Felines are wily creatures. You adore your cat, and your cat knows it. Nor will it stop to think twice before using that fact to its advantage. Oh, it probably loves you too, in its own feline way. But that won't stop it from having a go at your TV-time snacks — sneaky thing.
Cats will often want to try whatever you eat, just because you happen to be eating it. And that's where the worry starts. Are your tasty, human-safe snacks as safe for your cat? Not all of them are, and it's worth knowing which ones can be safely fed to your pet.
What about popcorn, can you feed it to your cat? Let's learn more.
Can Cats Eat Popcorn?
Yes, cats can eat popcorn. Plain popcorn with no butter, salt, or seasonings is not in any way toxic to cats. Still, popcorn kernels are a choking hazard and may hurt your cat's teeth. Also, follow our vet-approved feeding guidelines as popcorn is a high-calorie food with very little nutritional value and may cause health problems.
If your cat gets hold of a kernel of popcorn or two, it's not a reason to panic. However, popcorn is not the greatest choice, and there are many healthier snacks available for your cat.
Plain, air-popped popcorn is not toxic and will not harm your cat in any way. But neither does it offer anything much in terms of nutritional value.
Many cats do, however, love the airy, crunchy feel of popcorn. Just make sure that it doesn't get its paws on any that has additives. Salt, sugar, garlic, and other strong spices are where the problem will come from. The popcorn itself may not be toxic, but some of the flavorings could very well be.
Health Benefits: Is Popcorn Good For Cats?
If your popcorn is plain and air-popped, there isn't anything toxic in it. Any cat, regardless of age or breed, can safely eat it and not fall sick. But there's absolutely nothing amazing about the nutritional profile of popcorn either, at least for cats.
There really isn't anything positive we can say about popcorn in relation to cats. Except, perhaps, that it's not toxic.
Lots of Calories and Carbs
Popcorn is a high-calorie, high-carb food. It doesn't contain much protein or fat. To cut a long story short, it simply doesn't fit a cat's dietary needs.
Carbs are not even essential in a cat's diet. It can satisfy its energy requirements purely from animal protein and fat. Cats can still use carbs, though. And carbs do provide an abundant source of energy. But being true carnivores, cats have a very short long intestine. Their ability to ferment the fibers found in many carbs is limited.
Popcorn doesn't offer much except the carbs and is basically useless to a cat. So if your kitty loves to play with the kernels and occasionally nibble on them, that's fine. Just don't let her have any have toppings.
But Corn is Used in Cat Food…?
First, let's get a little bit of confusion out of the way. There are different kinds of corn out there. There's popcorn, and then there's field corn. Their nutritional profile is slightly different. Where popcorn has only carbs, field corn is also rich in moisture, protein, and sugars. There are sub-varieties of field corn, too, including the sweet corn we love to eat.
On to corn and cat food. Yes, it's true that cat food, especially the cheaper one, may contain corn. It is usually field corn that is added to cat foods, not popcorn. And its main purpose is to act as a filler.
While it doesn't harm your cat as such, it also doesn't offer anything beneficial. Better cat foods are more expensive, mainly because they don't use any corn. These foods use real meat and perhaps healthy additions like avocado oil, but no cereals.
So yes, corn is often used in making cat food. But it's a nutritionally empty filler for your cat. If you really want to feed your cat a healthy snack, go for something other than corn. Real meat or a specially formulated cat snack will do. Some fruits like avocado can also be a good, nutritious alternative.
Related reading: Premium Cat Foods - Vet-approved Choices
Health Risks: Is Popcorn Bad for Cats?
Well, we've already kind of talked about this. Popcorn in and of itself is not toxic in any way to any cat. But neither is it the healthiest of snacks. Still, if you insist on feeding your cat popcorn, here's what you need to know.
Unpopped Kernels are a Choking Hazard
If your cat has gotten hold of your hot, fresh popcorn, no need to panic right away – as long as it is plain and air-popped, it won't really harm your feline friend. But even if you're just going to let your cat play with some kernels, remove any that didn't pop. These may get lodged in the throat if the cat tries to swallow them.
Popcorn can also sometimes get stuck in your cat's teeth. It's a good idea to have a finger-brush in store in case you need to help dislodge any food from between your cat's teeth.
Watch Out for Popcorn Toppings!
We often like our popcorn topped up with all sorts of delectable flavors. From salty and garlicky to caramel-sweet, we all have our soft spots. Cats are often attracted by the strong smells of the spices and sugar. They'll try to get their little paws on some of your goodies if they can.
Popcorn itself is entirely safe, but the toppings are another story altogether. Some of the spices and flavorings used are really not good for cats. In a mild case, the cat may just throw up or get a bout of diarrhea.
If you're unlucky, things could get much more serious. Some toppings are toxic enough to make your cat fall seriously sick. Things can then quickly go down south if you don't seek a vet's professional help.
Let's go a little bit off-topic and talk about field corn too. Any kind of corn that is processed in any way is not good for your cat. Period. So any type of corn that has been canned or sweetened or salted in any way is off-limits. Cats just generally don't do well with foods processed for human use.
Serving Size and How to Feed?
If your cat really likes popcorn, you can safely give her some. You just have to make sure it's plain and air-popped and contains no additives.
As a side note, be careful with microwave popcorn. Even though it claims to be plain, it may have processed additives harmful to a cat.
A Few Kernels are Enough
Many cats will just toy around with kernels that have already gone cold, which is perfectly fine too. Playing with popcorn has never hurt any cat. But back to the point. If you really want your cat to eat the popcorn, serve it while it is still warm. Cats seem to like the hot, crunchy feel of it.
Take just a few kernels, no more than three or four, and let your cat play with them. If she eats them, let her. If she prefers to play with them but then abandons them, collect them when she's done. And be sure not to give her any unpopped kernels to avoid her choking on them.
Once in a Blue Moon is Best
Yes, popcorn isn't toxic to cats. But really, there are much healthier snacks available for them. Corn of any kind simply doesn't add anything of nutritional value.
So if you're giving popcorn to your cat, try not to make it a habit. Your lovely feline will be much better off with real meat or snacks formulated especially for cats. There are some healthy meat-based options or treats, too, like shrimp. And if you want to go for a plant-based option, you could try mango.
Popcorn is a whole-grain food, true. But like we've already said, it doesn't offer much to a cat.
It will simply pass through the feline's system, offering neither benefits nor problems.
Calories, Calories, Calories
What popcorn does have plenty of is calories. A 100 grams of the stuff packs 375 calories. That's a whole lot more than many nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, and even meat. And since popcorn doesn't contain much in terms of nutrients, these calories come from carbs.
Popcorn contains only 1 gram of protein out of every 100, but 6 grams of carbs. The dietary fiber comes in at a low 1 gram for the same 100. There is no fat to speak of, saturated, unsaturated, or otherwise.
There are no useful vitamins and minerals in this food, either. Basically, it's just empty carbs that your cat won't fully digest anyway. She's not going to get any of her dietary needs sorted with this food.
If your cat gets hold of a kernel of popcorn or two, it's not a reason to panic. That is if it was plain with no additives and strong spices. And if she loves playing with popcorn, that's okay too. Nibbling on a little bit really won't harm her.
Popcorn is not toxic but offers zero nutrition to cats. If you really want to give your cat a healthy treat, there are better alternatives. Try a morsel of real, fresh meat, or perhaps a small slice of peeled avocado. Treats specially made for cats will work nicely too.
Can cats eat white cheddar popcorn?
No, cats should not eat white cheddar popcorn. Popcorn itself is safe for cats as long as you remove any unpopped kernels. However, any added flavorings (including salt) are not healthy for your feline and should not be fed to your pet.
As long as the popcorn is plain and fully popped, one or two pieces is not going to hurt your cat.
But really who is going to eat plain popcorn? All the added toppings can cause GI issues for your cat.
Un-popped popcorn can also hurt your cat's teeth. I have had to remove a broken tooth from a cat when they ate the un-popped pieces of popcorn out of a bowl.
- Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM
Sara Redding Ochoa, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, was raised in Calhoun, LA. She knew since she was a little girl that her dream was to become a veterinarian. Dr. Ochoa attended Louisiana Tech for her undergraduate school, and then attended St. George University to complete veterinary school. After graduating, Dr. Ochoa moved to east Texas and has been working as a small animal and exotic veterinarian.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your cat's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.