It’s movie night, the perfect film has been selected from your favorite streaming service, the scent of air-popped popcorn fills the air and the box of tissues is on standby for those weepy moments.
And the sound of munching fills the air as the cat helps itself to the popcorn by your side. Is it time to panic? Can cats eat popcorn?
The first thing to address is that there is no real reason to panic.
Most of the time, a little popcorn isn’t going to harm your feline friend. However, it is best to keep popcorn away from younger and older kittens and cats as the popcorn can be a choking hazard for cats of these ages. Also, although a little popcorn won’t harm your cat, too much of it, or popcorn that is laden with sugar and additives can upset their digestive systems.
Popcorn and your cat’s nutrition
Too many carbohydrates can be detrimental for your cat. Their digestive systems aren’t evolved to process a lot of carbs.
Cats are classified as obligate carnivores, these are animals that rely entirely on meat to obtain their nutrients. Cats have a higher protein requirement in their diets than many other members of the mammal family and have very little tolerance of high carbohydrate foodstuffs.
Many of the essential nutrients for cats including taurine, arachidonic acid, and vitamins A and B12 are not present in high enough quantities in plant-based foods. Letting your cat eat her fill of popcorn (it happens!) means that when it comes to mealtimes she may not be hungry and miss out on the essential nutrients to keep her healthy. Cats that do not receive enough of these nutrients can suffer from heart and liver problems, hearing loss, and skin irritation.
Despite this, many standard wet and dry cat foods already contain corn.
Looking at the ingredients of many popular cat foods will show that most of them contain ground yellow corn high up on the list. In many dry foods, this may be the number one ingredient. Corn is incredibly common in cat foods, it serves several purposes including: –
- To act as a cohesive agent in dry foods
- As a cheap filler
- To provide supplemental carbohydrates for energy
Corn comes in several different forms, out of the 6 major varieties only the Zea mays everta strain is suitable for popcorn. All types of corn contain including the popcorn strain contain small amounts of: –
- Dietary fiber
- B Vitamins
The nutrition provided by a few kernels of popcorn is negligible for your cat, equally a few kernels are highly unlikely to be harmful. However, there are some definite no-nos when it comes to cats and popcorn.
What types of popcorn are bad for cats?
Whilst freshly popped, homemade popcorn with natural ingredients is unlikely to cause any ill effects for your cat, other types should be avoided. Additives that are present in many easy-to-make and microwave brands of popcorn can be dangerous and even poisonous for cats.
Pay particular attention to keeping popcorn away from your cat if it includes ingredients such as: –
- Artificial flavorings and other chemical additives
Candied popcorn is a definite no-go for cats. Avoid any popcorns that are coated in chocolate, syrups, or caramel. Also on the list are popcorn varieties that use powdered cheese coatings.
What type of popcorn can I feed to my cat?
Whilst popcorn does not offer any real nutritional benefits for cats, they do seem to enjoy freshly made air-popped popcorn. Feeding a few kernels of this to your cat is perfectly fine as long as it isn’t heavy in sugar or salt.
Cats seem to love the scent and warmth of freshly popped corn and placing a few kernels in their bowl is a treat that most cats enjoy.
However, always ensure that the popcorn is fully popped. Unpopped kernels are difficult for a cat to chew on and if they eat too many of these then they can cause problems as they work their way through your cat’s digestive system.
Ideally, it is better to hand-select the kernels to feed to your cat. As I’m sure we’ve all experienced as we munch our way through our popcorn treats, not every kernel of corn arrives fully popped. Picking shell fragments from between our teeth and biting into a half popped kernel goes with the territory.
Bearing this in mind there are some precautions you can take if you’re eating popcorn in your feline friend’s company. If your cat sneaks an unintended popcorn treat, keep a close eye on it to check for any signs of discomfort, make sure she has ready access to fresh water, and if you clean your cat’s teeth have a finger brush handy.
I have seen my own cat in a scary amount of discomfort when she had a piece of shell trapped between her teeth. Of course, it wasn’t something that was ever going to be dangerous, but it was still traumatic for the cat and owner alike.
Other healthy snack options
Whilst your cat may grumble a bit if you remove her popcorn privileges, there are other healthy snacks that your cat may (or may not) like. Remember that any treat should be just that, a treat, not a substitute for mealtimes. Trying out different treat options for your kitty can also be a great bonding exercise.
According to the ASPCA, the following vegetables are perfectly safe to give to your cat, in the right quantities of course.
- Pumpkin (this is a great way of getting fiber into your cat’s diet)
- Carrots (my cats have all loved carrots)
- Green bell peppers
- Celery (many cats love the texture and crunch of celery)
- Spinach (this is a great source of vitamins and iron)
- Green beans
Although I used to give my cat the occasional popcorn treat, I stopped this after witnessing the amount of discomfort that was caused by a single piece of husk trapped between her teeth.
Bearing this in mind if you do decide to feed your cat popcorn, ensure that each kernel is checked and is fully popped and fluffy with no hard shell attached. Also, ensure that it is free from harmful additives and coatings.
If you stick to these simple guidelines you and your cat should be able to sit down and enjoy a good movie together.
101 dalmatians perhaps?