Tomatoes, one of the most popular salad veggies in the world, is, in fact, a fruit. Yes, you got this right – tomatoes are fruits.
Well, regardless of their classification, one thing is sure – they are a nutrient-dense yet hydrating and low-calorie food that adds a distinct flavor to every salad and meal. Plus, they are the foundation of our favorite condiment – ketchup.
But what about our pets – can we share our love of tomatoes with them? Can hamsters eat tomatoes? Are they safe and healthy or better avoided?
Keep reading to find out. This article will reveal everything about hamsters and tomatoes and make sure you are "in the know" when it comes to this topic and not feeding your hammy anything unsafe.
Can Hamsters Eat Tomatoes?
Yes, hamsters can eat tomatoes. They are low in calories, hydrating, and filled with healthy nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, especially the popular lycopene. However, they also very acidic, meaning you should follow our feeding guidelines as tomatoes can trigger tummy troubles like diarrhea and bloat.
When thinking about adding tomatoes, you need to see the bigger picture and decide how they fit into your hamster's diet.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
When thinking about adding tomatoes, you need to see the bigger picture and decide how they fit into your hamster's diet. Hamsters are relatively straightforward in terms of nutritional needs.
90% of their daily food intake should be in the form of store-bought, high-quality pellets or seed mix formulated specifically for hamsters. The remaining 10% is where you can get creative and add versatility to the menu – hay, mealworms, veggies, fruits, and a tiny piece of a boiled egg now and then.
So, how do tomatoes fit this meal plan? They fit perfectly when served in small amounts and only occasionally. The excellent part about ripe, red tomatoes is that they are not toxic and extremely unlikely to trigger allergic reactions in hamsters.
So, tomatoes are safe, but there are some safety differences considering the size difference between different hamster species. For example, Syrian and Robo hamsters can eat one amount of tomatoes while Dwarf hamsters can each much lesser amount because of their petite size (we will explain more about this later).
Plus, the hamster type is not the only consideration. There are specific considerations in terms of different tomato types and the various parts of the tomato plant.
For example, just like the regular ripe tomatoes, cherry and grape varieties are safe for hamsters. They are delicious and tasty and can be offered in small amounts. On the other hand, you must avoid green tomatoes at all costs as they are toxic and can disrupt the hamster's digestion processes.
With that being explained, we should review the different tomato parts – stems, leaves, vines, and seeds. You must not offer the stems, leaves, and vines to hamsters as they can be toxic and cause severe tummy troubles. On the bright side, the tomato seeds are perfectly safe.
Finally, do hamsters like tomatoes? There is no universal answer. Every hamster has its unique taste preferences. While some hamsters are crazy about tomatoes, others could not care less.
Next, it's time to talk about all the great benefits tomatoes have for hamsters before moving on to some of the adverse effects feeding tomatoes could have.
Health Benefits: Are Tomatoes Good For Hamsters?
Consider adding tomatoes to your hamster's menu? Here is what you should expect in terms of health benefits.
Tons of healthy nutrients
Tomatoes offer many health benefits because they are loaded with the following compounds:
- Vitamin C – gives the immune system a boost and promotes wound healing and tissue regeneration
- Vitamin A – ensures eye health and reproductive health
- Vitamin K – a vital part of the blood-clotting cascade
- Folic acid – supports normal growth, promotes brain health, and participates in DNA formation
- Dietary fiber – promotes healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.
Rich in phytonutrients
Tomatoes are rich in phytonutrients, primarily antioxidants, and chlorophylls. The most popular phytonutrient is lycopene. Lycopene promotes cardiovascular health and decreases the risk of several types of cancer.
Another healthy compound is the naringenin found mostly in the tomato's skin. This phytonutrient has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Healthy, low-calorie treat
Pet hamsters are prone to obesity. They love sugary treats, and their owners love spoiling them.
Tomatoes are a healthy and light treat alternative. They offer a wide array of healthy nutrients and taste nice while lacking the factors that contribute to the weight gain problem – fats and sugars. Plus, they are loaded with water and will keep your hamster well-hydrated.
But although tomatoes are full of beneficial nutrients, there are possible negative effects in feeding them to your hamster, especially if you're not following the guidelines and overfeeding. Continue reading to learn more about the health risks and suitable portion sizes.
Health Risks: Are Tomatoes Bad For Hamsters?
Here are some of the risks you need to consider before adding tomatoes to your hamster's menu.
Green, unripe tomatoes can make your hamster really sick
Green tomatoes, leaves, and stems are toxic
Green, unripe tomatoes can make your hamster really sick. The same concept applies to the tomato leaves, stems, and vines. Even if coming from red and ripe tomatoes, these parts of the plant are toxic and must never be fed to hamsters.
Tomatoes are nightshade plants that contain tomatine and solanine in their leaves, vines, and unripe fruits. Both of these substances are toxic, so make sure to feed only ripe, red tomatoes and remove the leaves before serving.
Diarrhea and wet tail risk
Tomatoes are high in water and quite acidic. Therefore, they may cause diarrhea in hamsters if fed in large amounts or too often. Diarrhea is not healthy for your hammy, but it may also lead to a serious condition known as wet tail.
Wet tail is a disease that basically starts with simple diarrhea. Stress is a contributing factor, but the main trigger is bacteria in the enclosure that develops due to continuous diarrhea.
A hamster with wet tail will show the following signs and symptoms:
- Profuse diarrhea
- Lack of appetite
- A tail that is wet and covered with feces
- Hunched back.
Unless treated promptly, wet tail can be a fatal health problem. If you notice some of the signs above, contact a vet immediately for advice and guidance.
Tomatoes are packed with water and therefore suitable for keeping your hamster well-hydrated. However, that is only when the tomato's serving size is right.
If your hamster overeats on tomatoes, the opposite is true – it can develop diarrhea and become dehydrated.
A dehydrated hamster will be lethargic, unwilling to eat, and with sunken eyes. Because of their small and fragile bodies, dehydration in hamsters can be a life-threatening problem and requires immediate veterinary attention. Again, if you suspect dehydration, it's important to contact a vet that can help your hamster.
Pesticides and dirt
Pesticides and dirt are a concern with all commercially available fruits and vegetables, and tomatoes are not an exception. Growers treat them with chemicals to protect against pests and insects. The presence of dirt is because of how tomatoes grow near the ground and how they are handled on their way from the field to the store or market.
Basically, unless organic or home-grown, you need to spend some time washing the tomatoes to get rid of potential pesticide leftovers and dirt. Otherwise, these chemicals could be harmful to your hamster.
Hamsters can be a bit greedy when offered foods they really adore. If the tomato is one of those foods, your hamster can try to gulp down the offered portion as soon as possible. If one of the tomato chunks ends up in the windpipe, your hamster can choke.
The best way of minimizing this risk is serving the tomatoes in tiny, preferably bite-sized chunks.
Feeding Guidelines: Tomatoes For Hamsters
With the health pros and cons covered, we will help you find the right balance between them – using the benefits while preventing the risks. It may sound complicated, but it is fairly simple. Just follow these feeding guidelines and let your hamster enjoy the savory taste of tomatoes.
Make sure there are no other water-rich items on the menu.
How much tomato can hamsters eat?
The serving size varies based on the hamster's size. In general, the tomato portion for Syrian and Robo hamsters is half a teaspoon. With their diminutive size in mind, the portion for Dwarf hamsters is one tiny, bite-sized piece of tomato.
Sadly, baby hamsters will have to wait until adulthood to enjoy the taste and health benefits.
These portion sizes apply to hamsters that are already used to eating tomatoes. If your hamster has never tried this fruit before, do not give it the whole portion. Start small and see how its tummy handles the new food. If there are no signs of distress after 12 hours, you can assume your hamster can safely digest tomatoes.
How often can hamsters eat tomatoes?
Once again, the hamster's size is the critical factor. Syrian hamsters can eat tomatoes twice per week. Robo hamsters can eat tomatoes once every two weeks and Dwarf hamsters once a week.
When making the meal plan for the day, you need to consider how you combine tomatoes. They are packed with water, so make sure there are no other water-rich items on the menu.
How to prepare tomatoes for hamsters?
Tomatoes are relatively easy to shop for; just follow some general guidelines.
1. Start by shopping. First of all, start by visiting your local grocery store or the farmer's market. Luckily, tomatoes are readily available.
2. Choose wisely. Then it would be best if you chose the right tomatoes. By right, we mean well-ripe and red, as green tomatoes are dangerous for hamsters. When you pick the right tomato, you should be able to squeeze it gently, but it should still be firm. The tomato should look fresh and healthy, without signs of decay and mold.
Simply put, ask yourself whether you would eat that particular tomato or serve it to your family. If the answer is yes, the tomato is safe for your hamster. If it is no, you will have to keep choosing.
Whenever possible, it is advisable to buy organic tomatoes. That way, you can rest assured your hamster is not eating any pesticide residues.
3. Wash, wash, wash. Once you picked up the tomatoes and have them home, you need to wash them. In addition to being frequently treated with pesticides, commercially grown tomatoes are often covered with some dirt, and it is your job to wash them clean.
Before washing them, it is advisable to remove the leaves and vines as they are dangerous for hamsters, and you are not going to be serving them, so why bother with washing them.
Cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes usually come packed and prewashed. However, giving them one more rinse is not a bad idea.
4. Store in the fridge. When the tomatoes are clean, put them in an airtight container and into the refrigerator for storing.
5. Chop the tomatoes. When treat time comes, just chop the tomatoes into small pieces. It is vital to cut them into tiny, bite-sized chunks as larger pieces pose choking hazards.
6. Remove leftovers. Finally, if it has been more than an hour since you placed the tomatoes in the food bowl and your hamster still has not eaten them, or there are some leftovers, make sure you remove them from the enclosure.
Tomatoes are packed with water and can make a mess. Plus, more importantly, they rot quickly, and by leaving them, you risk your hamster eating tomatoes that have gone bad.
What about other tomato products?
The world of tomato products is really versatile – there is tomato juice, tomato soup, tomato purees, ketchup, salsa, and so many more. There are also canned tomatoes, dried tomatoes, and frozen tomatoes.
Well, in terms of tomato products, generally speaking, they are a no-go for hamsters. The reasons are similar for most of them – too many additives, salt, spices, and oils are added during processing.
- Tomato juice and tomato purees can be offered to hamsters if homemade and plain.
- Canned tomatoes are not suited as they are also loaded with additives like preservatives and salt.
- Dried tomatoes are generally safe and can be offered to hamsters. Considering they lack water, they are denser with nutrients and allow nibbling.
- Finally, frozen tomatoes are safe as long as they are plain and thawed at room temperature before serving.
One red, ripe, and medium-sized tomato offers the following nutrients:
- 22 calories
- 1 g protein
- 0.2 g fat
- 8 g carbohydrates
- 5 g fiber.
This is what the same medium-sized tomato offers in terms of vitamins and minerals:
- 6 mg vitamin C
- 1025 iu vitamin A
- 4 mcg folic acid
- 1 mg vitamin B6
- 292 mg potassium
- 1 mg manganese.
It also has trace amounts of:
- Vitamin E
This short depiction of the nutritional value shows how powerful tomatoes are nutrition-wise. They are loaded with healthy nutrients while low in troublesome ingredients like fat and sugars.
So, what is the final verdict? Well, generally speaking, ripe red tomatoes are safe for hamsters when fed occasionally, in small amounts, and combined with otherwise healthy and balanced nutrition. The same applies to cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes.
As for taste preferences, some hamsters love, and some hate tomatoes. If your hamster happens to love them, that is great, and if it hates them, do not worry; there are many healthy alternatives.
The lycopene found in the tomato is the ultimate hit for health benefits - from cardiovascular health through skin health to decreased cancer risk.
However, when adding tomatoes to your hamster's diet, you need to objective and always evaluate the bigger picture.
For example, if your hamster is not fond of tomatoes or has trouble digesting them, do not force the feeding. The fruits and veggies family is rich and versatile and offers plenty of alternatives.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your hamster's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.