Popcorn is a form of corn that many people love to snack on but not everything that is enjoyed by humans is safe for dogs to consume. Knowing if popcorn is a safe treat for dogs and if so, how much is too much can help prevent unnecessary problems with your pooch.
Forms of Popcorn
Popcorn of course comes from the grain called corn but there are actually two different types of popcorn.
- Butterfly: Butterfly popcorn is the classic, spread out, snowflake kernel that is used in movie theaters and microwaveable varieties of popcorn. Within the butterfly type there are also several varieties of kernels that produce slightly different colors and sizes of popcorn.
- Mushroom: Mushroom popcorn is a rounder, baseball-like or brain-looking kernel that is often used for coated popcorn due to the more even surface.
In addition to the two different types of popcorn, there are also several different ways in which popcorn is popped.
- Microwave: This is a common method for popping popcorn since it is fast and so many flavor options exist. Microwaves use small particles called microwaves, which are similar to radio waves, to heat up moisture in popcorn in order to make it pop. Oil and various chemicals are usually used in microwave popcorn.
- Air: Special air-poppers can be purchased. They use hot air and steam to make popcorn pop. No added oils or chemicals are needed in this method making it the healthiest way to pop popcorn.
- Stove-Top: Popcorn kernels are placed in a pan, skillet, or wok and heated using oil to make popcorn on the stove.
- Electric: Similar to how stove-top popcorn is popped, electric popcorn poppers use oil and heat but also have an automatic stirrer to keep the popcorn moving so kernels don't burn.
- Direct Fire: Campfires and grills produce fire that heat up popcorn kernels causing them to pop with the use of oil in aluminum foil.
Health Benefits of Popcorn for Dogs
Popcorn can be a healthy snack for dogs because of the variety of vitamins and minerals it contains along with some fiber. Calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, vitamins B6, A, E and K, folate (B9), niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2), thiamine (B1), and pantothenic acid (B5) are all naturally in plain popcorn. While these vitamins and minerals may not make up a large percentage of a dog's dietary needs, it is good knowing popcorn is a healthy snack instead of lacking in nutrition altogether. It is important to remember, though, that the preparation of the popcorn and any additives or flavorings may negate the health benefits popcorn can provide to a dog.
Potential Health Concerns with Popcorn for Dogs
Popcorn, while healthy if it is plain and air-popped, is not healthy if it has salt, butter, and other flavorings added to it. Microwaveable popcorn is one of the least healthy types of popcorn and should not be given to dogs because of the chemicals and fats that are added to it. As a rule of thumb, any popcorn that has added oils and things should be kept away from a dog as these ingredients can cause problems for your dog.
Potential issues with feeding your dog buttery or flavored popcorn include diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration from excessive salt, kidney damage from excessive and prolonged salt consumption, and weight gain. Temporary and self-limiting diarrhea and vomiting, which are not uncommon with any sudden dietary change, are the most commonly observed symptoms in a dog that has enjoyed some buttered popcorn, especially if it was more than a few pieces.
Other than additives in popcorn, whole kernels can pose a problem for dogs as well. Be sure to pick out any unpopped kernels before giving your dog popcorn. These can cause a tooth to break or even be a choking hazard for your dog.
Popcorn Flavor Options for Dogs
If plain, air-popped popcorn seems too boring for you and your dog, there are some safe things you can add to spice up your pup's popcorn. A small amount of melted cheddar cheese, bacon bits, or even peanut butter can add a lot of flavor to popcorn. These items are of course not as healthy as plain popcorn though, so they should only be offered on occasion and in moderation.
Overview of Salt Toxicity. Merck Veterinary Manual.