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Can Cats Eat Popcorn?

It’s more or less common for pet parents to try giving their own foods to their cats, and popcorn is one of them. There are countless videos online where cats munch on either corn (raw, boiled, or even grilled) and even popcorn. 

But is it safe for them? As you can expect, the answer to this question isn’t a simple yes or a simple no. Let’s find out whether popcorn can be dangerous to cats and whether it even provides any valuable nutrients to them. 

Feline nutrition

While corn is a widely used ingredient in many types of kibble, the truth is that cats are carnivores. Therefore, in theory, they shouldn’t munch on anything else but healthy sources of protein. That does happen in the wild, of course, but since nowadays it is more or less dangerous to feed raw meat to cats as there are contamination and infection risks, most cat owners will feed their pets some type of dry food or the other.

The question that arises is, why do manufacturing brands use corn in kibble if they shouldn’t? The pet food industry has changed in many ways over the years, and unfortunately, many companies use corn as well as a variety of grains as fillers. It’s very rare that you can find kibble with healthy sources of fiber such as pumpkin (which, by the way, triggers little to no negative reactions in cats). 

If your cat is completely healthy and hasn’t had any digestive issues recently, the kibble can be harmless. However, in some of our feline friends, corn meal can cause a variety of problems. The same goes for popcorn, which in itself would be harmless if it weren’t for the additives used, especially in the ones that are supposed to be popped in the microwave. 

Is popcorn toxic to cats?

As complicated a matter this might be, we’ll try to make things clearer. On its own, popcorn isn’t toxic to cats, no matter their age or breed. It’s definitely not a good option for a snack, whether it might be frequent or not, and that’s because it simply doesn’t meet a cat’s dietary requirements. On top of everything, it can cause a variety of health issues such as digestive blockages which could result in diarrhea, vomiting, and other symptoms. 

Plain popcorn kernels can be more or less harmless. On the other hand, popcorn toppings can be toxic to cats, but also other pets. We, humans, like to have our popcorn with a variety of spices or extras. From salt and butter to caramel, sugar, and even spicy seasonings, popcorn flavoring isn’t unheard of. Unfortunately, this is precisely what makes it unhealthy for cats. Sugar, salt, and spices shouldn’t be present in a cat’s diet, especially since high sodium can cause dehydration and other unpleasant complications. 

There are also varieties of popcorn to which onion or garlic have been added. You might have heard about the dangers of feeding pets these two, so naturally, these types of popcorn are a no-go. 

Theoretically, air-popped popcorn to which nothing has been added is okay for cats. Very small amounts can be somewhat safe to munch on, and knowing our beloved feline friends’ character, they can even play with it. However, just know that plain popcorn does not offer any particular nutritional value to your pet. While it doesn’t present any risk if nothing has been added to it, it’s still not exactly healthy. 

Do cats eat popcorn?

Some of them do. Some might even try to steal a few kernels as you munch on them. After all, freshly popped corn has a crunchy texture and is warm, so it can be rather appealing to our feline friends. Moreover, some cats are known to behave similarly to dogs when it comes to you having a snack or supper – they’ll come and look at you insistently until you cave and allow them to have a taste of what you’re eating. 

Dangers of feeding popcorn to your cat

So, can cats have popcorn? Yes, they can, but you shouldn’t feed it to them. 

Just one bag of butter-flavored popcorn can contain around 500 milligrams of salt, and that’s definitely too much for our little furballs since no more than 21 milligrams should be consumed by them every day. Sodium poisoning has a variety of clinical signs from your cat experiencing excessive urination to being too thirsty. Other symptoms range from vomiting and diarrhea to high body temperature and lethargy. 

On top of everything, popcorn has a lot of calories. It also contains a variety of additives, and diacetyl is one of them. It is what gives this snack a distinctive smell and taste that makes it so appealing to humans and even to some cats. Popcorn can also contain hydrogenated oil, which can cause a variety of health problems in our feline buddies, mostly leading to hepatic lipidosis.

Fatty liver (hepatic lipidosis) can have some of the following clinical signs:

  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Depression

Last, but not least, you should consider that eating popcorn isn’t that easy even for us humans. How many times haven’t you tried to get a piece from between your teeth as it was stuck there? Kernels that didn’t pop can represent a real choking hazard to cats, and for a pet that tends to wolf down his or her food rather than chewing it one piece at a time, they can even cause airway blockage. 

Besides, most cats are lactose-intolerant (which is why they shouldn’t even be fed cow’s milk), so the cheese and butter toppings on the popcorn can cause serious digestive issues. 

Preventing your cat from eating popcorn

While my own cat doesn’t have even the smallest interest for popcorn, there are some that will go out of their way to try and eat at least some kernels. There are simple things that you can do to try to avoid situations where your feline buddy ends up eating popcorn. One of them would be to cover the snack when you put it on the table. Make sure that no pieces fall from your bowl – that almost always happens to everyone. 

More importantly, do not give in to your cat’s demands. No matter how convincing she’s trying to be and how much she might be yowling, you know it isn’t really good for her, so why take the chance? Last but not least, it’s actually safer to avoid eating popcorn in front of your cat, so we would suggest not doing it at home.

Conclusion

Popcorn has no nutritional value for cats, and it can contain an array of dangerous additives and definitely too much salt. Air-popped popcorn to which nothing was added is less risky, but it can still be a choking hazard, or it can lead to digestive problems.

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