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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.
- Should I Be Worried?
- Theories On Why Dogs Eat Grass
- Why Do They Do It? (Video)
- When Should I Talk My Vet?
- How To Get Them To Stop
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.
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 dog’s 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 that 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 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.
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 into 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. 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.
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. 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. Learn more about probiotics to help improve your dog’s digestion.
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.
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 daycare setting and enrolling your dog in training or sporting activities.
Maybe Your Dog Simply Enjoys Grass
Another theory for why dogs eat grass that often gets overlooked is the idea that dogs eat grass simply because they enjoy it. 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. 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. We have an article dedicated on how to switch dog’s food safely.
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.
This short video from Better Homes & Gardens summarizes why dogs tend to eat 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.
Your vet might suggest 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. But 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 (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 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.
If your dog needs some help, we suggest reading our article on Doggy Dan’s online training course. And if they still aren’t feeling well, they could have an issue unrelated to eating grass so read more about tips to cure their upset stomach.
Your dog won’t stop eating grass? Let us know your experience!
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