The familiar smell of popcorn is hard to resist. Every time I spell that delicious buttery smell, my mouth waters. An odds are, it has a similar effect for your cat.
So the question is, is popcorn dangerous for your cat to eat? Let’s take a look.
The Spice Problem
Cats have sensitive digestive systems and often can’t consume the same foods that people can, so what should you do if your cat is becoming increasingly more interested in your popcorn?
First things first, it is important to consider what forms of popcorn your cat can and can’t eat.
Cats cannot eat most spices and flavoring agents that people enjoy, which is one reason why they can’t enjoy most of the food that their people eat. This also applies to popcorn.
Traditionally, popcorn is salted, sometimes seasoned, and is often buttered or drenched in olive oil. Salt, spices, butter, and olive oil are all bad for cats, ranging from turning the popcorn into a choking hazard to making the popcorn a toxic little treat.
If your popcorn is completely unseasoned and unflavored, it becomes far less of an issue.
When Popcorn Is Fine for Cats
With all of this in mind, freshly popped popcorn that has been nowhere near salt, pepper, other seasonings, butter, or oils is actually safe for cats. It can be hard to come by popcorn that is this natural and completely unflavored, but if that is the popcorn you have, then it will likely be fine for cats to eat in small quantities.
However, your cat should not eat more than a few pieces of popcorn at a time, despite the fact that popcorn by itself is nontoxic.
This is because cats are known as obligate carnivores. This subset of carnivores simply means that cats require a full-meat diet to survive and have not evolved to be able to digest carbohydrates, and that they can only get certain nutrients from the flesh of other animals.
Simply put, this means that cats have no purpose for foods that are not meat. They have no metabolic need for carbohydrates, so naturally, their digestive system is not equipped to handle them.
Popcorn is a type of whole grain food, and while this is great for people, this is not as good for cats.
Cats can likely eat a couple pieces of popcorn (by itself), but more than this and they will have trouble processing it because they do not have the necessary digestive enzymes to work with carbs.
Popcorn is a Choking Hazard
If you have popcorn in the house and your cat is either particularly old or young, you should take extra care to keep it away from your cat.
Popcorn, especially the kernels, present a choking hazard for young kittens and senior cats, and both young and old cats cannot handle the carbs from the popcorn as well as a healthy adult cat can.
Can Cats Eat Unpopped Kernels?
Cats should not eat unpopped kernels, even if they are adult cats. Adult cats can handle them best, but more often than not, kernels are going to be too hard for your cat to chew on.
The kernel can then cause a host of digestive issues, ranging from choking to impaction if your cat eats too many.
Again, a single kernel is likely not to cause an issue if your cat accidentally eats it while you are out of the room (again, assuming that it is unseasoned and unflavored), but you should not purposefully offer kernels to cats.
What Should You Do If Your Cat Eats Popcorn?
Despite these factors, cats will sometimes be interested in your popcorn, especially if the popcorn has strong seasonings and flavors added to it. These seasonings, flavors, and butter can add a unique smell that your cat has likely never experienced before.
Cats, much like toddlers, will inspect this strange new object by putting it in their mouths and sometimes ingesting it, as this is how they explore the world. Popcorn is often served fresh-popped and warm, so the cat might be even more interested in it because the warmth instinctually reminds them of fresh-killed prey, especially with the crunch of the kernel shell, even though popcorn is not meat.
If you notice that your cat has eaten popcorn, the first thing you should do is observe your cat. Kernels are a choking hazard, so even though the cat has already eaten them, you need to make sure that the cat isn’t going to choke on them.
It can often be more of a hassle to try and get the cat to stop eating so if it has already gotten to this point, you just need to make sure it doesn’t hurt itself further.
When to Call Your Vet
If you notice your cat is in discomfort, you should contact your vet and offer as many details as you can, including what the popcorn was seasoned with and how it was prepared and how much the cat ate, even if it’s just an estimate.
Your vet will then decide if he or she wants to watch the cat for a bit to ensure that it will pass the food safely (though uncomfortably), or if you should just make sure the cat passes the food without too much trouble.
This can be a tough decision, as the trip to the vet can induce more stress in a cat that may be feeling bad already, but the vet has the equipment to help your cat if things get bad. Your vet will know which course of action to take.
Give Your Cat Water
You should make sure you offer water to your cat when you can.
Depending on the seasonings of the popcorn, your cat might be in for a night of either vomiting or diarrhea, especially if the popcorn was flavored with onion or garlic. Both vomiting and diarrhea can make your cat dehydrated, which is another problem on its own, so you will want to make sure that clean water is available at all times as your cat passes the popcorn.
Long Term Consequences of Your Cat Eating Popcorn
Your vet may want to see the cat later to make sure there are no lasting effects from the popcorn.
There will likely not be, though they may want an x-ray to ensure that any kernels your cat has eaten are not causing an impaction, or a blockage, of the intestines.
For the most part, ingested popcorn usually means a night of looking after the cat and cleaning up after it, but often not more than this, assuming the cat doesn’t have an allergy or sensitivity to any of the ingredients in the popcorn.
For the most part, popcorn is not deadly for cats except for the choking hazard that the kernels present. Popcorn can still mean an incredibly uncomfortable night, depending on how much the cat ate and what was on the popcorn.
Popcorn given regularly can cause long-term health problems such as digestive distress, high blood pressure, and even lung disease if the butter is artificial. The occasional popcorn kernel eaten by a curious cat may mean a tired night, but popcorn is not necessarily lethal.