Nutrition

Can Cats Eat Popcorn?

Cats often find bits and pieces of human food. Sometimes they even steal it. Popcorn is a tasty, popular treat. Cat owners often ask, "Can cats eat popcorn?" We have the answer!

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: June 29, 2022 | 8 min read

Kitten walking through bucket of popcorn

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It is movie night. You are curled up, comfy as can be on the couch, kitty on one side, delicious bowl of popcorn on the other. Before you know it, you are invested in the story on the screen, and your cat is invested in the popcorn. This triggers that immediate internet search for” Can cats eat popcorn?” We have been there and have the answer to this common question.

We find our kitty friends snooping about in our pantries and sometimes even swiping the food right from our plates. Cats show interest in human food all the time, especially our snacks. We have even seen them go wild for dog food. As feline owners, it is our responsibility to make sure the environment our cats live in is safe and free from things that can harm them. This includes foods.

Popcorn is an incredibly popular household snack, especially in homes with children. This tasty treat comes in a variety of options and easily gets dropped on the floor and spread quickly. It is not uncommon for a cat to get a hold of a piece or two. If your cat has eaten popcorn, should you be worried? Is this a run to the vet immediately situation or something that can be handled with home care? Learn the answers to these frequent questions about cats and popcorn.

What Is Popcorn?

Popcorn is a staple snack in most households, especially for movie time. Believe it or not, this snack has been around since ancient times. Archaeologists have found 1,000-year-old kernels in Utah and Peru. Popcorn is a variety of corn that explodes into a puffy treat when exposed to heat. There are at least 25 different varieties. The plant is native to the Western Hemisphere. Most of today’s supply is grown by United States farmers.

Popcorn explodes into a puffy, foam-like substance from a tiny kernel due to water trapped inside the kernel. When this water is heated to just the right temperature, it turns into steam. This results in a pressure buildup, causing the popping. There are a variety of ways to prepare and enjoy this delicious snack. It is commonly served with butter and salt and can be coated with caramel or cheese.

Can Cats Eat Popcorn?

This question has both a simple and complicated answer.

The face-value answer is, yes, cats can eat popcorn. Whether or not they should is another thing. It is corn, and felines can eat corn. There is nothing toxic or harmful in it for them. However, this only applies to plain, unbuttered, unsalted kernels and not the microwave kind.

Is It Bad For Cats?

Plain popcorn is not bad for cats (but they should not eat a lot of it). However, that is not always a top choice for humans. This snack is commonly served with lots of butter and salt, cheese, garlic, onion, sugar, caramel, chocolate, etc. Many of these ingredients are not healthy for cats and can cause them gastrointestinal distress. Some ingredients that we humans use heavily in our food can be poisonous to kitties if ingested in large doses.

Garlic, for example, is toxic to cats. Even just a clove can lead to severe health complications, including organ failure. Onions are also toxic to felines and should not be ingested in substantial amounts.
Salt is often an ingredient added. Felines need to be incredibly careful about their sodium intake. They can get dehydrated quickly from ingesting too much sodium.

Too much salt can cause feline blood pressure to rise. Extremely excessive amounts of salt can even trigger heart failure. Signs of too much salt in felines include a high body temperature, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and lethargy. If you believe that your cat has ingested too much salt and could have sodium poisoning, it is a situation in which you need to seek emergency veterinary medical care.

Kernels covered in other ingredients, especially candy, caramel, cheese, or other substances, can trigger nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, and even high blood pressure in felines.

Risks To Cats

While popcorn by itself is not bad for cats, even plain kernels can pose risks. There is not much nutritional value to cats from eating this food. Their cat food is specifically balanced to include all the nutrients they need. Corn adds fiber to cat food and can be used as a filler ingredient in some commercial varieties. While corn may be included in some cat foods, it is not something that owners need to add to their cat’s diet. Felines need to eat meat-based diets, so allowing them to eat a lot of extra plant material is not good for their digestive health.

Choking Hazard

One of the most significant risks to cats from eating popcorn is a choking hazard. Fully popped, soft, fresh kernels may be easily broken down and digested. However, there usually are several pieces of half popped or un-popped kernels mixed in. Cats can choke on the kernels, even fully popped ones. Premade varieties often include other ingredients such as peanuts that may pose an even greater choking risk to felines. Young kittens and older kitties are at an even greater risk of choking.

Salt Poisoning

We touched on this earlier. Felines cannot ingest a lot of salt. Too much salt in a cat diet can cause high blood pressure, heart failure, and an electrolyte imbalance. Salt toxicity or poisoning in felines is a medical emergency. It can cause weakness, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle tremors, and seizures.

Hydrogenated Oils

Premade and microwave options often contain artificial butter products and hydrogenated oils. These can affect feline neuromuscular health and respiratory health. Some can cause hyperthyroidism.

Digestive Issues

Large undigested kernels can cause blockages in a cat’s digestive system. Felines can have a hard time breaking down this food because it is a starch-based grain. Kitties do not have the proper digestive systems and enzymes in their bodies to break the starch down appropriately. This can cause backups, pain, and other gastrointestinal issues for felines. Constipation and diarrhea are common.

Dental Discomfort

Most of us have experienced that horrible annoyance of getting a kernel piece stuck in our teeth or gum. Sometimes, it can take days to get these painful little bits out. Kernels can also get stuck in a cat’s teeth and gums. Unlike us, they do not regularly brush and floss their teeth, and a stuck kernel can cause them great pain. If left untreated, this can even turn into an infection.

Can Cats Eat Microwave Popcorn?

Kitties should not eat microwave popcorn. It has a lot of additives to it to make it easily pop in microwaves. Most of these additives are toxic to felines. Additionally, most microwave varieties come heavily seasoned. Only the plain stuff popped from fresh kernels is safe. Even then, they should only ever eat one or two kernels.

Can Cats Eat Popcorn With Butter?

Cats should not eat butter. Most of the butter flavoring is not real butter, for starters. It is a mix of artificial ingredients, many of which are harmful to kitties. Even real butter poses a risk. This is partly due to the feline’s lactose intolerance and the high-fat content in butter.

For the same reasons, a kitty should not be fed popcorn coated in cheese. This goes for both powdered cheese flavoring and melted cheese. Fur babies cannot digest such rich foods. Again, this is partly due to their lactose intolerance and partly due to the additives and artificial ingredients included in most toppings.

Can Cats Eat Caramel Popcorn?

Cats should not eat kernels covered in caramel, candy, or any other coating. This food is a high choking hazard to kitties because it is often harder than plain kernels and can get stuck easily in their teeth and airways. While there are no ingredients in caramel that felines are allergic to or are toxic, none of them are very healthy for felines. Fur babies should not eat a lot of sugar. Caramel contains cream and butter, which are dairy products and can cause digestive discomfort.

Felines cannot taste sweet things anyway, so they will not likely really want to eat any sweet coated kernels. Curiosity, however, may intrigue them to investigate further. Kernels batted around the floor can be a great plaything.

What Is A Safe Amount?

Ideally, cats should not eat any popcorn at all. However, if your kitty snags a piece or two, they should be fine. Generally speaking, one or two kernels at a time is safe. There are many healthier choices and tastier options for cat snacks. Snowball is likely only interested in your snack because you are eating it. Maybe have an appropriate feline treat ready to distract her. Most of the time, pre-made types come with many artificial additives and ingredients that kitties will have a hard time digesting. It is best not to give your kitty any popcorn with the risk of toxicity, digestive issues, and choking hazards.

Popcorn Snack Alternatives

There are plenty of healthy, tasty, feline-specific treats and snack options out there. A little bit of tuna, white rice, or carrots are always a great option. You can also try the following products that cat owners highly rate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is popcorn poisonous to cats?

Popcorn itself is not poisonous to cats. Some ingredients added to it, like garlic, onion, and some oils, can be toxic to felines.

Should I take my cat to the vet if she ate a lot of popcorn?

If your kitty ate a lot of popcorn, you should evaluate her symptoms and look at the ingredients. A call to the vet may be a good idea to assess the situation. If she is violently ill, lethargic, or having a seizure, seek emergency medical treatment.

Commercial cat food has corn. Why is popcorn any different?

Corn is often used in cat food. Corn is not bad for felines and provides fiber to their diets. Popcorn is not the same kind of corn used in cat food. It has different oils and frequently added ingredients that take away from the nutritional value. It will not add any extra nutritional value to a cat’s diet. Cats are obligate carnivores, and they need to eat meat. So, always consult with your veterinarian if you want to add extra vegetables to your kitty’s diet.

Keeping Homes Clean

Our furry companions love to explore and get into our home’s little nooks and crannies. Because of this and their very observant nature, they can often find pieces of food and snacks that drop to the floor. Most human foods are not suitable for felines to eat, and popcorn is one of those foods. Keeping your home vacuumed and always cleaning up snack spills right away will prevent your kitty from ingesting anything that might be harmful.

As pet owners, it is our responsibility to keep our felines safe. Part of this is making sure they do not eat harmful foods. This responsibility also means keeping our homes and feline domains free and clear of debris and food scraps. Any home with a kitty should readily have a decent quality vacuum.

Final Thoughts

While our furry mousing friends can eat popcorn, it is not best to feed it regularly to your kitty. Plain popped kernels are not generally harmful to felines but can be a choking hazard. This food does not add nutritional value to a feline diet and is not an appropriate snack. Microwave varieties should never be fed to cats or kittens. It contains several ingredients and additives that can be harmful to them.

It can be tempting when we are cuddled up on the couch, ready for a day of streaming, to share our snacks with our pets. Kitties show interest in our food, but that does not mean it is always a good idea to share with them. A kernel or two will not hurt a kitty, however, do not make feeding them this snack food a regular occurrence. There are plenty of tasty, specially made feline treats and snacks that are a much better choice. If you suspect that your cat got into popcorn and might be sick, it is always best to reach out to your veterinarian to see the next steps.

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