Have you started noticing your dog suddenly eating a lot of grass? Maybe this has become a major concern for you. Trust me, you are not the only one puzzled and concerned about this strange habit. So why do dogs eat grass?
Your dog eats grass mainly because he feels the physical need or has a strong instinct to do it. A more serious reason your dog has started eating grass could be because of a medical condition called Pica Disorder. This condition would need the attention of a vet. Mostly, it’s not harmful. However, if you find your dog eating grass and throwing up, it might be that there is an underlying reason.
We aim to answer all queries about why do dogs eat grass. We examine the benefits and risks, and why it’s crucial for them. Understanding your dogs’ quirky behavior will better equip you to make good judgments. Is your furry friend in need of a vet or is grass eating is just a natural harmless function?
Why Is My Dog Eating Grass?
Let’s break down this question as we examine in more detail, why do dogs eat grass, and what does it mean when a dog eats grass.
WHY DO DOGS EAT GRASS? – Physical Need
According to Dr. Becker, dogs eat grass because they may be seeking nutrients that are lacking in their diet. After all, grass contains Chlorophyll, Magnesium, Potassium, enzymes and is also prebiotic which helps balance the microbiome.
Dogs also need plenty of roughage in their diet. If your dog is not getting enough fiber, he’ll turn to grass. Grass contains a plentiful supply, and it’s easy for dogs to find.
A lack of roughage affects a dog’s capacity to absorb food and move stools through the digestive system. Therefore, dogs eat grass so that the undigested fiber when entering the intestines absorbs water and expands. This creates the necessary mass to enable the muscles in the dog’s intestines to push the waste out.
If your dog’s diet contains a healthy amount of fiber, then consuming grass might be linked to another, entirely different problem.
WHY DO DOGS EAT GRASS? – Pica Disorder
Some Veterinarians believe that if your dog eats grass, it can be a sign of Pica Disorder. Pica disorder refers to eating non-food objects and materials, such as rocks, soil, grass, plastic, metal, towels, tennis balls, and garbage. If that’s not bad enough, dogs with this condition might also enjoy munching on feces. Not necessarily their own! (Yuk!)
Apart from this being a disgusting habit, it can also be a potentially fatal one. Dogs suffering from Pica can experience objects stuck in their throats, triggering choking. Many dogs also suffer from objects lodged in their digestive system, developing into a dangerous blockage.
Pica disorder can affect dogs for a variety of reasons:
- Nutritional Issues
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Thyroid Problems.
If you are becoming increasingly concerned that your dog won’t stop eating grass, or other non-edible objects. It’s wise to rule Pica out of the equation by consulting your friendly neighborhood veterinarian.
WHY DO DOGS EAT GRASS? – Stress or Boredom
A day in the life of a dog can be a happy, wild adventure of fun and excitement. Going for long regular walks in the park, playing, investigating smells, barking, and chasing small furry animals that squeak.
Unfortunately for many dogs, that’s not always the case. It’s more likely for family dogs to watch their owners head off to work, whilst waiting impatiently for their return. For a dog, particularly an anxious dog, this can seem like an eternity. While most dogs may yawn, curl up and go to sleep until their owner returns, some have a unique ways of dealing being alone.
Bored dogs, when left to their own devices, find very strange things to do to pass the time. Eating grass or rolling around in the grass are good examples of the many boredom breakers dogs like to engage in.
An Anxious dog keeps eating grass as a form of comfort. Just in the same way that a stressed person might chew their fingernails. For more information about the signs of anxiety in dogs, take a look at our informative article on the subject
Some dogs eat grass if they feel their owners are ignoring them. This is a form of attention-seeking by using improper behavior. You may have seen a similar technique used by a small child. Children will often do something naughty to get distracted parents’ attention.
Here are some simple but useful techniques that might help if your dog eats grass through stress or boredom:
- Get a new toy, preferably a puzzle toy (and we don’t mean a Jigsaw). There are many types of puzzle toys on the market for dogs. Puzzle toys are designed to keep our furry best friends occupied as they try to find the hidden treats.
- Dogs, particularly anxious dogs, can find huge comfort in familiar smells. Try leaving a shirt you’ve recently been wearing so your dog can snuggle up to it while alone. This can help significantly to relax a lonely anxious dog.
- Long walks or hikes in the countryside can work wonders for bored dogs. It engages the mind as well as exercising the body. A well-exercised dog is less likely to be bored, and more inclined to just settle down and go to sleep.
- Socializing is a big part of a dog’s life. Dogs are pack animals, and the key reason why dogs slot so easily into a family structure. When dogs are left alone, they feel it. Getting another dog or cat could provide a valuable companion while the rest of the family is out.
Distraction is the key, aiming to reduce the psychological need for chewing grass. Try occupying your dog’s mind with other more interesting things to do.
WHY DO DOGS EAT GRASS? – Instinct
Dogs are not absolute carnivores, they are omnivores. For thousands of years, the wolf ancestors of dogs ate everything that satisfied their minimum dietary needs.
A toy poodle no longer “needs” to hunt down a bison for lunch! However, that doesn’t stop their natural instinct for chewing the postman’s leg.
Your dog’s wolf ancestors used to sustain themselves by eating everything they preyed on. They supplemented their diet with anything they could forage.
Eating a whole animal offered a reasonably nutritious diet. Especially if the prey’s stomach was full of grass and other high fiber plant bolus. The plant fiber would help them to digest the rest of the carcass efficiently.
This may be a possible cause for modern-day dogs’ instinct to eat grass and plants.
Is Eating Grass Safe for Dogs?
Now that we’ve answered the question “Why do dogs eat grass?”, you must be wondering, should I let my dog eat grass, and is it safe?
If your dog eats grass, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. The grass is an edible natural fiber that dogs use for digestion.
Things to watch for:
- Are poisonous plants near to the grass your dog eats?
- Check if the grass is covered in something harmful, such as pesticide or weed killer.
- Stay alert for slugs and snails! A dog eating grass frantically can easily munch on a slug accidentally. Especially if it’s hidden within a clump of grass. Slugs and snails can contain parasites called Lungworm that can travel through a dog’s lungs and cause bronchitis or pneumonia. Over time, Lungworms can gradually damage your dog’s airways. Symptoms to watch out for are coughing, wheezing, and weight loss.
- Ticks – Dogs can catch ticks when walking on tall grass and bushes. Ticks can cause severe itching and rashes. In severe cases, it can be fatal. Tick diseases can be transmitted to humans so NEVER remove a tick with bare hands. Tick removers can be bought from pet stores or online.
- Grass Seeds – These can be inhaled, swallowed, or the seeds can even penetrate the skin. (we go into more detail below)
Grass Seeds – The Hidden Danger for Dogs
It’s easy to underestimate the kind of damage that even a 1-2 cm grass seed can do to your dog. Grass seeds have a pointy end that can easily penetrate your dog’s skin. Once it’s inside, grass seeds can burrow deep down under the skin and cause serious internal damage.
Grass seeds can carry bacteria that can develop into a serious infection. Injuries from grass seeds can result in a loss of hearing, loss of eyesight, lung infection, tissue damage, joint damage, and more.
Grass seeds in the form of Foxtails can prove particularly problematic if gone unnoticed. These prickly seeds are clumped together and can grow up to 3 inches long, they are very common and can do a lot of harm to your dog.
Depending on where the grass seed burrows, these are symptoms to watch out for:
- Head shaking
- Chewing/licking on an area of skin
- Ear scratching
- Difficulty eating
- Blood in urine
- Bloody discharge from the nostril
- A swollen area between the toes
- Rubbing the eye/Excessive tears
Take preventative Action
If problematic grass seeds go unchecked in your dog, surgery and a round of antibiotics may be needed. Please do not take this lightly. If you have even the slightest suspicion that your dog has contracted grass seeds, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
If your furry best friend has been eating or playing in long grass in the warm, dry weather, or if you’ve been mowing the lawn with your dog around, be sure to inspect your dog’s skin carefully. Pay close attention to the paws, armpits, ears, and groin area, also be aware that Grass seeds and Foxtails can be spread by the wind.
Why is my Dog Eating Grass and Throwing Up?
Many people can become concerned if they see their dog eating grass and vomiting. There is no scientific evidence to connect dogs eating grass, and dogs vomiting.
According to a study in 2008. Out of 1,571 dogs, only 9% appeared ill prior to eating grass and only 22% vomited which dispels the popular belief that vomiting by eating grass is the main reason dogs do it.
The results were regardless of gender, breed, or diet which led researchers to conclude that munching on grass is normal dog behavior.
Here are some likely reasons for your dog to vomit after eating grass:
- Dogs that consume grass can indicate an upset stomach, and this may be the ultimate cause of the vomiting. Your dog may be eating the grass to aid digestion and process the contents of his queasy stomach.
- The tickling of the esophagus can also cause vomiting. The tickling will mostly likely occur if your dog is frantically eating lots of grass. Long bladed grass can trigger your dog’s gag reflex and lead him to throw up.
- Vomiting after eating grass should not be something to get too concerned about. If your dog consumes grass and vomits, but seems fine afterward, there’s nothing to worry about. He has obviously taken care of whatever it was that is upsetting him.
- However, be aware that too much vomiting can dehydrate, and long-term vomiting can cause malnutrition. If left unchecked, it could prove harmful to your dog’s health.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Grass
If your dog is eating grass and not throwing up, it’s not always the healthiest snack for him. The grass may be covered in potentially harmful things:
- Herbicides and pesticides spread on the grass can be more toxic to your dog than the actual grass.
- There’s a very real danger of your dog ingesting intestinal parasites like hookworms or ringworms, which contaminate the grass.
- There are also hazardous germs from other dogs’ fecal residues to contend with.
But what can we do to stop this behavior? The good news is that a dog can be trained not to eat grass.
While enjoying a stroll with your dog, we suggest carrying treats. This way, you can properly monitor his actions and reward good behavior.
Whenever your dog tries to nibble on grass, use a distraction. Guide him away from the problem area while rewarding your dog with a treat as he follows. This will teach him that if he avoids eating grass, he gets a yummy treat.
Dogs who respond well to verbal commands will just need a simple “heel” command to stop. You can then distract from the action of eating grass.
Giving your dog treats and rewards for good behavior is called positive reinforcement. But there is also another technique called negative reinforcement. This is a technique we do not recommend, and for good reason.
Negative reinforcement works like this. You spray your dog with a water sprayer every time he attempts to eat grass. This gives your dog an unpleasant consequence to his actions. The idea is, if done regularly, your dog will eventually learn to avoid such actions.
Please don’t ever try this potentially disastrous method!
Using negative reinforcement sounds like a good idea in theory, but it mostly backfires big time.
Dogs can become extremely stressed, especially when they see the sprayer and learn what it does. While your dog may have stopped eating the grass, you’ve now created anxiety with water, sprayers, or both.
Anxious, scared dogs can be unpredictable, and sometimes aggressive if they feel cornered.
Now you’ve turned a small problem into a very dangerous one. Your once loveable best friend that eats nutritious grass occasionally, has now been turned into an anxious, possibly aggressive dog. A ticking time bomb that could attack and bite you or anyone else innocently using a water sprayer. It’s just not worth it!
Grass on the whole is good for dogs! There is no evidence that eating grass can harm your dog in any way.
However, it’s always important to monitor your dogs’ wellbeing, especially if your furry friend is acting out of character.
Make sure your dog’s grass-eating habit isn’t triggered by boredom or loneliness.
If you see your dog eating grass frantically, check his diet, make sure he’s got plenty of roughage.
Is your dog eating other strange inedible things? He could have pica disorder.
If you see your dog eating grass and vomiting, make sure to keep an eye on him. Check if he’s being sick too often as there’s a danger of dehydration. Try and work out what is triggering his vomiting, because the chances are, it’s not the grass.
The last important thing to remember is, dogs are individuals, with quirky characteristics of their own. Sometimes it’s not always possible to work out what your dog’s problem is, or if he does indeed have one.
If you are still concerned about your dog eating grass frantically, don’t hesitate to get a professional opinion. A Vet will get to the bottom of your furry friend’s problem, and give you a suitable solution.
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All information in the article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian’s advice.
DisclaimerAll information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian's advice.
Transforming anxious pups with her wealth of hands-on practical experience, and qualified in the following disciplines: Holistic Healing, Canine Anxiety & Therapy, Zoopharmacognosy, and CBD Oil for Animals
Founder of Anxious Canine and proud member of the Complementary Medical Association.