Tomato Toxicity – What You Need to Know!
By Jo Marshall
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline
We are getting close to gardening season here in Minnesota – and I cannot wait for those fresh tomatoes from the garden! They are so good and so sweet when they are warmed in the sun and eaten directly from the vine. Truly, there is nothing better to this farm girl and so it seems for my dogs from time to time. For whatever reason, I have had some competition in my tomato picking and eating from my dogs. My old Golden Retriever would literally strip the vines clean of anything that was remotely ripe but never touch a green tomato or the vines. She was not good at sharing and a fence finally needed to be put up around the garden to stop her little raids. Clearly, we have no concerns with toxicity from the actual ripe fruit of the tomato as the worse case scenario for her was limited to bouts of diarrhea when there were lots of tomatoes. But what about those green tomatoes and the vines?
The tomato plant is part of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. This plant family contains more than 3000 species with the most common cultivars in our area being tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, ground cherries and tomatillos. The plants in this family are considered toxic and immature fruit that has not yet ripened contain the highest concentrations of the toxins and should be avoided. Ripe fruit are typically non-toxic.
What happens if your dog ingests tomato plant leaves and green tomatoes? What clinical signs are seen with ingestion of plants in the nightshade family? In most cases, with a small ingestion, we can see gastro-intestinal irritation. Larger ingestions can be more serious and in addition to vomiting and diarrhea, we can see dilated pupil, depression and increases in heart-rate.
As your garden starts to grow this year, prevention is the best medicine! Fencing in your garden and keeping your dog out of the area is your best course of action. If your pet has an exposure to a tomato plant or other potentially harmful plant, we are available 24/7 to assist you in evaluating the exposure and recommending the best course of action to be taken to keep your pet happy and healthy!