Q My dog, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, loves popcorn. The type I feed her has neither butter nor salt on it. Is this bad for her?
Rita Jo Dedek
Dear Ms. Dedek,
A Popcorn is a great treat for dogs — as long as it is truly air popped and contains no fat or salt. In fact, one of our veterinary hospital’s board-certified veterinary nutritionists, Lisa Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, often recommends air-popped popcorn as a good low-calorie dog treat—but finds that most owners who come to see her don’t own an air popper. Note that microwaved popcorn usually has a lot of salt and always has fat and calories — you won’t find any with zero grams of fat, in fact. And popping it yourself in a pan of oil or butter, even if you don’t add any salt, will add a lot of calories.
Talking to your veterinarian about optimal treats for your dog is important because if your pet has or is predisposed to any medical conditions, the types of treats you feed can make a big difference. For example, a low-sodium treat like air-popped popcorn is a good option for dogs like cavalier King Charles spaniels because almost all dogs of that breed develop heart disease, and avoiding high-salt foods becomes particularly important in managing symptoms as the illness progresses.
Almost all dogs are also predisposed to becoming overweight, so low-calorie treats make good choices overall. Other low-calorie, low-salt options — good for just about all dogs unless yours has certain medical conditions (such as calcium oxalate bladder stones) — are raw or steamed vegetables without sauce or salt. These would include carrots, green beans, broccoli, tomatoes, and cucumber. (Onions and garlic are toxic to dogs, and starchy vegetables like potatoes are too high in calories.). Bear in mind that no more than 10 percent of a dog’s calories should come from treats, as they are not balanced with the best ratios and concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for an ideal canine diet.