Popcorn is one of the most popular treats on the snack list for humans. We love it so much that it has its own holiday—January 19th is National Popcorn Day!
Who isn’t fascinated watching a kernel of corn bloom into a fluffy morsel of tasty goodness? And the tantalizing smell that fills the house is irresistible.
We eat it often, at least in my house, and our dogs are just as interested in the smell and flavor of this magical treat as we are. But is it okay to share your popcorn bowl with your dog?
The answer: as a treat, popcorn is okay, but not the greatest people food snack choice for your dog. Popcorn, before all the tasty flavors of butter and salt are added, is a healthy, mildly nutritious snack for your dog. There are a few risks to plain popcorn, but nothing toxic if prepared specially for your pooch.
Let’s look at popcorn closer to see why.
Is popcorn healthy for your dog?
Many lower-priced pet foods contain corn, which is not toxic to your dog. It’s an inexpensive and quick way to add fiber and calories to a scientifically balanced diet. But corn is not the same as popcorn, and it makes a difference when considering nutritional health.
Popcorn comes from a type of corn that contains higher water inside the kernel than regular corn. When the water in the center of the kernel is heated to 375+ degrees, it expands and the kernel bursts into a lovely popcorn “bloom.”
Popcorn is a whole grain food, which is healthy. It comes filled with B vitamins like niacin, thiamin, and pyridoxine to support energy and cell production, regulate hormone levels, and support your dog’s immune and nervous systems.
It’s also loaded with trace minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, copper, and zinc. These improve your dog’s cellular function, improve skin and coat, regulate immune and nervous systems, as well as many other essential functions your dog’s body needs to keep working properly.
The best reason for your dog to get the occasional snack of popcorn is its high dietary fiber, low calories, and powerful polyphenol antioxidants. Fiber helps with digestion, reduces the risk of obesity, and carries water through the digestive system.
Antioxidants destroy free-radicals that damage cells from environmental toxins and stress from diseases. They also reduce the risk of some cancers.
So, popcorn offers some nutritional benefits for humans, but our dogs can’t eat enough to take advantage of them. For dogs, popcorn is a tasty snack rather than a healthy snack.
Too much popcorn can be ruff on your dog
Whenever you’re offering your pup a new food, it’s always best to check with your veterinarian first. They know your dog and the safest amounts for their specific health needs.
When it comes to popcorn, the trouble for dogs lies in how we prepare this treat for us pet parents to enjoy. So we have to think of our dogs first.
The best way to offer your dog popcorn is air-popped and plain, with any unpopped kernels removed. This is hard to do if you prefer popcorn loaded with salt, butter, or the flavorings we typically enjoy.
What makes popcorn dangerous for your dog are the fats and sodium we add to our popcorn bowl. These can cause all kinds of havoc in your dog’s body and promote weight gain.
- The fats and oils can cause obesity if consumed too often or in large amounts. Obesity can lead to heart problems, arthritis, and kidney disease. They can also cause gastrointestinal upsets like vomiting, diarrhea, and gas.
- The sodium in popcorn can lead to dehydration, salt toxicity, or ion poisoning, all very serious issues for dogs that require immediate veterinary care.
- Kettle corn or caramel corn have added sugars. These are especially bad for diabetic or overweight dogs.
- Peanut butter added to popcorn can also be hazardous if it contains the artificial sweetener Xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs.
- Unpopped popcorn kernels can lead to many issues for dogs. They are not easily digested, so can cause blockages or have difficulty moving through the digestive system.
- Popcorn Kernel hulls are also an issue. When humans eat popcorn, the hulls can get lodged between our teeth or gums and be uncomfortable. Dogs have the same problems with them. We can use dental floss and brush or rinse the hulls out – dogs can’t. This can lead to the same feeling of discomfort, and cause tooth decay, gum disease like gingivitis, or even dental disease.
- The shape of popped corn can be a choking hazard. If you, like so many dog parents, toss pieces of popcorn to your eager pooch, the morsels can land badly, choking your dog or making it difficult to swallow and cause choking.
I’m guilty of this! Popcorn seems to be the only thing my lab can catch, and I didn’t even know this was a hazard!
- Many of us use microwave popcorn. The bags used for microwave popcorn contain toxic chemicals (PFCs) that keep the oils from seeping through the bag lining. PFCs are known to cause cancer and get absorbed by the corn kernels. Not good news! I didn’t know this and will be air-popping from now on!
Pet Pro Tip: If you have a dog that is prone to ‘snacksidents’ – you should consider getting a dog insurance plan as soon as possible. It can help you afford the best care in the future by covering eligible vet bills for digestive illnesses, toxic ingestion, and more.
Can dogs be allergic to popcorn?
Yes, just like wheat or soy, corn is a known allergen in the dog world. A corn allergy or intolerance would show symptoms like gas, diarrhea, vomiting, or a stomach upset, obsessive licking (especially on the paws), skin rash, or irritation.
If you suspect an intolerance or allergic reaction to the popcorn, stop giving it to your dog and speak with the vet.
The safest popcorn ideas for your pooch
As stated earlier, the safest, healthiest way to serve popcorn to your pooch is air-popped and plain, with no additives of cheese, salts, butter, or flavoring.
Any commercially packaged popcorn like Smart Food, Skinny Pop, movie buttered popcorn, kettle corn, or caramel corn is NOT a snack choice you can share with your dog.
Hulless popcorn has smaller, more tender kernels, making it a smart choice for a dog snack.
If you prefer your popcorn with added salt, butter, or seasoning, try separating a small amount for your dog before you add the yummy goodness to the bowl. You’ll still be sharing your treat, but it’s safer and healthier for them.
So to sum up, popcorn has some minimal nutritional value for your dog, but not enough to warrant it as a regular snack. It’s much better as an occasional snack and only if prepared properly.
Some safe alternatives to offer as dog treats instead of popcorn
If you want to add nutritional benefits when offering treats, there are many safe fruits and veggies that add big nutritious boosts to your dog’s overall health. These may be a better option than popcorn.
Next time you have a movie night and plan to share your popcorn with your dog, it’s okay! Just make sure it’s safe for your dog’s health needs and follows guidelines of treats being only 10% of your dog’s daily food calories.
If you follow that, popcorn can be a tasty snack your pooch will enjoy as much as you do.
Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!