It’s Saturday night, and you’re lounging on the couch, getting ready to binge-watch your newest Netflix favorite. You have a big bowl of buttery, salty popcorn in your lap, and your drink of choice sits next to you. Just when you’re entranced into your show (and your popcorn), your favorite feline friend jumps into your lap and buries her face into your popcorn bowl. Before you can remove the dish from her, she takes a kernel and starts chomping happily.
Oh no. You rack your brain to see if you have any stored information on if cats can eat popcorn. Is popcorn bad for cats? Will she choke? A quick Google search on your Smartphone, and you have some answers.
Can Cats Eat Popcorn?
The short answer is yes, in moderation, and with a few precautions, a few pieces of no-additive popcorn can be an occasional treat for your cat. However, here are some factors to consider:
Cat digestive systems
If you own a cat or cats, you already know their digestive systems are super sensitive. Even switching up cat food brands may cause an upset stomach. Cats are not designed to be able to digest most human foods.
Then, there’s popcorn. Popcorn is a starch-based grain from one of our favorite food groups: carbs. Cats are carnivores and do not need extra grains or carbohydrates. Too many carbs can be harmful to a cat’s digestive system, leading to abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Then, there are the additives to make popcorn as tasty as possible: butter, for one. The high-fat content comes from the amount of butter used, which, if we’re talking movie theater popcorn, is a lot! All the buttery goodness may cause an upset stomach for your cat (and maybe you too.)
Also, some popcorn also contains hydrogenated oil that gives it the buttery taste, but this ingredient can potentially lead to hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver, in cats.
Harmful effects of salt and preservatives
Popcorn is also generally full of salt because that’s how we like it: the saltier, the tastier. However, cats can suffer from all this extra salt. They can develop heart problems, blood issues, including hypernatremia, and in extreme cases, get sodium poisoning.
Now, before you think, “OK, so I won’t feed my movie theater popcorn to Frisky; he can just have some microwave popcorn that I have in the pantry,” think again. Some microwave popcorn is made with preservatives and chemicals that could also hurt your cat.
No on candied gourmet popcorn that you get during the holiday season. The caramel and chocolate coated ones are definitely a no for cats.
Although popcorn is small, there’s a problem with it being a choking hazard to your cat, even more so for kittens. Kernels that didn’t pop can cause choking and trigger blocked airways.
Are there any health benefits from popcorn?
For humans, sure. Popcorn is full of fiber, which we need to feel fuller and make everything, you know, regular. It’s also got some Vitamin B and minerals like Magnesium, Potassium, and Zinc, so there’s that. Of course, a lot depends on how it’s prepared. Popcorn made on the stove or in an air popper are the healthiest options. Microwave popcorn, no matter how “healthy” the bag declares, is full of additives and preservatives.
However, for cats, no. Not even the fiber matters, because their bodies only require a small amount of fiber, and they should already get that from their cat food.
So, are you saying I can’t feed my cat popcorn AT ALL?
Here’s the deal: A few pieces of no-additive popcorn isn’t going to harm a cat. However, the key words here are no additives and a few kernels. We can’t blame our kitties for wanting a taste of this all American treat, but make sure it’s just that: an occasional treat.
If you MUST share your popcorn with your kitty, your best bet is to use natural corn kernels and pop them yourself in an air popper. Pull out three or four pieces for him, and then go ahead and season yours the way you like it. Keep her in sight while she gobbles it up (assuming she even likes it! Some cats may not).
Watch for any allergic reactions (they are usually evident within the first few hours of consuming popcorn), and of course, symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, which are rare from a few kernels of bland popcorn, but could still occur.
So, my cat already loves popcorn, what now?
If you already feed your cat popcorn and she has had no health issues, you should still only give her a few pieces with no additives every now and then. If she decides she doesn’t like her popcorn this bland, don’t go back to smothering it in butter and salt, just so she will be happy. That’s super counterproductive, and keep in mind, just because she loves buttery, salty popcorn doesn’t mean it’s good for her. (I love Reece cups, but I have to limit those; life’s not fair.)
I had never given my cat popcorn prior to writing this article, so I decided to do my own experiment. I popped up some popcorn in an air popper, added absolutely nothing to it, and just dropped a few pieces on the floor. Libby polices the kitchen, so she was there in a jiffy. She sniffed at the popcorn, nibbled on it, and then proceeded to throw it up in the air and chase it around like she does her toys and the bugs she catches. She had no interest in eating it, so I guess I don’t have to worry about whether or not she is missing out on one of life’s favorite snacks.
However, then there’s you, your furry companions, and popcorn. Let them try natural, fully popped popcorn if you must, but make sure it’s only on special occupation, like, say, National Popcorn Day (January 19, by the way) or National Cat Day, which is October 29.