Dogs have been known to eat just about anything that they find interesting. Depending on the object, this behavior can send a dog’s owner into a panic. Your dog might have eaten something that made you fear for his safety, or something precious that you have anxiously waited to pass. Taken in this light, leaves are among the least of the dangerous and desirable objects that your dog might get an appetite for.
At some point in their lives, most dogs will go through a plant-eating phase. Dogs typically seem to prefer grass, but this behavior is also seen frequently with other plant-based objects such as twigs, flowers, and leaves. The behavior can come and go sporadically, and can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Here are some reasons that dogs eat leaves, and what you can do if you are starting to feel concerned.
The Root of the Behavior
Interestingly, eating plant-based objects is a behavior that has been observed in dogs in the wild, not only in domesticated dogs. For this reason, most people believe that eating plants is, to some degree, a completely natural behavior. Leaves are among the least problematic plant-based objects that a dog could consume. They do not pose the same threat of intestinal damage or blockage that a twig would, for example. That being said, dogs cannot fully digest or survive on plant material alone, and so leaves are considered non-food items. When a dog consumes non-food items, even plants, it is known as pica.
In many cases, pica arises simply out of boredom. Dogs are curious creatures. Just like young children, one of the ways that a dog might satisfy its curiosity about a non-food object is by attempting to eat it. Leaves may attract dogs based on their color, size, shape, or the fact that they are often blown around by wind. All dogs require exercise and mental stimulation in order to live out healthy, productive lives, and if that comes in the form of chasing down and eating leaves, so be it. Since leaves rarely have any negative impact on a dog’s overall health or digestive system, your dog will be less likely to stop the behavior on his own once the behavior starts. It may be that your dog likes the taste of leaves, or enjoys the activity. Either way, it will be up to you to intervene.
Another one of the more substantiated theories behind why dogs eat leaves is that they are lacking fiber in their diet. Those in support of this argument believe that dogs are instinctively compensating for the lack of fiber by consuming plant material. This doesn’t always mean that your dog isn’t getting enough to eat. Many popular commercial dog foods are made with nutritional fillers, meaning that even though your dog is getting enough to eat, he may not be getting enough nutrients to maintain a balanced diet. It would be like consuming a diet of only rice and potatoes. You would never starve, but your body would begin to crave other vital nutrients after a short time.
Encouraging the Behavior
Determining the reason behind your dog’s leaf-eating behavior may prove difficult, but it’s usually not entirely necessary when seeking out a solution. In order to stop or limit your dog’s appetite for leaves, you can try adding better nutrients into your dog’s daily diet. Switching to a high-quality diet with little or no fillers has been shown to stop plant-eating behaviors in a considerable number of cases. If you would like to add vegetables in yourself, you can seek veterinarian advice or research which vegetables are safe for dogs to consume. Adding small bits of these fresh leafy greens to your dog’s chow may satisfy the requirements that your dog has for plant-material, and may satisfy his craving for leaves and other plants.
If your dog is consuming leaves out of boredom, he may have developed pica. Should this be the case, the behavior may or may not extend to other non-food items. The best solution to resolving pica is to play with your dog, engage with your dog, and stimulate your dog until leaves are the last thing on his mind. Make sure to provide chew toys or engaging puzzles for your dog to play with while you are away, and make sure that your dog begins to prefer these toys to leaves and grass. If the problem continues, you may need to seek out the advice of a veterinarian.