Can I Give My Cat Popcorn?
That’s a lot of popcorn. And, for pets, that’s a lot of opportunities to steal, beg for, or gobble up abandoned popcorn off the kitchen floor. This doesn’t seem to be an issue for your garbage disposal of a dog, but what about your more delicate, biologically picky cat? Can cats have popcorn? Can you share this treat with your feline friend on movie night?
The answer: Cats can eat popcorn, but only in moderation. There is nothing in plain, unflavored popcorn that will poison your cat—popcorn doesn’t cause anemia like some other people foods do—so eating a couple pieces of this crunchy treat every now and then should not do any damage. To ensure your cat stays healthy, make sure to read the ingredients thoroughly. Popcorn itself is safe, but some flavorings are not. Make sure there is no xylitol added either since that ingredient is poisonous to cats!
Are there any pluses to giving your cat popcorn? If you’re looking to meet your cat’s nutritional needs: not really. Popcorn, and corn in general, is a very starchy grain—it is relatively low in protein, healthy fats, and the vitamins and minerals that your cat needs to thrive. This is largely due to the fact that cats, unlike people and even dogs, are obligate carnivores, who have evolved to eat meat almost exclusively. Their bodies ‘know’ how to extract the nutrition that they need from animal parts like muscles, organs, and bone marrow.
Since cats have adapted to eat a diet so high in meat, their ability to digest (and therefore extract nutrition from) plant foods has been greatly reduced. While they can process a ton of protein, they do not digest carbohydrates very well at all—in fact, cats don’t even have the enzyme which is responsible for digesting carbohydrates. This enzyme, amylase, is found only in herbivores and some plant-eating omnivores.
While popcorn does contain some fiber, which may help regulate your cat’s digestive system, felines require only a very small amount of fiber in their diet, and the amount that popcorn has to offer would have a minimal impact. When it comes to cats, popcorn’s assets are its low fat, salt, and calorie content—this food is a safe, natural, low-impact treat that you can give your cat in moderation without having to worry about causing any sort of long-term health problem. The key words there are “in moderation”! Your cat should not have popcorn on a regular basis.
The biggest risk associated with feeding your cat plain popcorn is the potential for weight gain and digestive upset—both of which can generally be avoided if you keep the serving sizes small and infrequent. If your cat experiences upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea after eating popcorn, you may want to look for another, more cat-friendly treat. Certain cooked vegetables and well-formulated store bought cat treats may be easier on your cat’s stomach.
Things to Keep in Mind
As previously mentioned, if you feed your cat popcorn, it should be plain— unflavored, unsalted, and unbuttered. Many of our favorite popcorn flavorings are extremely high in fat, calories, and salt, which can have disastrous health outcomes for your cat. Cats who eat large amounts of flavored popcorn may experience weight gain, digestive problems, heart problems, and an increased risk of diabetes and some cancers. Though pop culture considers fat cats cute, obesity is just as harmful to our pets as it is to us. If your cat is already overweight or obese, avoid feeding them anything more than the cat food formulated to meet their dietary needs.
Calories aren’t the only concern when it comes to flavored popcorn. Many of the low-calorie, no-sugar-added flavored popcorn brands offered to dieters contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol, which is extremely poisonous to cats. Since our feline friends are sensitive to a wide variety of compounds that have been deemed safe for humans, the best option is to avoid these additives and artificial flavors altogether. Since cats can’t taste sweet anyway, they won’t be missing anything!
In conclusion, provided it is given in moderation, unflavored popcorn is a safe treat option for cats. It is low fat, low in calories, and relatively easy on the stomach. As with all people foods, keep portion sizes small, and be aware of any added ingredients when purchasing pre-popped popcorn.