Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM January 02, 2020
Dogs love grass, it’s no secret. They love to roll in it, sniff it, rub their faces in it, and eat it. Wait, eat it? That’s right. If your dog is allowed any time at all to play in the grass, you’ve more than likely noticed them at least tasting, if not chowing down on grass. Since you know your dog isn’t a herbivore, what’s with this strange behavior? It should come as little surprise that there are many reasons why a dog may sample or all out eat grass, and some of those reasons are okay and some are worrisome. Let’s explore those reasons now and then discuss how you can curb your dog’s appetite for greenery.
Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?
A dog’s drive to consume grass may be fueled by many factors including trying to soothe an upset stomach, increase their fiber intake, and to supply missing nutrients in their diet. Dogs may also eat grass out of curiosity or boredom. And let’s not forget that dogs are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plants, so they may simply just like the taste.
The reasons why your dog may be eating grass are as varied as the tricks they can perform, so let’s look at each reason in a little more detail.
- Assist with the digestive blues
It’s long been hypothesized that eating grass means a dog has stomach problems. This reason is especially accepted if the dog vomits after eating grass. However, studies have shown that eating grass only leads to vomiting about 25 percent of the time, so many dogs that eat grass don’t actually vomit, and most dogs that eat grass don’t show any signs of illness beforehand. If this is a dog’s reason for eating grass, it’s not very effective. That’s not to say that it can’t be a main reason your dog is eating grass. If they’re also showing any signs of stomach upset, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or not eating with their grass consumption, please go see your veterinarian.
- Increasing fiber
On the other hand, eating grass may still help a dog’s digestion. While it might not soothe an upset stomach in most cases, it can definitely help your dog get more regular. Grass, itself, is mostly fiber and sometimes dogs need that roughage to help move feces through. Extra fiber becomes especially important if your pup consumed a lot of indigestibles, such as hair, bones, or plastics.
- Boredom, anxiousness, or both
Dogs live to be with you and since that’s not possible for most of us on a 24-hour basis, your best friend may get a little anxious or bored when you’re not there. Sometimes this boredom or anxiousness can manifest as eating non-food items, a behavior referred to as pica. Non-food items can be anything-rocks, garbage, carpet, and grass.
- Old habits die hard
Grass is a natural part of a wild dog’s diet. Unlike cats, dogs require more vegetable matter in their day to day and they get either through eating it directly or through consuming their prey’s stomach contents. Dogs in the wild are also scavengers, eating anything that will give them sustenance, including grass. While your dog probably isn’t lacking in the nutrient department, they still may retain that scavenging instinct.
- Missing nutrients
If your dog is not eating quality dog food, then eating grass may be a way of getting some missing nutrients back in their diet. Grass is packed with vitamins and potassium, so those that are eating a homemade or raw diet might be lacking.
- They like it
An easy answer to your dog’s grass eating question would be that they like it. You may notice that your pup prefers certain types of grass or especially the tender shoots in the spring. Either way, eating grass may be as simple as enjoying the taste or texture of it.
Should I Let My Dog Eat Grass?
If you’ve combed through the possible reasons why your dog may be eating grass and none of the negative ones seem to fit. If they’re healthy, eating grass is occasional, and they have regular stools, then what’s the harm in eating a little greenery? The truth is, the grass itself is no problem. It’s the potential stuff on or around the blades that can be hazardous. Herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers that may be part of your grass can be toxic to pups. Not to mention intestinal parasite eggs that may be lurking as a result of fecal residue. Good, clean, 100% grass for the occasional grazing is ok, you just don’t want your dog to risk getting any of the other bad stuff that comes with it.
What Kinds Of Grass Can A Dog Eat?
Eating grass can actually be beneficial to your dog’s digestive system, you just don’t want the other potentially harmful products that can come with it. So, the answer may be providing your dog with their own, safe patch of grass to fulfill their grazing desires. Now keep in mind that regular lawn varieties, like Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda grass, are perfectly safe for your pup to eat in small quantities, but if you’re looking to grow your own, pet grass may be a better option. Pet grass, which is usually wheat, rye, or barley, grows fast and is tender, tasty, and delicious to our pups. It’s also easy to grow and can be done in small containers.
Grasses that could cause a problem would be some of the ornamental grasses, but more commonly ornamental plants are to blame for most animal toxicities. For a more complete list, check out the Animal Poison Control Center list.
Is Grass A Normal Part Of A Dog’s Diet?
With the potential dangers that exist from letting our dog’s eat grass, should we just stop their grazing habit completely or do they need a little in their diet? Dogs are more omnivorous that need a little vegetable matter in their diet to provide fiber and necessary nutrients. Remember that wolves and other wild dogs routinely ingest grasses and other greenery as part of their scavenging behavior and when they consume prey. These grasses help to provide fiber for digestive health and necessary vitamins. While your dog doesn’t necessarily need to get these from grass, some kind of vegetable is needed in their diet. Rather than grass, you may elect to treat your dog to carrots, pumpkin, broccoli, apples, or cucumber. Just be especially sure to avoid grapes, onions, and avocado.
How To Prevent Dogs From Eating Grass
If you decide to fulfill your dog’s vegetarian needs with plants besides grasses, your first step to preventing them from eating grass is to figure out why they’re eating it in the first place. For dogs that are grazing out of boredom or anxiety, play with them! Provide them with interactive toys while you’re away, go for walks, play fetch, or hire a dog walker when you can’t be there. For severe separation anxiety that leads to pica, medication may be necessary.
For dogs experiencing digestive difficulties, visit your veterinarian to rule out anything serious and then increase their fiber using pumpkin, green beans, or any of the above-mentioned vegetables. Ensure that the diet you’re feeding is complete and balanced by discussing it with your veterinarian.
For dogs that are eating grass out of curiosity or enjoy the taste, they can be trained to not eat it by giving them something better. When out for walks or at the dog park, redirect your dog’s attention every time they go in for a bite. Have them do a trick or obey a simple command, then reward them with treats or affection. While there is sure to be times when your dog still sneaks a bite of grass without you knowing, giving them something better to focus on when you’re with them will cut down on the amount of grass they consume.
When Should I Be Concerned With My Dog Eating Grass?
It’s completely normal for all dogs to eat grass, at least occasionally. When you can start to worry is if there’s a sudden change in grass consumption. For example, a dog that was an occasional taster that suddenly tries to inhale any and all grass in his path could be experiencing a serious digestive issue like pancreatitis or constipation. You’ll also be concerned if your dog isn’t discriminate enough to eat just the grass and consumes the dirt, rocks, and debris around the grass as well. All could possibly lead to an intestinal obstruction. Also, anytime your dog eats grass that has been treated with chemicals is cause for concern.
What Can I Do If I’m Concerned About My Dog Eating Grass?
At home treatments that you can do to help your dog kick their grass eating habit would be to make sure they’re eating a complete and balanced diet with lots of good healthy fiber. You can up their fiber by feeding safe fruits and vegetables as treats, and make sure they are getting plenty of water. Use positive reinforcement to try to train them away from eating grass, or provide them with safe pet grasses that they can consume.
If your pup has suddenly changed his grass eating behavior or eating grass is accompanied by other signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite, see your veterinarian. They can help rule out medical causes of grass eating and give you further tips on how to stop the habit. You should also see your vet if your pup is exhibiting any neurological signs, like tremors, seizures, staggering, vomiting, diarrhea, or drooling after eating grass as these could be symptoms of toxicity.
While dogs don’t depend on grass the way that cows or horses do, it still may be a natural part of their diet. Grass is an important source of fiber and many vitamins. If it is safely consumed in moderation, there is nothing to worry about. However, not all grass may be safe and not all reasons for eating grass should be overlooked. Your dog is in no danger of becoming a cow. However, if you’re at all concerned about their grass eating behavior, please see your veterinarian.