin for cats and other animals.
  • Allergies and sensitivities. Every cat’s digestive system and nutritional needs are different from the rest. Some cats may have a sensitivity to tomatoes that brings on sneezing and other symptoms of food allergies.

The feeding of tomatoes to cats should be avoided, as should the feeding of potatoes, as there is a higher risk of toxicity and need for veterinary care and hospitalizations as they can get very sick.

Bruce Armstrong, DVM

How to safely feed cats tomatoes 

Cats are notoriously picky eaters with significantly fewer taste buds than either humans or dogs. This makes them incapable of experiencing certain flavors like sweetness, which means most cats probably won’t be interested in eating tomatoes after trying a bite. If your cat hasn’t tried the fruit yet and seems curious about eating some, serve them in a way that makes the experience safe and enjoyable.

  • Consult a professional — Always ask a vet before introducing any new food into your cat’s diet. As a general rule, cats with any underlying medical conditions should never be fed foods that can potentially harm them, including tomatoes.
  • Stick to small amounts — Vets recommend only giving your cat one or two bites of ripened tomato flesh at a time (if at all). While cats may be able to get small amounts of nutrition from tomatoes, they should only ever be given as a treat.
  • Give them fresh red tomatoes — Never feed your cat green tomatoes, unripened tomatoes, or any store-bought tomato products. Some commercial cat food formulas include tomato paste as an ingredient, but this is usually made from ripe tomatoes and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
  • Monitor their response — Keep an eye on your cat after feeding them tomatoes to make sure they don’t experience any adverse effects, including food sensitivities or allergies.  Contact your vet immediately if your cat shows any negative response after eating tomatoes.

🚨 Never force any food on your cat, whether it’s commercially-prepared cat food or people food. 

Tomato alternatives for cats 

Since tomatoes and tomato-based products pose potential risks to cats, they aren’t usually considered a good or healthy treat. However, your cat can still enjoy the nutrients found in tomatoes by consuming other healthier, safer, tastier foods. These include:

  • Cat treats. Vet-formulated cat treats are made exclusively with safe ingredients and designed to give your kitten their necessary vitamins and minerals. As with any treat, commercial cat treats should make up no more than 10% of your cat’s diet.
  • Fish. Salmon and tuna are some of the tastiest and most nutritious human foods for cats. They’re great sources of high-quality protein and omega-3 fats, loaded with many of the same nutrients as tomatoes, including potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants. Just be careful not to give your cat too much fish in one sitting, as large quantities contain more of these nutrients than they need and can eventually lead to health complications like obesity and pancreatitis.
  • Meat. Lean grass-fed beef and free-range chicken promote the production of essential antioxidants in cats and can make for excellent treats in moderation so long as they’re cooked and unseasoned. One cup of cooked, chopped chicken contains about 312 milligrams of potassium, about the amount cats should receive daily. Remove all bones before feeding meat to your cat, as they pose a potential choking hazard.
  • Eggs. Fully-cooked eggs are a tasty, healthy treat for cats, containing antioxidants and several amino acids needed to build essential proteins in the body. Cats can also absorb the nutrients in eggs, an animal product, more easily than they could from tomatoes. Just be careful to never feed your cat raw eggs.
  • White beans. You shouldn’t feed your cat cooked beans regularly, but they’re safer than tomatoes and make for a rich, healthy source of potassium when cooked and served plain.
  • Leafy greens. Spinach and lettuce are great sources of dietary fiber and have a high water content, both of which are great for keeping your cat hydrated and promoting a healthy digestive system. Like tomatoes, leafy greens are also rich in magnesium, which helps prevent constipation and urinary disorders.
  • Pumpkin and squash. Pumpkin and squash are safe sources of fiber that are great for promoting a healthy digestive system and preventing constipation in cats. They’re also high in vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C, and beta carotene, and are commonly used as supplements in overweight cats’ diets to leave them feeling full without all the extra calories.

There’s nothing wrong with feeding your cat small amounts of safe human foods now and then, but tomatoes are an unnecessarily risky treat that doesn’t offer cats a lot of nutrition. The best way to keep your cat healthy is to feed them a balanced diet mainly made up of vet-formulated cat food. If your cat seems curious about trying human food, consider one of the healthy alternatives listed above. If they’re particularly keen on trying tomatoes, give them only a small amount of ripe, red tomato flesh.

See your veterinarian before giving your cat tomatoes or any other human food, and ask them about your cat’s specific nutritional needs to ensure you’re feeding them the diet they need to thrive.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if a cat eats a tomato?

If your cat eats a small piece of tomato skin that’s dropped on the kitchen floor, there’s usually no cause for concern. However, cats that consume large amounts of the unripe fruit or any other part of the tomato plant may experience gastrointestinal upset in the form of severe vomiting and diarrhea, as well as slow heart rate, excessive salivation, weakness, drowsiness, confusion, and other behavioral changes. Keep a close eye on your cat if you know they’ve eaten tomato, and seek immediate veterinary attention if they exhibit an adverse reaction.

Why does my cat want to eat tomatoes?

Most cats are uninterested in tomatoes since they lack the taste bud receptors required to taste the sweetness of the fruit. If a cat seems curious about trying tomatoes, it’s likely because they’ve seen their owner eating them. In other cases, cats may try different foods because they’re lacking something in their daily diet. Keep a close eye on your cat and contact your vet if you suspect this might be the case.

Can cats eat tomato sauce?

No. Most store-bought tomato sauces have additional ingredients like salt or sugar that are either toxic or indigestible to cats. If you feed your cat tomatoes, you should only feed them one or two bites of fresh, ripe, red tomato flesh.

What vegetables can cats not eat?

Tomatoes can be toxic to cats and should only be served in small quantities when ripe. Additionally, cats should never eat vegetables like eggplant, onion, garlic, chives, leeks, scallions, and shallots, which can cause gastrointestinal irritation and red blood cell damage.