Our dogs often do things that we struggle to understand. One of those things is eating grass. While we may feed our dogs a perfectly well balanced diet and provide them with all the stimulation they need, they may still take to consuming grass. There are many theories behind just why our canine friends impersonate cows chewing cud, and we are going to take a shot at the reasoning behind them.
Should Grass Eating Be Something to Be Worried About?
The most important question that most dog owners want answered while researching why their dogs are eating grass is whether or not it is something that they should be worried about. The general consensus seems to be that grass eating is not something to worry about; however, there are a few provisos to that consensus. There are a few incidences where grass eating should not be allowed and there are incidences where grass eating can be deterred by making a few simple fixes.
First it is important to focus on the situations where grass eating should be prevented at all costs. The most important of these situations is when grass has been treated with any type of chemical. In most public parks and locations when grass has been treated with pesticides or other chemicals, companies are required to display warning signs so that pet owners can keep their dogs off the grass completely. Not only can dogs ingest these chemicals through eating the grass but they can also lick them off the pads of their feet after walking on contaminated grass. When grass has been treated with any type of chemical dogs should ALWAYS be steered away from the affected area. Pesticides and herbicides are noted for being one of the leading causes of pet poisoning that lands pets in the veterinarians office.
Secondly, when a dog is consuming grass and vomiting as a result, they should be prevented from eating grass. As with humans, repeated vomiting can cause damage to the internal organs and teeth of the dog. When a dog consumes grass and vomits fairly quickly afterwards, it may not mean that there is anything physically wrong with the dog, but it is important to try to find out whether there is an underlying concern.
The Importance of Keeping a Watchful Eye on Asymptomatic Grass Eating in Dogs
Dogs that eat grass but do not show symptoms that may indicate physical illness can be allowed to perform this behavior with a watchful eye on the grass being eaten. In addition to the fact that many grasses contain pesticides and herbicides that can cause illness, many times grasses can also contain fecal residue from dogs with parasites such as hookworms. Many of these types of parasites can still remain living in even the smallest amount of waste residue and when the contaminated grass is consumed, the parasite takes up residence in the consuming dog’s intestinal tract causing an active infection that must be treated.
Theories behind Why Dogs Eat Grass
There are a number of theories floating around as to why dogs eat grass; these vary from psychological concerns to physical concerns to natural instinct. As with humans, individual dogs have personal characteristics that drive them to commit certain acts and two dogs that eat grass can do so for two completely different reasons.
Grass Eating as a Natural Instinct
There is a class of people who sincerely believe that dogs eat grass because it is a natural instinct. The fact of the matter is that dogs are not naturally carnivores; rather, they are omnivores of a certain type. Before dogs became so domesticated they fed naturally on anything that they could scavenge and as a result they received the majority of their dietary needs from single prey items. Where today we feed our dog’s scientifically balanced kibble, it used to be that dogs would eat whole prey items, meat, bones, organs and the contents of their stomachs. This combination of various elements resulted in a fairly well balanced diet that happened to include greenery and plants that were found in the stomachs of prey items. Nowadays dogs do not hunt for their food but some dogs still possess the natural scavenging instinct. These dogs that have a natural scavenging instinct may not understand why they are eating grass, but just like some dogs rub themselves in feces to disguise their scent; some dogs are driven to eat grass as an alternative food source.
Still today, wild dogs will eat vegetation such as fruiting plants, vegetation and grass, but for domesticated dogs the most convenient of these items to satisfy a natural drive is grass. For these dogs, grass eating behavior cannot often be deterred and if it is not causing any ill health effects it is, in most cases, perfectly fine to allow your canine the odd graze once in a while. It is possible to train such an instinct out of a dog; however, it can be difficult and cause undue stress for your dog that feels it is simply doing what it instinctively should do.
Grass Eating as the Result of a Psychological Condition
Another belief is that grass eating is a sign of psychological imbalance in dogs; however, this is generally not the case. There may be some incidences in which dogs that have severe anxiety problems turn to grass eating as a compulsive behavior. When anxious dogs become extremely upset, just like people, they may turn to tasks that comfort them and for some dogs this includes eating grass or chewing anything in sight. If a dog shows evidence of extreme anxiety around the time of their grass eating ,this may be a viable explanation for their behavior. There are numerous methods of tackling anxiety in dogs depending upon the source of the anxiety. For some dogs anxiety that causes unusual behavior can be treated through desensitization therapy, increased levels of exercise, vet approved herbal remedies, increased levels of companionship, nontraditional therapies or prescription medication. It is important to consult a licensed veterinarian to find the right anxiety solution for any dog experiencing anxiety to find a treatment that would work most effectively for an individual dog.
Grass Eating as a Means to Vomit
One of the more common theories behind dogs that eat grass is that they do it as a means to vomit. To date the majority of research in to dogs that eat grass finds that in most cases dogs do not display signs of being ill before eating grass and the majority of dogs that do eat grass do not vomit after doing so. Interestingly however, one study reveals that there is some variety in the method in which dogs eat grass. Researchers find that dogs that eat grass slowly rarely vomit afterwards; however, dogs that eat grass more rapidly almost always vomit. This finding raises the question as to whether dogs that do eat grass rapidly are doing so to relieve stomach discomfort after eating something that does not agree with them. Dogs that take part in grass eating as a means to vomit will not be regular grass eaters and when they do eat grass it will, according to this theory, be a rapid feeding that almost immediately results in vomiting.
Grass Eating as a Means of Improving Digestion
Other people believe that dogs eat grass as a means of improving their own digestion. Just how can grass improve a dog’s digestion? Grass provides “roughage” or fiber that may otherwise be missing from a dog’s diet and in these cases dogs eat grass to supplement fiber that is missing from their regular diet. Dog’s bodies, like humans, have specific nutritional needs and when a dog is not receiving those specified needs some functions are not going to perform normally. In the case of a lack in fiber, a dog will not be able to digest and excrete waste products properly and this may lead the dog to feed on grass to increase their fiber intake and make their stools easier to pass.
Dogs Eating Grass to Gain Attention or Out of Boredom
One reason for dogs eating grass that often goes unspoken is the potential that a dog is simply taking part in a forbidden behavior as a means to gain attention or out of boredom. In cases where owners are simply not providing their dog with enough interaction and exercise, the dog may try to gain interaction with their owner through engaging in forbidden behaviors. As with younger children, attention is attention and it is possible that a dog that eats grass is trying to tell its owner that it needs more attention from them much as the naughty toddler who draws on the walls would do.
Another theory behind why dogs eat grass is that they are doing so out of boredom. This reason is lumped together with eating grass for attention getting because both incidences result from a lack of owner interaction or engagement. Dogs, like humans, require stimulation and that stimulation should come in the form of mental and physical exercise. When a dog does not receive enough exercise they will become bored and begin to entertain themselves. In some cases a dog will entertain itself by being destructive and chewing through furniture, in other cases a dog will entertain itself by finding something – anything – to do and this can include eating grass. Of all of the explanations for grass eating that require solutions, these two are among the easiest to fix. If you suspect that your dog is eating grass to get attention or stave away boredom, create a routine that involves your dog in more interaction, physical exercise and mental stimulation. These things can be achieved through allowing your dog to live within your home with you (dogs are pack animals and were never meant to live solitary lives,) walking your dog frequently or placing them in a day care setting and enrolling your dog in training or sporting activities.
Grass Eating Because Dogs Simply Enjoy Grass
Another theory for why dogs eat grass that often gets overlooked is the idea that dogs eat grass simply because they enjoy it. Just as humans eat strawberries because they enjoy the taste, some dogs eat grass because they enjoy the way that it tastes. Just as humans eat hard candy because they like the way the texture feels in their mouth, dogs can eat grass because they like the way it feels in their mouths. There is no way to determine whether a dog is eating grass simply because they like it other than ruling out all other possible theories. In the case of a dog that eats grass because they enjoy it, grass eating will seldom if ever cause vomiting; however, that does not mean that it cannot. Vomiting is an unpleasant experience but for some dogs the sensation or flavor of eating grass can be too much to make vomiting a deterrent from grass eating behavior. There will be a notable difference in a dog that eats grass because they enjoy doing so and a dog that is eating grass to induce vomiting. Dogs that show signs of feeling under the weather before eating grass are more often than not, not eating grass because they enjoy doing so – think of this like eating a chocolate bar when your stomach is aching.
Pica as Evidence of Dietary Imbalance
In humans, the condition known as pica is the compulsion to consume items that are not edible. In humans, pica can drive people to eat rocks, dirt, Styrofoam material and basically anything else that should not be eaten. The most common explanation for pica in humans is a mineral deficiency and this leads many researchers to believe that the very same could be true for dogs that eat grass. Many people believe that a dog with a dietary imbalance will turn to grass eating in an attempt to supplement their body with any missing nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Most commonly when this reason is given as a reason for eating grass, it is believed that the dog is attempting to supplement fiber. When dog owners suspect that grass eating is caused as a result of a low fiber diet they should switch their dog to a food that has higher fiber content.
Keep in mind that even when switching your dog’s food as a result of nutritional needs, food changes should always be done slowly. Begin with replacing a quarter of a cup of your dog’s food with the newer higher fiber kibble, stick with this routine for approximately a week before switching out another quarter cup of kibble. Dogs have particularly sensitive digestive tracts and making a rapid alteration in your dog’s diet will cause gastric upset and leave your dog feeling very uncomfortable. Another method that some dog owners recommend is adding raw or lightly cooked vegetables to a dog’s daily diet in order to increase fiber content. If you are considering this as a method for preventing your dog from eating grass it is important to speak with your veterinarian to find vegetables that will not have adverse effects on your pet’s health. Certain human foods can prove fatal to dogs so it is important to fully understand which vegetables and fruits are safe for dogs to eat before supplementing your dogs kibble with any nontraditional food.
Training Your Dog to Stop Eating Grass
Many of the situations outlined above give simple to follow ways that grass eating can be deterred by addressing underlying problems. In some cases however, where grass eating is simply the result of a dog’s natural instinct to eat grass or because a dog likes the taste of grass, owners may try to train their dog to stop their behavior. While in these cases dogs generally do not experience negative effects from grass eating, this behavior can prove to be dangerous for pet owners living in areas frequently treated with pesticides. Dogs that are food oriented can quite easily be trained to stop their behavior with treat rewards. Taking the dog out to use the bathroom or for a walk with treats in hand is the best way to tackle training these types of dogs, any time the dog is tempted towards grass use a treat to distract them towards the walking path instead. Dogs that are less inclined toward food and more inclined towards affection can be trained using the same method but instead of treats utilize positive verbalizations and petting to reward desired behavior. Another method that is more commonly utilized is teaching the “heel” command. A dog that has successfully mastered the heel command will walk by its master’s heel regardless of distractions when walking.
Determining Why Your Dog Eats Grass
One of the most difficult things for grass eating dog owners, is identifying why their dog eats grass. The first step in making this determination is usually a visit to the dog’s veterinarian for a blood draw, fecal testing and urine testing to check for any potential abnormalities that may be causing their grass eating. As the dog’s owner, it is important that you take note of your dog’s demeanor when they do eat grass so that you can inform your dog’s veterinarian of any unusual behavior that could help to identify the cause of your dog’s behavior. A good example of this is noting if your dog shows signs of nervousness or physical sickness before eating grass. Most often when veterinarians find no signs of sickness that could be causing your dogs behavior. Suggested treatment includes: making dietary changes, undertaking training methods or simply ignoring the behavior with a watchful eye to ensure that the grass being eaten is not tainted.
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