5 min read

Should You Feed Popcorn to Your Dog?


By Joe Holyoake

Published: 08/23/2023, edited: 06/14/2024

More articles by Joe Holyoake

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Popcorn isn’t the tidiest snack in the world, especially when it’s eaten in near darkness by somebody whose attention is focused on the action happening on the screen in front of them. 

It’s normal  for a few pieces to be dropped on the floor during movie sessions and if you share your home with a dog, they might make the most of this situation by vacuuming  up any stray popcorn. Or maybe not stray bits and pieces – perhaps you like sharing a big ‘ol bowl of popcorn with your dog while watching a movie together?

However, as responsible pet parents will know only too well, there’s a long list of human foodstuffs that don’t agree with a dog’s insides. They will naturally wonder, is popcorn bad for dogs? 

As is often the case, the answer isn’t straightforward, but the good news is that popcorn in and of itself isn’t poisonous to dogs.

Is Popcorn OK For Dogs?

The vast majority of vets will tell you that it’s okay for a dog to eat popcorn. However, there’s a big “but”. This needs to be popcorn in its most unadulterated form — air-popped, plain and completely unseasoned. 

That’s because plain, air-popped popcorn is actually quite healthy in moderation. A whole cup only contains around 30 calories, lots of fiber and plenty of nutrients too, including Vitamins B1, B3 and B6.

Some vets would even go as far as recommending air-popped popcorn for dogs carrying a little too much weight — it’s a much lighter treat compared to some of the richer options found on the pet food aisle.

On the lookout for suitable snacks to give to your dog? Check out our partner Dog Food Advisor’s list of the best treats for your pet, including healthier options

How much popcorn can a dog eat?

Even though it’s perfectly safe for a dog to eat air-popped popcorn, there are still a couple of things of which a pet parent should be aware.

For a start, even though it’s relatively nutritious, a dog can’t live off popcorn alone — then again, neither should humans. As such, plain popcorn should only be given to dogs in small quantities. A general rule of thumb is snacks and treats should only make up 10% of a dog’s daily calorie count.

The other 90% should comprise a well-balanced dog food packed full of high-quality meat, carbs and vegetables — you can see some of the best options available from our friends at Dog Food Advisor.

If you’d like to give your pet popcorn to try as a snack, the amount you should give depends on the size of your dog.

For extra-large breeds — think Newfoundlands or Saint Bernards — a handful will suffice, while large breeds (German Shepherds or Labrador Retrievers, for example) should have no more than a smaller handful. Medium-sized breeds can get by with five to six pieces, while any dog smaller than a Beagle or Basenji should be given no more than three pieces.

One thing parents need to be particularly careful about when giving their dogs popcorn is avoiding unpopped or partially-popped kernels. Humans will know how unpleasant these hard grains feel against teeth expecting crunchy popcorn and it’s no different for dogs.

In fact, unpopped kernels can damage teeth, pose a choking hazard or cause an intestinal blockage. One or two unpopped kernels should be OK for a dog to eat, but if they’ve swallowed large quantities in one go, you should call your vet immediately.

Can I give my dog seasoned or flavored popcorn?

Now, there might be some people reading this that like their popcorn au naturel. However, it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of snackers prefer their kernels jazzed up a little — some swear by salt and butter, others prefer sugar or chocolate, and there are even gourmands that experiment with cheese, herbs and spices.

If you choose to dress popcorn up yourself or you buy microwavable products that are already seasoned, this is when it becomes unsuitable for dogs to eat. That’s because there’s an awful lot of human food that dogs really shouldn’t be eating.

For example, there are some ingredients that are known to be potentially toxic to dogs — the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists the following food and drink items:

  • Alcoholic drinks and food products containing alcohol
  • Avocado 
  • Caffein
  • Chocolate
  • Garlic
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Marijuana
  • Onions
  • Salt
  • Xylitol (an artificial sweetener)
  • Yeast products (such as raw bread dough)

You might find one or more of these culprits in the ingredient list of pre-popped and packaged popcorn, which could cause gastrointestinal disorders or even more serious harm should your dog eat too much.

Likewise, there are other substances that you should be conscious of overfeeding your dog. If your dog eats a big portion of salty popcorn, they become at increased risk of suffering from dehydration or excessive thirst, while salt toxicity is also a possibility — this happens when there’s too much salt in your dog’s system and can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, elevated blood pressure, seizures or even death.

Can dogs eat caramel popcorn? The answer is probably not – there are potential health repercussions should a dog consume too much fat and sugar. If they chow down on a bowl of popcorn coated in caramel, oil, or butter, that’s not going to do a lot to help weight control – especially if it happens frequently.

In the short term, too much of these moreish ingredients might lead to your dog suffering from gas, an upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhea. However, there are dangers that come with eating too much fat or sugar regularly over the long term, too — dental issues, obesity and diabetes are no laughing matter.

Some small breeds — including Miniature Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels and Dachshunds — are especially susceptible to pancreatitis if they have a diet high in fat, too.

What should I do if my dog eats flavored popcorn?

This largely depends on the quantity consumed and the ingredients that have been used to coat the popcorn. 

Check the ingredient list on the packet and if you spot any of the foodstuffs known to be toxic for dogs, you should call your vet immediately. They will decide what action is required based on the potential amount of toxic substance in your dog’s digestive system.

If you’re pretty sure your dog hasn’t eaten anything potentially poisonous and instead just overdone it on ingredients that are merely bad for them, keep a watchful eye out for symptoms of salt toxicity or gastrointestinal upset.

Say your dog sneaks a few dropped pieces of popcorn — the likelihood is they’ll be completely fine. However, a dog who has been wolfed down a full packet of store-bought popcorn might encounter more of a problem.

Good to know ahead of your next movie night, right?

Dogs can be greedy creatures and are known to eat things they really shouldn’t. If they’ve scoffed something toxic and need treatment, being covered under a pet insurance plan means you can get help, quickly. Take a look at some of the best choices from top US insurers here.

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