When you take your dog out for a walk, or let them play in the yard, whether it’s for potty-time, quality time, or both, you may notice that your dog likes to take a little sample of the fresh grass around them. Why do dogs eat grass? Does it mean that your dog is sick? Well, there are actually a number of reasons for a dog eating grass.
While you might panic and think about the vomit you’ll be cleaning off the carpet later, this behavior is not always cause for alarm. But why a dog eats grass is sometimes a mystery. And how do we know if this is normal dog behavior? In this article, we will discuss the most likely reasons dogs eat grass, so that you may better understand this behavior and even give you some tips on what you can do to politely discourage it.
First, rest assured that you’re not alone in your concern, especially if your dogs eat grass and are vomiting.
Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?
Let’s start with the most common belief about why dogs eat grass in the first place.
Most commonly you will hear that dogs eat grass to make themselves vomit or simply to make their stomach feel better. As far as the vomiting, statistically less than 25% of dogs vomit after they have just ingested grass. Only about 10% of dogs that are eating grass show any signs of illness or discomfort. So, what could it be, then? There are a lot of opinions on the subject but these are the most prominent answers that you will find to these questions. Here are 4 common reasons why dogs eat grass:
1. Instinctive behavior:
If a dog’s diet is complete and balanced, eating grass may not be related to a deficiency at all — it might be instinct. Dogs’ digestive systems, dietary needs, and cravings have evolved to fit the lifestyle of domesticated dogs. Wolves eat grass, and other animals can be found regularly eating grass, but most dogs should not.
While canines in the wild weren’t getting their primary source of nutrients from grass, eating an entire animal provided an optimal diet, especially if it consisted of various plants. Perhaps they naturally crave grass as part of their genetic makeup, dating back to when they hunted their own prey. Wild dogs generally ate grass to add roughage to their diet, to eat more nutrients, and for the taste.
2. Your dog might just need more roughage:
Eating grass could also be your dog’s way of getting more fiber in their diet, which helps them digest their food, pass stool, and keep their GI system and stomach operating like clockwork. A change to food with a higher-fiber content may help your canine eat less grass. Getting enough nutrients for dogs (especially older dogs) can also help eliminate a more serious medical problem in the future. All you have to do is add some roughage for a high fiber diet. They might even like the taste so much more than the food they are eating now. A dog's stomach can benefit from getting enough fibrous foods.
3. Potential medical issue:
While a minor amount of grass eating is fairly normal with dogs, excessive eating of grass can be a red-flag which indicates that your pup may need some special assistance from you and possibly even from the vet. If your dog is showing signs of stomach discomfort after they eat grass, for instance, then it could be something more serious such as inflammatory bowel syndrome disease or gastric reflux, so if you see signs like these then you should get your furry friend to the vet for a visit. It is always better to err on the safe side.
One other medical condition that your dog may exhibit is called ‘Pica’ and this is another suspected reason for grass eating behavior in dogs. Pica is the ingestion of items which are not considered food or ‘normal food’. The common belief with this is that it is caused by a nutritional deficiency in dogs. It couldn't hurt to bring some stool samples to your vet just to be sure. Vets may want to examine the stomach contents, especially if your they have had illness prior.
4. Your dog might just like grass:
If your canine is still trying to eat grass after you have ruled out a potential underlying health issue or a vitamin deficiency, you still might not have a cause to panic. Some animals simply can’t resist chewing on fresh, spring grass. It could be part of their normal behavior. So if the grass eating is only on occasion and you notice that it happens to look fresh and shiny green, then you don’t have to worry too much.
Just remember to keep them near the fresh grass, away from other droppings (which may carry harmful intestinal parasites), and be sure to reward them on occasion with a high fiber treat to balance their diet. That way, if your doggie still wants a little grass, you’ll know that they are at least still getting their vitamins!
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Is Grass Harmful to Dogs?
While the grass your dog is eating itself may not be harmful, the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on it can in fact be toxic for dogs. Other plants and new grass in your yard can make a dog sick. Also, when plucking the grass from the ground, dogs may ingest intestinal parasites such as hookworms or roundworms that contaminate the grass in fecal residue from other dogs. Many dogs have a grass eating habit and will not stop eating grass unless humans intervene.
For dogs that are otherwise healthy and on regular parasite prevention medication, eating grass is generally considered to be safe. Pet parents may even find that younger dogs eat grass as a game, or to induce vomiting. To keep your grass grazing dog healthy, make sure that there are no herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers on the grass your doggie nibbles. If they eat grass, just make sure you know what is on the grass itself, or it can cause an upset stomach, or worse.
How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Grass:
"Leave it" command
If you can, try to prevent dogs from eating grass, especially when it’s not growing on your own property. While chewing on the lawn is a common behavior in many canines, you can train your dog out of the behavior to help provide peace of mind. Teach the “leave it” command and go outside with your dog until you’re confident that the habit is broken.
Keep your dog away from houseplants
Always monitor your dog when there are houseplants nearby, as certain varieties can cause toxicity if they’re chewed or ingested. It’s best to consult with your vet if you think your dog has chewed on a toxic houseplant or possibly ingested too much grass with a small amount of chemicals. Don’t use harmful chemicals or fertilizers – plant a dog-safe garden.
Smaller & frequent meals
Feed your dog smaller, more frequent meals – feeding especially first thing in the morning.
Consider different pet-safe products or a deterrent spray that will show your dog what areas of the yard are off-limits. Be sure non food items and dangerous hazards are all out of reach.
Ask your veterinarian or a veterinarian nutritionist for recommendations of a balanced, nutritional food or digestive supplement that will best suit your dog’s age, breed, and activity level. Especially with more fiber as mentioned above.
Safe chew toy
When you let your dog in the yard, play with them or give them a safe chew toy to keep them busy. This should distract them enough to not want to chew on grass.
Pet parents and dog owners: Don’t worry too much if your dog is munching down on the occasional patch of grass, especially if it’s in a trusted place like your backyard where you know there aren’t any harmful pesticides or other dogs who have been sick.
Dogs Eat Grass as Sign of Anxiety
However, if you believe your dog’s grass eating is due to anxiety or other behavioral issues, the acts of diversion, distraction and environmental enrichment are recommended, including:
Increasing your dog’s daily exercise
Providing plenty of chew toys and distractions.
Stimulating them mentally with lots of enrichment activities, like dog puzzles and games.
When to Call the Vet:
If you've tried all of the above steps and your dog is still eating grass daily, or is eating a lot of grass and then continuously getting sick, having them checked out by a veterinarian to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions is a good idea.
Your vet may recommend changing your dog’s diet to meet their specific nutrition needs or performing a more thorough exam to get to the root of the issue. If your vet believes the issue to be behavioral, they or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist can recommend a specialized treatment plan.
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