Dogs eating grass is another one of those annoying habits your dog may start.
For one reason or another, suddenly one day you find your dog, out of the blue, eating grass.
Is this good or bad?
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Seeing our precious canine friend eating grass might leave us a bit confused. In fact, although a dog eating grass is a usual sight, it might leave some owners worried. Why do dogs do this in the first place? Are they hungry, sick, or just bored? Will this habit hurt them?
After all, it is a bit unusual for the dog to eat grass, especially if we regularly feed it. Moreover, it is common for puppies to eat grass, as well. From the owner’s perspective, dogs are not the usual grazing animals. This description fits cows, horses, and other bovine and equine species better.
The technical term that denotes this unusual affinity to non-foods is called pica. It’s manifested in dogs eating grass, golf balls, rocks, socks, etc. Some owners say their dogs went as far as swallowing a whole hockey puck.
Even though grass is, broadly speaking, a food, a dog eating grass still counts as pica. This is because pica encompasses eating any foods that might interfere with the dog’s digestive system.
However, our dog eating grass is, in fact, a pretty common occurrence. Moreover, wild dogs have also been observed doing it.
In contrast to other forms of pica, eating grass won’t be that much of a problem for our dog. The majority of veterinarians believe it’s perfectly normal. Also, a survey about dogs eating plants has even shown grass as the most commonly consumed plant.
So let us take a closer look at why dogs tend to eat grass, and how this affects their health. We will also mention preventive measures, as well as debunk certain myths that surround grazing dogs.
We’ve already mentioned that grazing in dogs is a widely debated topic. As a result, there are many theories that try to explain this kind of behavior. While some are psychological in nature, some are rather physical.
Dogs, as well as humans, are incredibly diverse in their personal characteristics. This means that two different dogs can go about grazing for two entirely different reasons.
Eating Grass Due to Psychological Conditions
Many people believe their dog eating grass signals some kind of psychological imbalance. However, this does not apply to every instance.
We can exemplify this by looking at dogs who suffer from severe anxiety and therefore resort to the compulsive behavior of eating grass. As is the case with humans, upset dogs will try to find comfort. While we humans have our own comfort foods, dogs may turn to grass or chewing on slippers or plastic bottles.
There are many ways one can deal with anxiety in their dog, but the solution always depends on its source. Ways to deal with it include prescription medication, longer periods of exercise, herbal remedies and desensitization therapy.
If you believe anxiety is the reason behind your dog eating grass, don’t hesitate to talk to a licensed veterinarian. They can help you pinpoint the right solution and suggest the right medication for your anxious dog.
Is It Their Natural Instinct?
Some owners generally believe that their dogs graze instinctively. This is not entirely false since dogs are a type of omnivore. Domestication has allowed them to usually feed on anything they scavenge.
Although today’s dog food is scientifically balanced, dogs used to be on a whole prey diet. It included such items as bones, meat, and organs of their prey. Natural, raw foods in combination with the plants eaten by the dog’s prey resulted in a more or less balanced diet.
This scavenging instinct in domestic dogs is the only thing that remains of their former hunting proclivity. On the other hand, wild dogs still tend to eat fruiting plants, grass or other vegetation. Domestic dogs, however, find grass satisfying enough.
If this natural drive to graze from time to time is not affecting our dog’s health, we can allow it. However, training our dog not to eat grass is possible, and we will discuss it later on.
Does It Improve Their Digestion?
Another theory behind our dog eating grass is that by doing it, it improves its own digestion. But how does this help exactly? Well, the grass is rich in fiber that the dog’s diet otherwise lacks. By eating grass, dogs compensate for this lack of fiber.
As is the case with humans, dogs have particular nutritional needs. When their usual diet does not meet these needs, some of their bodily functions are disrupted. The lack of fiber in a dog’s diet may cause improper digestion and excretion. This may cause the dogs to graze, having in mind that an increase in fiber intake allows them to pass their stools more easily.
If a dog’s nutritional needs require us to switch its food, we should always do it slowly. Start by replacing about ¼ of a cup of current food with kibble higher in fiber. We’ll maintain this routine for roughly a week before we proceed to replace another quarter. Since a dog’s digestive tract is especially sensitive, a sudden change in its diet will upset its gastric system and leave it in discomfort.
If making this switch is a way for you to prevent your dog from eating grass, speaking to a veterinarian is of utmost importance. This is especially true for owners who intend to give their dog raw or cooked vegetables.
The local veterinarian will help us make the right choice of vegetables for our dog. Also, before you add non-traditional food to your dog’s kibble, remember — some foods we eat can ultimately kill a dog.
Is It a Means to Cause Vomiting?
Many people believe the reason dogs eat grass is that they use it as a means of vomiting. So far, research has disproved claims that dogs feel ill before they eat grass. In fact, the majority of dogs do not vomit after grazing.
Oddly enough, one study found a difference in ways in which dogs graze. It found that slow grazing rarely causes the dogs to vomit. On the contrary, dogs eating grass more quickly will most likely vomit afterward.
This discovery poses a question — why do dogs even eat grass that fast?
Some agree that this relieves stomach irritation after the dogs eat something that doesn’t fit their diet well. Also, dogs that eat grass to cause vomiting will not eat grass regularly. However, whenever they do so, this theory claims they will do it in a rapid manner, which makes them vomit almost immediately.
Dogs Eating Grass to Attract Attention or Out of Boredom
An old adage tells us that forbidden fruit usually tastes better. So is this why dogs eat grass? Is this just their way of gaining attention or overcoming boredom?
If the owner doesn’t interact enough with their dog, it’s highly likely that the dog will try to compensate for this lack of interaction by indulging in prohibited behavior. We can draw a parallel between dogs eating grass and younger children misbehaving to get their parents to notice them.
Grazing out of boredom is a theory that usually goes hand in hand with attention-seeking. The single reason behind both occurrences is usually the lack of engagement or interaction with the owner. What makes dogs similar to humans is that we both need some sort of stimulation, be it physical or mental exercise.
A lack of exercise can cause the dog to become bored and seek some entertainment. Our dog may engage in destructive behavior (chewing on slippers and furniture) or ultimately resort to eating grass.
Luckily, we can easily fix the issues of boredom and attention-seeking. If one believes this is what makes their dog graze, they can establish a routine that makes them more engaged.
One way to do this is to allow our dog to live with us inside our home. After all, dogs are social animals and are negatively affected by solitude. Additionally, we should regularly walk our dog or enroll them in sporting activities.
Dogs Eating Grass Out of Pure Enjoyment
We often tend to overlook the theory that dogs graze just because they find it enjoyable. After all, humans eat cherries and strawberries because they like the taste.
Thus, dogs may eat grass because they like how it tastes. Similarly to how hard candy feels good in the mouth of a human, dogs may enjoy the texture of grass.
However, saying that dogs graze just because they find it tasty or otherwise enjoyable undermines all other theories about dogs eating grass. For example, a food that enjoyable most certainly wouldn’t cause frequent vomiting, yet it does so occasionally. Simply put, vomiting is not unpleasant enough to deter some dogs from grazing.
We can easily see the difference between dogs who graze to induce spewing, and those who do so because they simply like it. If the dog is feeling ill before grazing, in most cases, they don’t do it out of sheer enjoyment.
What Research Has To Say
Findings from Australia
An Australian group of scientists tried to describe the relationship between grass and the regular food the dogs ingest. With the presumption that the issue of grass eating is behavioral in nature, they studied twelve canines over a period of time. Each dog got a meal of couch and kikuyu grass three times a day for a total of six days.
The study found a correlation between grass ingestion and the dogs’ overall satiety. Furthermore, the dogs spent less time grazing after eating their kibble than before. Moreover, the ingestion of grass would abate as the day went on.
Based on these findings, the scientists concluded that grass was a food source like any other. This is because the dogs were less motivated to graze when their bellies were already full.
Findings from California
Scientists in California tried to confirm that dogs that eat grass do so because of dietary deficiencies or other illnesses. They personally surveyed 72 dog owners, and around 1500 more people via an Internet survey. The scientists wanted to know how frequently their dogs ate grass and what their diet was like. They also took into account the age, sex, and breed of the dogs.
Their study showed that some dogs indeed looked ill before eating grass. The likelihood of a dog vomiting after ingesting grass increased if the dogs appeared sick before that. Moreover, the level of grass ingestion was the same in both the dogs who primarily ate table scraps and those who ate a balanced kibble.
In the end, they concluded that dogs eating grass are a normal occurrence that is not related to illness and vomiting. In fact, vomiting just happens to coincide with plant-eating, rather than directly resulting from it.
Findings from Canada
A group of Canadian researchers studied dog stool samples. They found traces of grass in up to 47% of them. Similar to the Californian research, this one also concluded that dogs eating grass are pretty normal. They went on to explain that they could find no connection between grazing and increased dietary needs, as well as illnesses.
Interestingly, their research seems to confirm the connection between today’s dogs and their ancestors we mentioned earlier. Simply put, dogs are indeed genetically predisposed to eating grass, similar to their wild forebears.
These wild dogs ate grass as a means of purging their intestinal parasites. Basically, the fibrous matter made their intestines contract, all while wrapping around the unwanted parasites. Thus, the infected dog could clean their system and get rid of any potentially dangerous microbial creatures.
Even though it’s rare for pet dogs to have such parasites, the predispositions they inherited from their ancestors may have remained.
Findings from New York
A 2009 study published in a New York journal found there were possible gastric problems in dogs eating grass. The scientists observed dogs that had a normal diet and a diet which excluded fructooligosaccharide. The latter diet caused a mild disturbance in their gastrointestinal tracts.
During both diets (with and without FOS), the scientists presented the dogs with grass. Then, they recorded the number of times they ate it, as well as the time they spent eating it. What they found out was that the standard diet made the dogs eat grass more often. This led them to a conclusion that dogs do not eat grass for self-medication.
Many dog owners want to know this because grazing usually results in puddles of vomit on their carpets and floors. And not only that but as we’ve previously discussed, this may point to health problems in their dogs. So how does one prevent their dog from grazing?
It All Depends On The Reason
If our dog eats grass to fulfill its nutritional need or just finds it tasty, we should consider switching to dog food that is high in fiber. Once again, we highly suggest talking to a veterinarian before taking this step.
Then, there is the case when our dog self-medicates by grazing. Even though an above study claims this is not often the case, this gastric problem may signal a more serious illness. For example, our dog may be suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or gastric reflux. Taking it to the vet is the ultimate solution.
On a less serious note, if it is our lawn we want to protect, we’ll try using products that are non-toxic. Some owners have gone as far as growing a grass garden just so that their dog could snack on it. Also, if our dog lives mostly indoors, we might want to keep our houseplants away.
Work Together With Your Dog
We may also choose to train our dog not to eat grass. For example, we can teach our dog to obey our commands, and reinforce and reward this behavior by saying “Good dog!” and giving it a treat.
We can train our dog to obey a variety of commands, but the short ones are the most effective. We may use DON’T, LEAVE IT or STOP. However, if we are not well versed in training dogs, we can ask a professional trainer for help.
The summer heat seems to make the dogs graze occasionally. So, we can engage in some fun activities that will cool our dog down. For example, we can put some sprinklers on our lawn that our dog will enjoy. We mentioned above how treating our dog to a snack is good for training them. Well, a cool snack won’t hurt them either, especially on a summer day.
It can get too hot for our pet even inside. But don’t worry, we can make the dog a cooling throne. It’s simple — we’ll need a box the size of our dog, a towel, a sock and a pack of ice. The ice pack goes in the sock and under the towel. Now place both on top of the box, and our pet can use it to cool off.
Last but not least, we can try using Barley Dog. This is an excellent product we can use to supplement our dog’s diet. Many dog owners claim that it helped their dogs lay off the grass. A little caveat, though — we do not guarantee it will be 100% effective because nutritional deficiency is only one of the possible reasons why dogs graze.
What If Your Dog Has Eaten Too Much Grass?
After everything we’ve said so far about dogs eating grass, including some research on the topic, it’s funny how much a dog can actually gorge on fresh blades of grass.
We consulted a veterinarian who told us about an experience he had with a client. By the time the owner brought their dog to the vet, the dog had already been grazing for more than an hour.
The vet first consoled the owner. He explained that dogs indeed have a habit of grazing “like crazy” on newly sprung grass.
Luckily, the dog didn’t have diarrhea, but it didn’t vomit either. The vet took the dog’s temperature, and it was normal. Then he took a closer look at his gums. He said muddy or pale gums might signal illness. Fortunately, its gums were pink, which was good.
He suggested that the owner should take the dog home and see if it eats its food. The vet insisted that the owner should get back to him after some time. Soon after, the client called and said that the dog was back on the sofa, looking calmer.
Finally, the vet explained that the owner should just wait to see whether the grass will go through. In case the dog started vomiting, the vet recommended immediately taking him back to the office. Fortunately, everything was fine in the end.
This short story helped us lessen some of the worries we had about our dogs eating grass without stopping. In short — we should regularly check the color of our dog’s gums, monitor its food intake and wait for it to either spew the grass out or excrete it.
Dogs are lovely, curious creatures. Their friendly, inquisitive nature sure is a plus, but it also leaves behind a great mystery.
Dogs eating grass is a widely debated subject. Some theorize that it complements their nutrition, while others claim they use it to get rid of internal parasites.
As we’ve seen, one should also consider such factors as boredom and attention-seeking. Or maybe, dogs just do it for fun, or because it feels good.
However, we highly suggest that you pay attention to some of the symptoms we mentioned. They might just be the telltale signs that our dog is feeling ill. While grazing seems innocent, it might reveal other problems our dog may have.
We’ve come a long way to explain what causes dogs to eat grass and related problems that may occur. While many experts tend to disagree on what the definitive reason is, we can assure you it’s not harmful to the dog in the long run.
We hope this article answered all the questions our readers may have about their dogs eating grass. Hopefully, now you’ll know what to expect the next time your dog starts grazing on some fresh greenery.