Can I Give My Dog Popcorn?
Throughout the nineties and the early 2000s, the most popular (and delicious) of the natural, whole food, healthy ‘diet snacks’ was popcorn. Though it has always been beloved by dieters, this is one low calorie food that pet owners of all types enjoy as a treat: whether you’re a bodybuilder eating it plain, a movie maniac devouring it drenched in butter, or a six-year-old nibbling on it coated in a thin layer of cheesy powder, you have popcorn in your house at least a few times a year. And, since you are a pet owner, all of your snacks come with one heart-wrenching, ever-present complication: a begging dog.
No matter how you enjoy your popcorn, your dog is going to want some, and it is all too easy to surrender to their begging when you are distracted watching superhero movies on the couch. While most pet owners understand that a handful of fruits and vegetables make healthy dog treats, whereas munchies like crackers and cookies are better off avoided, popcorn straddles the line between the two. Popcorn is a whole food often marketed to dieters, but it isn’t a leafy green. So, is it better for your pooch than packaged snacks?
Can dogs have popcorn? The answer is yes, but with some considerations. Popcorn by itself is perfectly safe as a rare treat for your dog. It is low in calories, low in fat, low in sugar and salt, and contains a fair amount of fiber. When you feed your dog popcorn, the thing you need to watch out for is what comes with the popcorn—after all, most of us don’t eat it plain. Flavorings that are high in salt, sugar, and fat can cause health problems for your dog.
Does popcorn come with any canine health benefits? Even if it is not a vitamin-rich super food, popcorn does have some positive qualities. The biggest one is its low calorie content. If you’re looking for something you can use as a treat while teaching your dog new tasks (like ‘play dead’, which takes dogs forever to learn), popcorn is an easy, tasty incentive that will keep your dog interested without causing them to gain a bunch of weight. Popcorn is also low in fat, so it is unlikely to contribute to more serious health problems like heart disease or pancreatitis.
Though it does not have as much fiber as, say, carrots, popcorn still contains a small amount, which can help their digestive system. Fiber helps regulate digestion because it soaks up water. So, if your dog is dealing with diarrhea, fiber can aid in creating firmer, fuller stool by absorbing extra water in the intestines. On the flip side, if your dog is constipated, fiber can carry water through the intestines, helping to ‘sweep out’ the digestive system and get things moving properly again. Of course, if your dog has severe diarrhea or constipation, they need veterinary care—popcorn is not a medicinal food!
Things to Keep in Mind
Even if popcorn is safe for your dog, you still need to practice moderation and be aware of what comes WITH the popcorn. Most microwave or pre-popped popcorn brands are coated with delicious, but ultimately unhealthy, flavorings. Read through the nutrition facts and the ingredients. If the popcorn contains a lot of extra salt, sugar, or fat, it’s better not to share. Flavored popcorn is a recipe for weight gain and health problems—dogs do not handle added sugars or fatty foods as well as we do. One of the biggest risks associated with feeding your dog high fat junk foods is pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Dogs suffering from pancreatitis will show symptoms such as vomiting, loss of appetite, a painful or bloated abdomen, diarrhea, low energy, and behavioral changes. If your dog is already overweight or obese, they are at an increased risk of developing this disease. If left untreated, it can become chronic or even life-threatening.
Low calorie flavored popcorn can be dangerous, too—lower sugar options often contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol, which is poisonous to dogs. To head off all sorts of health problems, stick with unflavored, air popped popcorn. But you still have to practice moderation! Too much of anything can result in weight gain and stomach upset. Your dog’s diet should consist mostly of dog food, not people food.
While it is not nearly as healthy as dog-friendly fruits or vegetables, popcorn can be an excellent treat for dogs. It is low in calories, low in fat, and high in fiber. Since it is a high volume, low cost, low mess food, it makes a great choice for pet owners who are in the process of training their dogs new tricks. Just remember to avoid buttered, salted, or otherwise flavored popcorn—these high-calorie flavorings can cause your dog to grow sick and overweight.
Dog Eating Popcorn Video: