Why your dog likes to eat grass

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Your beloved canine is obviously not a cow, but that doesn’t stop them from behaving like one sometimes. Many dog owners are baffled when they see a dog eat grass, perhaps because they’ve never imagined them as grazing animals. You shouldn’t fret, though. Dogs eating grass is a lot more common than you think.

This behavior of eating things that technically aren’t food, known as pica, has been observed before in wild dogs and wolves (plant material has been found in 2% to 74% of stomach content samples of wolves and cougars), so it may be completely natural. As to why exactly dogs engage in this strange behavior despite having access to an unlimited supply of scooby snacks, no one is really sure.

Some doctors believe that dogs eat grass because they are sick and need to vomit, although some studies we’ve found refute this idea. Alternatively, dogs may be experiencing a dietary deficiency, but if that’s the case why do dogs on a balanced diet still partake in consuming plants sprouting off the sidewalk or on your neighbor’s lawn?

Whatever may be the case, veterinarians unanimously agree that this behavior is both common and safe. A survey of 49 owners found that 79% of their dogs had eaten plants at least once, with grass being the most commonly eaten plant.

Do dogs eat grass because they’re sick?

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It’s believed that plant-eating in dogs is due to some illness and that the ingestion of grass and other plant material is followed within minutes by vomiting. In a 2008 study, 25 veterinary students who had pet dogs were asked about signs of sickness before grass consumption. All participants reported that their dogs ate grass but none observed any signs of illness before their dogs ingested the plants. Only 8% said that their dogs regularly vomit afterward.

A survey of 47 dog owners came up with similar results, with only four dogs showing signs of illness before ingesting grass and only six dogs vomited afterward.

The researchers then extended their study by making the same inquiries in an online survey, which this time included 1,571 participants. The findings showed that 68% of the respondents said their dogs regularly ingest plants (on a daily or weekly basis), but only 8% said that their dogs showed some signs of illness before plant-eating. Around 22% of the respondents said that their pets regularly vomit afterward. Younger dogs were more likely to eat plants more frequently than older dogs and were also less likely to appear ill beforehand or to vomit afterward.

Each dog owner also supplied information about the diets of their pets, showing no indication that dogs who were primarily fed table scraps or raw food were any more prone to eating grass than those on a commercial ‘dog food’ diet.

One proposed reason why dogs eat grass is that the canines may receive less fiber in their diet, but the study found no connection between the two.

These results suggest that grass eating is a highly common behavior and is likely unrelated to illness or vomiting afterward. “Vomiting seems to be incidental to, rather than caused by, plant eating,” wrote the researchers.

Eating grass may help Fido’s digestion

According to Benjamin Hart, Professor Emeritus at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, plant-eating likely played a role in the ongoing purging of intestinal parasites (nematodes) in wild canids. When the plant material passes through the intestinal tract, it increases intestinal motility and wraps around worms, thereby purging the tract of nematodes. This behavior may have been preserved in domesticated dogs, the researcher said, as well as in felines who also engage in the same type of pica.

Then again, some believe that dogs eat grass simply because they like the taste and texture of it. That may be entirely so, but whether dogs eat grass purely out of enjoyment is challenging if not impossible to prove. Likewise, others believe that dogs eat grass because they’re bored, which sounds very odd and begs the question: Why aren’t you playing enough with your dog? If you believe your dog is eating grass to draw your attention, it may be their way of communicating they feel neglected and would like some more pets, thank you.

Is eating grass safe for my dog?

The bottom line is that your pet’s tendency to consume plants is nothing to worry about nor is it out of the ordinary. Eating grass doesn’t seem to be associated with any illness. Instead, it seems like it is a trait inherited from wild ancestors.

There’s a caveat though. Some lawns are sprayed with certain herbicides and pesticides that may be toxic, depending on the dog’s size. In these cases, it may be safer to not allow your pet to eat plant material that may be contaminated.

In order to sway your dog away from eating grass, the best course of action is to present a viable alternative. So be prepared with a treat next time you’re out on a walk with your favorite canine. Offer the treat when the dog complies and refrains from nibbling grass.

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