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Cat sniffing popcorn

The essentials

  • Popcorn is technically non-toxic — Popcorn in and of itself is non-toxic for cats. Cats can eat corn, and air-popped popcorn with no salt isn’t really problematic.
  • Toppings are the problem — Most popcorns have oils, salt, butter, caramel, or other seasonings added, which can be problematic for your cat’s digestive tract.
  • Other treats are better — There are plenty of safe, nutritional alternatives to popcorn that are a better choice if you want to give your cat a treat.

Can cats eat popcorn?

Popcorn is a popular snack among humans, and one that your cat will likely be attracted to, but is it okay to toss a piece of popcorn to your kitty on movie night? The short answer is that technically, popcorn is okay for cats, but it’s still not a good idea. Toppings like fat-laden butter, seasonings, caramel or cheese aren’t suited for your furry friend, and even the plainest popcorn doesn’t provide any nutrients. Even unsalted air popped popcorn is a potential choking hazard. Your cat is probably interested in a bowl of popcorn (aren’t we all?) but it’s a better choice to offer something else.

A cat’s diet

Felines are obligate carnivores, relying on nutrients from animal products. Whether it’s a tiger or a Burmese house cat, quality protein should be the main source of calories in their diet. Along with animal protein, a balanced diet includes a reasonable amount of fat in their diet, low levels of carbohydrates, and common vitamins and minerals.

When it comes to popcorn for pets, those warm fluffy kernels aren’t offering any health benefits. While your cat is highly likely to be attracted to popcorn, that’s not a compelling reason to hand it over. If you’d really like to share table food with your cat, opt for something non-problematic and nutritious, like cucumbers, strawberries, squash, or a number of others.

Plain popcorn is technically fine for your kitty

Corn is non-toxic to cats, and is often used as a base in many cat and dog foods. The starchy vegetable is popular because it’s an inexpensive ingredient packed with nutrients that also acts as a filler and bonding agent. But corn and popcorn are two different things. While popcorn won’t harm your feline friend, it won’t do much to help, either.

When you air pop corn kernels and hold the butter and salt, small amounts of popcorn should be fine. The problem is that you’d be hard pressed to find types of popcorn with no salt, seasonings or spices. Cat parents could make it themselves, but with so many other nutritionally-dense options, there’s not much reason to.

👉 Why do cats like popcorn anyway? Popcorn is highly aromatic and just like us, cats are attracted to its enticing smell.

The dangers of feeding your cat popcorn

Popcorn is generally a salty snack. Both dogs and cats (and birds) are susceptible to salt poisoning, which can occur in smaller doses than you might think.

When a cat ingests salt, they can become dehydrated, lethargic, or suffer from gastrointestinal issues. In more severe cases, kidney failure or neurologic symptoms can occur. This issue, along with the potential for toxic toppings and choking and the lack of nutritional benefits makes popcorn less than desirable for a cat treat.

Toxic, troublesome toppings

Popcorn is a highly customizable food. From cheesy caramel to dill pickle, there’s a wide range of toppings that have been added to popcorn these days. Even the most basic popcorn is usually sprinkled with butter and salt. While popcorn by itself, isn’t really the problem for cats, the toppings can be.

  • Butter. One pat of butter won’t kill your cat, but it’s definitely bad for them. Butter has too much fat for your cat’s overall health, which can lead to obesity or diabetes. Many cats are also lactose intolerant, meaning cheese can quickly evolve into vomiting and diarrhea for your feline friend. Butter can even lead to a potentially fatal condition called pancreatitis in your cat, making buttered popcorn a hard no.
  • Garlic and onion. Garlic popcorn and popcorn seasoned with onion powder are more serious. Garlic and onion are actually poisonous for your cat, with garlic being about five times more poisonous than onion. Garlic and onion poisoning can happen with one large dose, or small nibbles over time, so it’s hard to say how much will cause a major problem. If there’s an accidental ingestion of garlic or sour cream and onion popcorn, call your vet and look for signs of poisoning, which can be a delayed onset.
  • High sodium. Due to the salt itself and a variety of spices commonly found on popcorn, the sodium content is far above your cat’s daily needs. In fact, one teaspoon of table salt can be a fatal dose for your cat. To avoid overdosing on sodium, it’s best to refrain from giving your cat any amount of salted popcorn. In case of accidental ingestion, call your veterinarian and look for signs like lethargy and tremors.

Choking hazard

Humans aren’t allowed to have popcorn until they’re at least four, so cat parents should take that into account with kittens. Popcorn is a choking hazard, and even a couple of plain pieces can be dangerous for your kitty. Their tiny esophagus can easily become obstructed, so tiny bites are in order. When it comes to older cats, choking is still a risk because of their smaller mouths. Even unpopped popcorn kernels can be a problem.

Overall, the potential risk of choking or hazardous ingredients outweigh any benefit (namely, just giving your cat what they want).

Safe alternatives to popcorn

If you’re determined to give your cat some human food or a little treat , there are plenty of other options outside of popcorn. Look for snacks that contain essential nutrients and pose no risk for health issues, like fruits and vegetables. As with any treat, make it an occasional addition and in small pieces. Here are just a few options:

  • Bananas
  • Eggs
  • Cantaloupe or Watermelon
  • Spinach
  • Salmon or tuna
  • Turkey or chicken

Frequently asked questions

Can popcorn kill cats?

Popcorn itself is unlikely to kill a cat (unless they choke). The toppings on popcorn are generally what can be detrimental to a cat’s stomach, or even fatal.

Can cats eat sweet popcorn?

Technically sugar isn’t toxic to your cat, but it isn’t good for them either. It’s best to avoid giving your cat sweet popcorn.

Can cats eat white cheddar popcorn?

No. While cheese is non-toxic for cats, white cheddar popcorn contains other seasonings and high amounts of sodium that are damaging or even fatal to your cat.

Can cats eat Skinny Pop?

No. Skinny pop contains salt which is hazardous for your cat, as well as oils which can be hard on the digestive system.

Can cats eat Smartfood popcorn?

No. Cats should steer clear of any store-bought popcorn because of too much salt and other potentially hazardous seasonings like salt, butter, or garlic.