Popcorn may be a favorite snack for at-home movie watchers, but is this fluffy, tasty treat something your pup can indulge in as well?
One thing to keep in mind about popcorn: It doesn’t contain a lot of nutrition. “Popcorn contains small amounts of the B vitamins riboflavin and thiamine, which are useful for digestion, vision, and to maintain energy levels,” said Emmy Award-winning veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber. “So while there’s some nutrition in popcorn, is not enough to make it a food that you would feed your dog for nutritional purposes.”
Can Dogs Eat Popcorn?
When it comes to popcorn and dogs, moderation is key. “Accidental ingestion of a few pieces of popcorn is often harmless unless your pet has a history of other diseases,” said Dr. Jennifer Herring, DVM and director of emergency and critical care services at the Veterinary Specialty Center in Chicago. “Dogs should not be fed large quantities of popcorn or there could be harmful ill effects, mostly related to the gastrointestinal system.”
The most common signs of trouble? Vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to Herring. “Pancreatitis is also a possibility, as is it weight gain and metabolic damage long term,” Herring said. “However, these problems are seen more commonly in those pets that have underlying diseases, are fed the buttered or salted versions, ingest large amounts or have other predisposing factors that could lead to ill effects.”
Another somewhat unexpected risk to keep in mind is the popcorn bag itself. “Dogs can force their heads into these bags to get access to the popcorn and we have seen suffocation as a result,” Herring said. Additionally, popcorn kernels can definitely hurt a dog’s teeth and can be a choking hazard.
“This is more common in dogs because they tend to inhale the kernels whole rather than chew and swallow them,” she said. “Gastrointestinal obstruction and constipation can also be seen with kernel ingestion, especially if large quantities are eaten.”
Dogs Eating Popcorn: The Verdict
So, is popcorn actually safe for your dog to eat? “Yes, in moderation and only if it contains no oil, butter, salt, cheese or other toppings,” Werber said.
In addition, Herring said that air-popped popcorn is safer than the microwave version. “Microwave popcorn contains diacetyl, which when inhaled, can cause what is known as ‘popcorn lung’,” she said. The condition occurs from chronic exposure in people, mostly in manufacturing facilities. “However, it is really unknown what the effect of this particular toxin is on dogs so I would recommend avoiding it altogether,” Herring added.
So, while a few pieces of popcorn are unlikely to cause any ill effects, Werber said you should call your veterinarian if your dog has accidentally eaten a large quantify of popcorn, particularly buttered popcorn.
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer, whose work has been published in DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo!, & Popular Mechanics.