Let’s face it: dogs are like vacuums; they will eat just about anything that you drop, so dog owners have to be very careful and informed about what they’re pets should and should not consume. Generally, the safest option is to only feed your pet dog food and treats that are recommended by veterinarians for the specific size and breed of your dog.
Additionally, some dogs have certain dietary restrictions and require specialized dog food that can only be prescribed by a licensed vet. Nonetheless, many owners still like to give their dogs additional treats that are usually only consumed by humans. If you want to give your dog human food, you will need to be knowledgeable about what your dog can and cannot eat. So, like many dog owners, you’re probably wondering which foods are safe for your dog.
Whether you are headed to the movies or just want to eat something light between meals, popcorn is one of the most popular snacks in America. As a result, many dog owners end up giving a few pieces (or a few dozen pieces) to their dogs. But is popcorn safe for dogs to eat? And if so, in what quantities? Finally, are there any potential long-term health risks for dogs that consume popcorn regularly?
To see how popcorn can affect your dog, let’s first take a look at the canine digestive system to better understand how your dog processes food.
How Do Dogs Process Food?
Just like humans, dogs need certain nutrients in order to be healthy. Dogs also process these nutrients in a very similar way. First, canine digestion begins in the mouth, where the teeth are well-suited for cutting and chewing meat. Despite this, dogs are not exclusively carnivores, and will often swallow food with little or no chewing at all. Prior to consumption, the scent of food helps start the production of saliva, which helps lubricate food for swallowing.
Once swallowed, the food quickly travels down the esophagus and lands in the stomach, where protein-digesting enzymes absorb the food’s protein. Acid helps break down the food, and the stomach controls the rate of flow into the small intestine. When food enters the small intestine, more enzymes are added to help absorb protein, carbohydrates, and fat. The small intestine helps break down food into its simplest form, so that it can then be absorbed into the blood. Finally, the food is metabolized in the liver.
Though most nutrients have been absorbed by the time the food reaches the large intestine, there are still a few more steps in the digestive process. In the large intestine, water is absorbed, and bacteria assist in the fermentation of dietary fiber. This often results in the creation of gas.
Any dog owner knows the end result of digestion. A combination of water, undigested food, and inorganic materials make up feces, which are stored in the rectum and eventually expelled from the dog’s body.
As you can see, digestion in dogs and humans is quite similar. However, dogs often digest food much more quickly than humans. While human stomachs work more efficiently, our intestines don’t. On average, canine digestion works about 2-3 times faster, thanks in large part to fast movement through the intestines.
Can Dogs Eat Popcorn?
In short, popcorn does not contain any nutrients or ingredients that are harmful to dogs. However, the answer to this question is a bit more complex. On the surface, popcorn could actually be quite good for dogs, but there are several factors that could lead to potential health risks.
First, let’s look at what is in popcorn. Essentially, popcorn is made up of small corn kernels that expand when heated, producing a crunchy, satisfying snack. Popcorn contains several minerals that are actually beneficial to human and canine digestion, including zinc, phosphorous, manganese, magnesium, as well as fiber and other vitamins. So, plain popcorn is actually quite good for most dogs and their digestive tracts.
However, this does not tell the whole story. Most people eat popcorn with numerous additives to enhance the flavor, including salt and butter. Just like humans, dogs do not benefit from excessive butter, oil, and salt. In fact, these ingredients contribute to canine obesity, in addition to causing intestinal problems in some dogs. Even without these ingredients, popcorn is not entirely risk-free for dogs. Un-popped or partially-popped kernels can get stuck in your dog’s teeth and may create a choking hazard.
So, if you want to feed your dog popcorn, it is best to go with plain, air-popped popcorn. Additionally, you should be careful to only give your dog whole, fully-popped pieces of popcorn to minimize the risk of choking. In any case, a few pieces of buttered or salted popcorn will not cause any harm to your pet, but these kinds of snacks should be kept to a minimum. Even if you go with plain popcorn, it is generally recommended that snacks and treats make up no more than 10% of your dog’s diet.
What Are Some Safe Alternatives to Popcorn?
While popcorn can be good for dogs, most people do not want to eat plain popcorn without any of the yummy additives. As a result, you may be wondering how you can share a snack with your dog without having to worry about their health. Thankfully, we have compiled a list of a few snacks that both humans and dogs can safely enjoy together:
- Peanut Butter – This is a great snack for dogs, as long as it does not have additives like salt. However, peanut butter is high in fat, so it should only be given to dogs in moderation. Otherwise, it could lead to canine obesity.
- Eggs – Eggs are a great snack for dogs because they are rich in vitamins and minerals that can assist digestion. However, it is important that you only feed cooked eggs to your dog, as raw eggs might contain harmful bacteria.
- Bread – Both white and wheat breads are generally safe for dogs to consume, as long as they do not contain extra ingredients like raisins. Like most snacks, bread should only be given to dogs in moderation, as it can easily lead to weight gain.
- Oatmeal – This snack is healthy for humans and dogs alike. Rich in vitamins and fiber, oatmeal is great for dogs, as long as it does not contain any additives for flavor. In moderation, oatmeal can help dogs with digestion.
- Apples – It is a well-established fact that apples are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and these are just as good for your dog as they are for you. However, it is important that you slice apples up into smaller pieces for your dog to avoid the risk of choking and remove any seeds beforehand.
- Chicken – Many dog food brands use chicken as a primary ingredient in their products because it is one of the healthiest meats and a great source of protein. If the chicken contains bones, you will need to remove them before feeding it to your dog, as they can create a choking hazard or cause damage to your dog’s digestive tract.
What are Some Foods to Avoid?
While dog’s digestive systems are relatively similar to ours, there are some foods we consume regularly that are toxic for them. Here is a list of a few common human snacks that you should not feed to your dog:
- Chocolate – This is essentially common knowledge, but it is very important that you never feed chocolate to your dog. Dogs cannot properly metabolize chocolate, and this can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and potentially more serious complications.
- Grapes – While grapes may be a healthy snack for humans, they are not safe for dogs to consume. Grapes contain certain compounds that are toxic to dogs, so they should be avoided at all costs.
- Macadamia Nuts – Due to their chemical makeup, macadamia nuts have been known to cause vomiting and tremors in dogs. In larger quantities, these nuts can also lead to other health complications, so it is best to avoid them entirely.
- Onions – While many dogs may love onions, onions do not love them. This is because onions contain a chemical compound that is toxic to dogs, and can even damage their red blood cells, potentially leading to anemia. As a result, any food that contains onions or onion-based products should not be fed to dogs.
- Avocado – Avocados are a delicious and healthy snack for humans, but they contain Persin, a chemical that is toxic to dogs. In high enough doses, this can lead to breathing complications and even death.
- Candy – While most candies will not harm your dog, excessive sugar can upset your dog’s stomach and lead to obesity in the long-term. Additionally, some candies contain Xylitol, a sugar substitute that is toxic to dogs.
While popcorn is generally safe for dogs in moderation, there are many foods that you should not give to your dog. You should always consult your pet’s veterinarian if you are unsure about a given food. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution, and stick with traditional dog food to avoid any health complications for your pet.