(Hoo)man’s best friend does a lot of things that perplex their person. In our Dog’s Sense of Smell article , we discussed head-scratching behaviors like bum sniffing and reading pee-mail. Today we're gonna talk about why dogs eat grass.
Here's a true story. Late last summer, I'm sitting in my outside office. I look over, and I see our golden retriever mix, Max, making his best goat impression. When I say he was acting like a goat, he wasn't delicately nibbling the grass... he was ripping it out by the roots.
I don’t mind that my pets eat grass. Every single dog I’ve had has eaten grass. My cats even munch grass, and of course, you know my bunnies help mow the lawn.
However, not six weeks before, I put brand-new sod in our backyard after we redesigned the landscaping. Max watched me lay the turf. We fenced off the grass for three weeks while it took root. I was so proud of my lush, green backyard carpet. Now my carpet has a half a square foot missing. I was worried he ate so much and my top concern was if we needed to run to the vet.
Is Eating Grass Safe for Dogs?
Dogs are genuinely OMNOMNOMivores; they eat both meat and plant material. Plant material is especially prevalent in our house, and we keep chopped up veggies and some fruit in our frig for furbaby snacks. Additionally, since the beginning of time, wild dogs and dogs who hunt often ingest the intestines of their prey along with the stomach contents — including plant material.
There are concerns with dogs eating grass; one is physical, and the other is chemical. For the physical matter, grass can become lodged in the back of your dog's throat or between their teeth. Therefore, it’s recommended to check your dog’s mouth after eating grass, especially if they vomit or paw at their mouth.
Depending on where the grass or grass seed is located, it may be treated with chemicals. Further, yard sprays (such as weed control or fertilizers) can turn turf and plants toxic. If you don't know for sure an area is chemical-free, don't let your dog devour the grass. Also, keep in mind some common weeds and ornamental plants are poisonous. So those are bad.
Why Is My Dog Eating Grass?
There are a variety of reasons your dog might be grazing on your lawn. It’s a common belief a dog with an upset tummy eats grass to induce vomiting. However, there isn’t any scientific evidence to support that it actually works.
When I asked our vet about why Max was pretending to be a goat, she mentioned all the following reasons. Planning to be a goat for Halloween was not one of those!
- It’s in their DNA. Like I mentioned earlier, it's well documented that wild dogs and even wolves regularly consume plants and grasses. Like humans, canines enjoy a balanced diet, so the lawn munching may be instinctual.
- It’s Yummy. I haven’t tried it, but some dogs enjoy the taste and feel of grass in their mouths. What's even more impressive is your pup may carefully select which blades they want to munch, just like a human choosing the perfect piece of candy.
- It’s good for them? Plants and plant-based food provide nutritional value. However, a dog’s stomach doesn’t have the enzymes to break down the fiber in the grass. Therefore, when a dog consumes grass, they don’t retain the grass’ nutritional value.
- It’s a tasty snack. Just like their pawrents, dogs get hungry between meals. Since they don’t have opposable thumbs to open the snack cupboard to get some snacks, they nibble grass to tide themselves over. There is research to back this theory. A small test down under showed dogs chewed on vegetation significantly more before they were fed. The amount of grass ingested was also influenced by how hungry they were.
- It relieves tummy aches. Unfortunately, there’s very little scientific research available explaining why dogs eat grass. However, in 2008, a study led researchers to believe that grazing may fulfill an ancestral dietary need that helped wild dogs purge intestinal parasites. Today, veterinarians use medication to eradicate parasites, but the urge to purge may be a learned behavior passed down genetically.
- It’s caused by PICA. PICA is an eating disorder affecting living beings involving eating items not typically thought of as food and do not contain significant nutritional value. Grass has no nutritional value for dogs (see #3 above). Usually, PICA doesn't cause too many problems. In fact, most veterinarians consider it normal dog behavior. One small-scale study of 49 pawrents whose dogs had regular access to grass and other plants found that 79% of the dogs had eaten plants at some time. Another survey about plant-eating dogs found that grass was the most commonly eaten plant.
Sometimes PICA indicates that your dog has a nutritional deficiency, though it is often merely a sign of boredom, especially when practiced by puppies and younger dogs. In Max’s case, boredom was the cause.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating Grass?
No matter the reason your dog eats grass, it’s not the best snack for him. Too much of anything for anyone isn't healthy. For turf-obsessed dogs, their hoomans should consult their veterinarian to ensure that grass-grazing is not a sign of something more serious.
- Find a better option. Canines that respond to food treats might stop eating grass eating in exchange for something tasty. Another great substitute for grass is chopped dog-safe vegetables. This means you need to have treats or veggies ready when you take your dog for a walk or let them out to potty. Any time they lean down to nibble grass, distract them by having them walk in another direction and offer a treat for positive reinforcement when they comply.
- Restrict access. My solution may seem extreme, but I fenced off our grass until the following spring. With the sod being so new, and cultivating plants in our climate is so difficult, I wanted to give our lawn a fighting chance! Our dogs are comfortable going potty on non-grassy areas, but I know not all dogs will.
If your dog eats grass, it's usually nothing to worry about. However, if you have any questions or concerns about any health or behavioral issue, always visit or call your veterinarian. They're your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets. The internet is a fantastic information source, but shouldn’t take the place of medical advice.
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