Tomatoes are fruits (yes, tomatoes are actually fruits not vegetables) commonly used in cooked dishes to add color, thickness and flavor. In raw dishes like salads, tomatoes are a favorite because they infuse color into a dish.
Bright red in color with succulent flesh, you can be forgiven for assuming that tomatoes are a great addition to your parrot’s daily diet. After all they are rich in essential vitamins like vitamin A, C and K. They are also a good source of potassium.
The question as whether tomatoes are safe for parrots elicits conflicting reactions. Some bird owners say tomatoes are fine as long as they are fed to birds infrequently and in small quantities. Others swear against them saying parrots should never be allowed to eat tomatoes, or any other part of the tomato plant no matter how small the quantities.
The truth is that tomatoes can be harmful to parrots, depending on the form it is in when you feed your bird and the part of the plant you use. It is also true that some bird owners feed raw and cooked tomatoes to their birds with no ill effects whatsoever.
Raw Tomatoes, Good or Bad?
Tomatoes are an acidic fruit. Acid levels are highest when the fruit is fresh and raw. This acid may cause ulcers in your bird so it is best to keep fresh tomatoes away from your bird. Some parrots have been found to vomit blood a few days after eating tomatoes.
How much acid is in tomatoes?
Tomatoes contain more than 10 types of acids. The most prominent ones are citric acid, malic acid and ascorbic acid. Acidity is universally measured using the pH scale. It ranges from 0 to 14. The midpoint, that is 7, indicates a substance is neutral. Substances on the lower end of the scale are acidic. The lower the figure the more acidic it is. Tomatoes have a pH value ranging from 4.3 to 4.9.
Acid levels in tomatoes is associated with the fruit’s degree of ripeness. As it ripens, acid levels decrease and sugar levels increase. Ripe tomatoes therefore contain the least amount of acid, with pH levels approaching the 4.9 end of the range mentioned. If you are looking to minimize acidity in your tomatoes, you will do best with the ripest ones. If you enjoy the tangy, acid flavor in tomatoes, go for hard, orange ones and steer clear of the soft, bright red ones.
Are Cooked Tomatoes Safe?
The fact that fresh tomatoes are harmful to parrots doesn’t mean that you can never offer your feathered friend any form of tomatoes. You can feed your parrot cooked tomatoes. Cooking removes most of the acid so they are quite safe. You cannot remove all the acid so be sure to feed them in moderation all the same.
To further reduce acidity in cooked tomatoes you can add some baking soda to the tomatoes as you cook them. Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate is a base so it neutralizes the acid in tomatoes. De-seeding the tomatoes and cooking them for a shorter time also helps to lower acid levels. The seeds carry most of the acid content in tomatoes so removing them leaves only a small amount of acid.
Can Parrots Eat Canned Tomatoes?
The answer to this question is a loud, emphatic ‘No!’ If you though fresh tomatoes were highly acidic, canned tomatoes are ‘off the chart.’ Canned tomatoes are even more acidic than fresh ones because the canning process involves addition of acid.
Acid is necessary to prevent the growth of a bacteria known as Clostridium botulinum which produces a deadly neurotoxin responsible for food poisoning. When home canning tomatoes for instance, you must add bottled lemon juice or powdered citric acid to every jar. The acid prevents growth of this bacteria, making the canned food safe for consumption even after many months.
Tomato Vines and Leaves
While the tomato fruit is harmful because of its high acid content, the vines and leaves are poisonous for parrots for another reason. Never feed them to your parrot. Even if you choose to give him cooked or dried tomatoes in moderation, stems and leaves should never be given.
Why are vines and leaves poisonous? The tomato plant is a member of the nightshade family. These plants contain varied levels of an alkaloid toxin called solanine in their roots, stems and leaves. Other members of the nightshade family are potatoes, peppers and eggplant. Solanine is one of the plant’s modes of self-protection. It is a naturally occurring compound of cyanide with pesticidal properties used to protect the plant from destruction by insects and other animals. It is a bitter tasting glycol-alkaloid which is poisonous to birds even in small quantities and to humans in large quantities.
Symptoms of solanine poisoning
When you bird ingests dangerous amounts of solanine you may notice some or all these symptoms.
- Falling from the perch
- Reduced mobility
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Lack of coordination
- Shortness of breath and challenged breathing
- Increased heart rate
If you suspect your bird has suffered solanine poisoning, take him to the veterinarian or poison control center immediately. If it is a case of mild, asymptomatic poisoning, just let your parrot be. Wait for the toxins to clear from his system naturally. Don’t try to induce vomiting because it will only increase discomfort.
Now that we know that raw tomatoes are not recommended for parrots, you may be wondering about sun-dried tomatoes. After all they are still raw. Sun-dried tomatoes are ripe, raw tomatoes which have been drained of a majority of their water content as a result of extended exposure to sun.
Are these safe for parrots? Veterinarians say they are actually quite safe (still in moderation) for parrots because the dangerously high acid levels have been reduced through the drying process.
These tomatoes are sometimes pre-treated with sulfur dioxide or salt to improve quality before being set out to dry. This is what you need to look out for because sulfur dioxide is not healthy for your bird. Salt levels in dried tomatoes may also be relatively high and there may be need to check on your bird’s salt intake in other foods if he has enjoyed some salted dried tomato.
Caution with Tomato Sauces
The term tomato sauce can be used to refer to many different types of sauces made with tomatoes as the main ingredient. They are used as part of a dish rather than as a side condiment. Tomato sauces are best known for their use in pasta dishes and as bases in Mexican salsas.
Chefs and other experts in the ‘sauce field’ admit that tomato sauces are often too acidic therefore developing a tarty taste which can sometimes be too strong for their liking. How this problem is dealt with in order to come up with a balanced sauce is the detail you should be cautious about when feeding tomato sauces to your parrot.
Some people use baking soda in tomato sauces to neutralize the acid. This neutralization helps to achieve the goal of reducing the tarty, acidic taste. Other people add sugar to the sauce. Sugar does not actually reduce acidity levels. They remain high but it reduces the tarty taste and gives a more balanced one.
With this information, you now know that simply tasting a tomato sauce for a tarty, acidic taste to decide if it is safe for your parrot or not just won’t do. If the acid levels are still dangerously high but have been masked using sugar, it may affect your bird. If baking soda has been used to neutralize the acid, the sauce is safe for your bird. If you didn’t make the sauce yourself, you can never be totally sure.
The best way to stay safe is to avoid feeding your bird with tomato sauces which are not homemade. If you are not sure exactly how the sauce was made, don’t feed it to your bird.
Tomato sauce may also be used to describe a condiment similar to ketchup which is made from tomatoes. Is it safe for parrots? The recommendation here is based on if and how it is packaged. If it is homemade, it may be safe. If it is coming out of a bottle, it probably contains some acidic tomatoes as well as preservatives which often increase acidity of products. We can conclude that bottled or canned tomato products are not a good idea for your parrot.
So should you feed your parrot with tomatoes or not? If some bird owners have been feeding it to their birds for years and have never seen any negative effects should you follow suit? The bottom line is that you are now informed on the risks and the fact that some birds react and some don’t.
You could choose to feed your parrot with small quantities and see what happens. The choice is yours. There is however consensus on one thing. Even if you choose to let your bird eat tomatoes, feed it in small quantities and always keep your eyes open for signs of illness.