This content was reviewed by veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Racine, DVM.
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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.
Puppies eating grass is common too. There are many theories behind why our canine friends impersonate cows chewing cud, and we are going to take a shot at the reasoning behind them.
Most owners research dogs eating grass to determine whether or not they should be worried about it. The consensus is that grass eating is not generally a problematic behavior. There are a few incidences where it should not be allowed, and we can often deter grass-eating with a few simple fixes.
Be Careful In These Cases
First, let’s focus on situations where you should prevent grass-eating at all costs. The most critical concern is when the grass has been treated with chemicals. In most public locations, a warning sign of possible pesticides or chemicals must be displayed to alert owners to keep pets off the grass. Not only can dogs ingest these chemicals by eating grass, but they may also lick them off their paws after walking on contaminated ground. As an alternative to harmful chemicals, consider using pet-safe lawn fertilizer.
When there’s treated grass, ALWAYS steer your dogs away from the affected area. Reports show pesticides are among the leading causes of pet poisoning in veterinarians’ offices.
Secondly, when a dog consumes grass and vomits, immediately stop them from ingesting more. As with humans, repeated vomiting can damage internal organs and teeth. When a dog consumes grass and then throws up quickly, there may not be anything physically wrong, but it is important to determine any underlying concerns.
Keep A Watchful Eye
Even when a dog eats grass and shows no indication of physical illness, it is still crucial to keep an eye out.
In addition to pesticides and herbicides, grass can also hold fecal residue containing parasites such as hookworms. These parasites can live in even a small amount of waste residue. When consumed, the parasite can take up residence in the dog’s intestinal tract, causing an active infection that must be treated.
So, why do dogs eat grass exactly? Theories vary from psychological or physical concerns to natural instincts. And the reasons may differ vastly between two dogs.
Many believe that dogs eat grass because it is a natural instinct. Remember, dogs are omnivores. Before dogs were domesticated, they fed naturally on anything they could scavenge, and as a result, they received the majority of their dietary needs from single prey. Today we feed our dogs scientifically balanced food, but dogs used to eat the entire game (meat, bones, organs, and stomach content). This resulted in a well-balanced diet, including plants found in the preys’ stomachs.
Dogs no longer hunt for their food, but some still possess the natural scavenging instinct. Like some dogs rub themselves in feces to disguise their scent, some instinctively eat grass as an alternative food source.
Still today, wild dogs eat fruiting plants, vegetation, and grass. But for domesticated dogs, grass is the most convenient item to satisfy this innate drive. While this makes it difficult to deter this behavior, it also doesn’t cause ill health effects. So, in most cases, it’s okay to allow your canine the odd graze from time to time.
A Psychological Condition
Some believe that grass eating is a sign of psychological imbalance in dogs. However, this is generally not the case. There may be some incidences where severe anxiety turns a dog 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 extreme anxiety around their grass-eating time, this may be a viable explanation for their behavior.
There are numerous methods of tackling stress in dogs depending upon the source of the anxiety. Common treatments include desensitization therapy, increased exercise levels, vet-approved herbal remedies, increased companionship levels, 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.
To Induce Vomiting
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 finds that most dogs do not display signs of being ill before eating grass. Further, the majority of dogs that eat grass do not vomit after doing so.
Interestingly, one study reveals that dogs that eat grass slowly rarely vomit afterward. On the flip side, dogs that consume it rapidly almost always vomit. This finding raises the question of whether dogs that 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.
To Improve 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. Like humans, dogs have specific nutritional needs, and when they don’t reach these requirements, some functions may not perform normally.
In the case of a lack of fiber, a dog will not digest and excrete waste properly. This may lead to grass-eating to increase fiber intake, making stools easier to pass. Learn more about probiotics to help improve your dog’s digestion.
To Gain Attention Or Ease 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 interact with its owner by engaging in forbidden behaviors. As with younger children, attention is attention, and a dog that eats grass may be trying to tell its owner that it needs more attention.
In some cases, a dog will entertain itself by being destructive and chewing on 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, this is the easiest to fix.
Activities that help stave off boredom include increased socialization, physical exercise, and mental stimulation. Some boredom-busting activities include more frequent walks, dog park visits, doggy daycare, dog training, and dog sports.
Maybe Your Dog Enjoys Grass
As humans eat strawberries because they enjoy the taste, some dogs eat grass because they like the way it tastes. Beyond taste, it could also be that dogs 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. If a dog eats grass because they enjoy it, the behavior seldom, if ever, causes vomiting. However, that does not mean that it cannot. Vomiting is an unpleasant experience, but the sensation or flavor of eating grass can overwhelm the possible deterrent of vomiting for some dogs.
There will be a notable difference between a dog that eats grass because they enjoy doing so and one doing it 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 a compulsion to consume items that are not edible. Pica can drive people to eat rocks, dirt, Styrofoam material, and anything else they should not eat. The most common explanation for pica in humans is a mineral deficiency, which leads many researchers to believe that the same could be true for dogs that eat grass.
Many believe that a dog with a dietary imbalance turns to grass-eating to supplement any missing nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. When dog owners suspect that grass-eating results from a low-fiber diet, they should switch to higher fiber food.
Remember, you should always change your dog’s food slowly. Dogs have sensitive digestive tracts, and a rapid alteration in their diet can cause gastric upset, leaving them very uncomfortable.
Some dog owners recommend adding raw or lightly cooked vegetables to a dog’s daily diet to increase fiber content.
If you consider this method, it is important to speak with your veterinarian to find vegetables that will not adversely affect your pet’s health. Certain human foods can prove harmful to dogs, so it is crucial to fully understand which vegetables and fruits are safe before supplementing with any nontraditional food.
This short video from Better Homes & Gardens summarizes why dogs tend to eat grass.
One of the biggest challenges is identifying why it’s happening. The first step is a veterinarian visit to check for any potential abnormalities with a blood draw, fecal test, and urine analysis. Before the appointment, take note of your dog’s demeanor while grass-eating so that you can inform the vet of any unusual behavior that could help to identify the cause. For example, you may notice that your dog is nervous or seems ill before he eats grass.
Your vet might suggest a dietary change, new training methods, or simply ignoring the behavior for now, with a watchful eye to ensure any consumed grass is untainted.
In some cases, where grass eating is simply the result of a dog’s natural instinct or because they like the taste of grass, owners may try to train their dog to stop. While most dogs do not experience adverse effects from grass-eating, this behavior can prove dangerous for those living in areas with frequent pesticide use.
Food-oriented dogs will learn to stop their behavior quickly when given a treat rewards (here are some recommended treats for training). Taking the dog out to use the bathroom or for a walk with treats in hand is the best way to train this dog. Whenever grass tempts your dog, use a treat to invite them back to the walking path instead.
You can train affection-loving dogs using the same method, but instead of treats, use positive phrases and pets to reward desired behavior.
Another method that works well 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.
If your dog needs more help, we suggest you check out Doggy Dan’s online dog training school. And if they still aren’t feeling well, they could have an issue unrelated to eating grass. Read more tips to cure an upset stomach.Tagged With: Food Safety, Reviewed By Dr. Racine, DVM, Trivia