Can Cats Eat Popcorn? 5 Things to Know Before Feeding

Written by Sam Hindman
Updated: July 10, 2023
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Whether you’re planning to pop some popcorn as a late-night snack, or preparing to munch on some bowls for a last-minute movie night, you might notice your feline friend peering at you from around the corner. As cat owners, it’s incredibly important to understand what is and is not healthy for your kitty to munch on. That being said, there’s a certain kind of satisfaction that comes from sharing a treat with your cat. So, let’s discern together whether or not cats can eat popcorn!

Can My Cat Safely Eat Popcorn?

Cat next to popcorn and 3D glasses

Though you might enjoy popcorn topped with loads of butter, your cat can’t share this savory treat.

©Bohdan Malitskiy/

In short, yes, your cat can safely eat popcorn. However, this comes with a catch. Only air-popped, topping-free popcorn is 100% non-toxic to cats of all sizes and ages. If you add anything to this popcorn, whether it be salt, butter, or especially something like garlic, your cat could be in danger of experiencing mild to severe gastrointestinal issues.

The fact is, popcorn does not hold any nutritional value for your cat. It may not harm them outright, but when cats are given too many non-nutritional treats, they might not want to opt for their healthy counterparts. In addition, the problems that come with cats eating popcorn are ones that develop over time, progressively. It’s better to avoid giving them popcorn in general, but if you feel obligated to give them a bite, remember that unseasoned, plain popcorn is best.

Can Cats Eat Popcorn That’s Microwaved?

This is where things begin to get notably complicated. While you can feed your cat plain popcorn that you’ve popped on your own accord, you simply can’t guarantee the ingredients in store-bought popcorn as safe for your cat to digest.

Often, pre-packaged microwave popcorn comes already loaded with a variety of seasonings. As previously mentioned, these seasonings aren’t something that is recommended for cats to digest under any circumstances. It’s especially important to avoid more complex flavors, like sweet caramel or spicy jalapeno. This is because those ingredients are known to cause the most damage to your cats’ digestive system.

Can Cats Eat Plain Microwave Popcorn?

Unfortunately, the answer here is still going to be a resounding no. That’s because, even without the seasonings, there is still a variety of preservatives that are jam-packed into store-bought popcorn. This is advantageous for you as the consumer because it means you can let the popcorn sit for a while before remembering to make it. It is not, however, as beneficial for your cat, whose system is simply not built for those sorts of ingredients. In the end, it’s best to stay on the safe side and only give your cat the occasional piece of popcorn that you’ve made fresh yourself.

If Corn Is an Ingredient in Cat Food, Why Can’t My Cat Eat Popcorn?

cat food for kidney disease

Despite popcorn being unhealthy for cats, many cat food brands use grains that include corn as an ingredient.

©Lia Kos/

This is an entirely fair question, as it is true that the majority of cat food brands, even those that are incredibly nutritional, have a base of either corn or cornmeal. This is because corn is a source of fiber that is both effective and relatively inexpensive. In addition, this grain acts as a bonding agent that holds the rest of the ingredients together.

That being said, cats process their nutrition (like vitamins and minerals) through meat protein. This is because cats are, at the end of the day, obligate carnivores. So, when a cat eats too much starch-based food like potatoes, bread, or corn, they no longer have enough space in their stomach to chow down on the foods that will actually provide them with their much-needed nutrition.

Why Do Cats Like Popcorn So Much?

We’ve established that popcorn has little nutritional value, and it naturally fairly lacks flavor. So, why is it that cats enjoy eating popcorn so much? In the end, this boils down to the fact that cats enjoy any food that smells good to them. Most often, the kinds of food that pique their interest are ones that are aromatic and full of fat. Once that smell hits the air, your cat is sure to be more than interested in having a taste.

Are There Alternative Snack Options to Feeding Cats Popcorn?

White cat bites and eats a green cucumber that holds a human hand on a black background

Instead of popcorn, consider feeding your cat a veggie, such as a cucumber, when it wants a snack.


It can be hard to enjoy a tasty treat while knowing your cat can’t partake. Luckily, there are plenty of foods that your cat can enjoy while you have your separate snack. Here is a list of just a few ASPCA-approved human foods for cats (in small doses, of course):

  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Peanut Butter
  • Cheese
  • Unprocessed Meats

As they say, all good things in moderation. So, as long as it’s occasional, a piece of popcorn now and again is not going to have any long-term adverse effects on the health of your cat. Use discretion, take note of their bathroom habits and diet, and trust your judgment in tandem with expert opinion. Read our other guides for cat diets, and learn whether cats can eat foods such as chocolate, rice, or bread.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Bohdan Malitskiy/

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About the Author

Sam Hindman is a writer at A-Z animals covering a range of topics, including pet care, plant care, pest control and travel destinations. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Multimedia Studies at Point Park University, set to graduate in the spring of 2024. A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when she isn't writing, she's spending time with her beloved cat Archie.

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