Can Cats Eat Popcorn?

Published Dec. 1, 2023
longhaired white cat looking sad on a couch while a woman eats popcorn

Who doesn’t love the smell of a freshly popped bag of popcorn? But what if your cat is also intrigued by the scent? Can cats have popcorn, or is it a snack that isn’t safe to share with your kitty?

Here’s what to know before letting your cat dig in to your popcorn bowl during your next movie night.

Is Popcorn Bad for Cats?

Popcorn is empty calories for cats and provides little (if any) nutritional benefit. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need to obtain the majority of their nutrients from meat-based proteins. Other foods, such as carbohydrates, are hard for cats to process and don’t provide the same nutritional benefits they do for omnivores like humans.

However, while plain popcorn doesn’t benefit cats, it’s also not toxic for felines and is unlikely to cause harm in small amounts. But that also doesn’t mean that feeding popcorn to your cat is without risks.

Harmful Ingredients

While plain, air-popped popcorn is unlikely to harm your cat, popular popcorn additives—such as salt, butter, and flavored toppings like chocolate or caramel—might not be as safe. At a minimum, additives are typically high in calories and fat, both things our felines friends don’t need in excess. Other ingredients, including chocolate, are toxic to kitties.


Popcorn kernels are often fairly large compared to the size of a cat’s mouth. If your cat tries to chew them, it may result in choking or even obstructions if swallowed whole.

At the end of the day, everything is likely going to be fine if your kitty swipes a piece of popcorn. But always make sure the portions are small and that the popcorn is free of toxic additives.

Can Popcorn Kill Cats?

Popcorn is very unlikely to kill cats. If you give your kitty small amounts of plain popcorn as a supervised treat, it should prove no large risk. 

More concern is warranted if your cat eats a lot of popcorn or any flavored popcorn, as this can lead to gastrointestinal upset and illness. It’s also possible for your kitty to choke on the popcorn, aspirate (inhale) a kernel, or ingest enough to cause an intestinal obstruction. However, under normal supervised circumstances, it would be very rare for a small amount of plain popcorn to result in harm.

My Cat Ate Popcorn. What Do I Do?

If you find your kitty chowing down on popcorn, chances are still good that the most serious side effects will be vomiting and diarrhea. But if the popcorn is flavored, it’s wise to call your veterinarian to determine if any of the extra ingredients are likely to cause any problems.

Call your vet if your cat is showing signs of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, decreased appetite, or coughing after eating popcorn.

What To Feed Your Cat Instead of Popcorn

There are many other human foods you can safely share with your cat that make much healthier treats than popcorn. Many meat-based foods are relished by cats, and your kitty might also enjoy snacking on certain cat-safe fruits and veggies.

Some feline-friendly snacks include:

Remember: Always talk to your vet before adding a new treat to your cat’s diet, and always keep portions small—especially when letting your kitty try a food for the first time.

Featured Image: Kiwis/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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