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Do your research before giving some of this popped treat to your feline friend.

By Chad Taylor
February 09, 2021
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Few things can hit the spot in a dark movie theater or cuddled up on the couch bingeing your favorite show quite like a big bowl of freshly popped popcorn. For many cat owners, the sight of their feline friends holding a large kernel in their paws, munching on the puffy white pieces, is irresistibly adorable. But as with any human food, there are a few things to keep in mind if you're planning to share popcorn with your cat.

Can a Cat Eat Popcorn Safely?

Yes, but there's a catch. There's nothing in freshly popped popcorn that is toxic to cats, regardless of age or breed. However, that's only true for plain popcorn. Toppings like butter, salt, caramel, and a variety of spices and seasonings like garlic can cause health issues for your cat.

"Butter has so much fat in it, your cat can pretty easily develop vomiting or diarrhea from it," says Kaci Angelone, DVM, MS, based in Denver, Colo. "A couple of plain pieces fresh from the bag is fine, but you'll still want to keep the amounts low."

There's also not a lot happening from a nutritional standpoint. This means that popcorn is just going to take up a lot of space in your kitty's stomach, without giving much back in terms of vitamins or protein.

Photo of grey cat with illustrated popcorn background
Credit: Julia Bohan / xxmmxx / GlobalP / Getty

Corn Is in Cat Food. Why Isn't Popcorn Healthy for Cats?

If you look at the ingredients of most commercially available pet foods, some kind of grain—usually corn or cornmeal—is featured prominently. This is because corn is a cheap, readily available source of fiber for pet foods and acts as a bonding agent to help hold foods together. But since cats are obligate carnivores, they process their protein and vitamins most efficiently through meat protein. This means that on their own, vegetables, starches like bread or potatoes, and corn are all going to take up space in your cat's stomach, without providing them with protein or vitamins they need.

Nutrition Aside, Popcorn Can Pose Other Risks

If your cat steals a kernel of popcorn from your bowl some night, there's no cause for panic. However, keeping them away from the extra salt, butter, oils, and spices that people tend to like on their popcorn is going to be important. If your cat does ingest some fully loaded kernels, keep an eye on them to watch out for dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, or other indications of digestive distress.

Additionally, if you're going to give your kitty a taste of some popcorn, make sure the individual kernels aren't too big.

"Cats tend to have smaller mouths than even small dogs," Angelone says. "Breaking up larger bites of food becomes more important for them to prevent choking or blockage hazards."

Healthier Alternatives to Popcorn

If you've got your heart set on sharing a snack with your cat, there are some other common human treats that cats can eat without the risks like choking or poor digestion. According to the ASPCA, these foods are non-toxic for cats:

Regardless of the type of treat you're giving your cat, always do so in moderation and check with your vet first to make sure it's safe. A good quality cat food should be their main source of calories and nutrition with treats being a comparatively rare indulgence.