As a dog owner, you’re most likely used to your dog’s strange taste in snacks and often confusing food preferences. Things you might have never even consider edible might actually be on your dog’s favorite foods list: from socks, sticks, trash, and baby-wipes to random household products. Unlike us, dogs can enjoy both a spoonful of peanut butter and a clump of grass. Needless to say, dogs have an impressive taste palate that is far more adventures than a human one despite having six times fewer taste buds. But why is grass the most commonly eaten plant by dogs and what does your dog’s grazing on the lawn say about his health?
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The Root of the Behavior
There have been many studies conducted to answer the question, "why does my dog eat grass?" As you might have imagined there is no simple, single answer as dogs eat grass for different reasons. The studies did confirm that the behavior is very common and, in most cases, normal and not harmful. Since the results have not been entirely conclusive on the reasoning behind the behavior, several theories still persist.
Some experts argue that the behavior is inherited from wolves and rooted in the habits of the dog's distant ancestors who ate prey that ate grass, thus developing a taste for it as well. Others believe that the behavior might be instinctual and that dogs ingest plant material such as grass as a way to increase intestinal motility because that is what studies suggest wild chimpanzees do to remove intestinal parasites. If your dog’s behavior started suddenly and is recurring, it is best to take your dog to the vet to check for intestinal worms.
Another common theory is that dogs eat grass because they feel sick and use the long blades of grass to induce vomiting to feel better. This theory of self-medication is backed by many owners testifying to their own experiences and improvement in their dog’s condition after the grass grazing. However, studies have shown that only around 10% of dogs feel unwell before eating the grass and less than 25% actually vomit. As long as your grass is free from fertilizer and pesticides, there is no reason you shouldn’t let your dog have a helping from time to time as it does seem to treat minor indigestion or gassiness and makes them feel better.
Your dog’s diet might also be the reason for his self-supplementation, especially if his diet is low in fiber. Many believe that the nutritional necessity is behind dogs’ goat-like behavior, in which case it is best to switch up the current dog food to something more balanced that fills that nutritional need and won’t cause you to worry about potential deficiencies. Before you do, consult your veterinarian for recommendations.
Lastly, dogs might eat grass because they are curious, bored, or simply like the flavor. This is especially common for younger dogs and puppies who are still just exploring the world around them. Make sure your dog has enough exercise during the day and engaging or interactive toys to play with.
Encouraging the Behavior
Should you let your dog eat grass? Since eating grass is normal for dogs and not harmful, there is no reason your dog should not enjoy some greenery from time to time. You should not encourage your dog to indulge during your walks, in case the grass has been treated with pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals that can be toxic for dogs.
Instead, let your dog graze on the grass in your backyard where you know it is safe and untreated. Make sure he only chews on the grass and not other plants or flowers that can be found in the garden, as those could be harmful to both him and your garden’s appearance. If your furry companion is pulling up large clumps of dirt, too and ingesting that along with the greenery, you may want to stop your dog from eating grass.
If you want to be super safe, you can buy a grass tray that can be found in most pet stores. Better yet, try to interact and play with your dog more to rule out pent-up energy, loneliness, anxiety, or boredom as the potential reasons for his nibbling. Discouraging your dog’s grass feeding without a valid reason could make him feel confused and misunderstood by his owner. It can even weaken your bond, especially if your dog is using grass as self-medication.
Remember that although the behavior is completely normal and not a cause for concern, if your dog’s grass grazing began suddenly or if your dog is eating grass compulsively and frequently, you should take him to the veterinarian for a check-up. The recommendation may be to change his diet.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog’s grass chewing looks more like flossing, it might actually be just that. Consider getting your dog a dental bone or a dental treat that is specifically designed for gum relief and dental hygiene to see if it impacts the habit.
If you are making sure your dog is getting enough fiber, exercise, and attention in his daily routine and despite your efforts, he is not only eating grass but also has an appetite for other low-nutritive or non-nutritive substances such as paper, sand, or ice, he might have developed a disorder called Pica. If you notice this type of behavior, it is very important to get professional help and guidance from a veterinarian who will help you make sure your dog doesn’t hurt himself by ingesting something harmful.
There are numerous theories for why dogs try to eat grass and in most cases, it is impawsible to find out why at first glance. Although more often than not the habit is entirely normal, observation and professional support will help you figure out why your dog might be simulating a cow, if it is something you should be concerned about, and how you should handle the behavior.