Veterinarians say that one of the most frequent questions they are asked is “Why does my dog eat grass?” Apparently, it a common dog behavior. A lot of pet owners worry that something is wrong when this happens, or that their dog is sick and needs to empty his stomach. But that is really more of a myth than truth.
Grass can actually be good for dogs in some ways, and dogs are not strict carnivores as some people think. In fact, many species of wolves have been observed eating grass and other plants to supplement their diet. So, why do dogs eat grass? There may be a number of reasons.
Dogs May Need Grass for their Physical Well Being
1. Grass Provides Dogs with Additional Minerals and Vitamins
Dogs are not strictly carnivores as some people believe. Yes, raw meat, if purchased and handled properly, can be a mainstay for your dog. However, dogs are actually a little more like humans in that they are omnivores who can eat a wide range of foods. And like humans, dogs need some of the nutrients supplied by fruits, vegetables, and/or grains.
Dogs should not only eat meat. The AAFCO (Association of Feed Control Officials) recommends a minimum ratio of 18-30% protein for adult dogs pending level of activity and around 5% fat. They also recommend fiber and carbohydrates, which usually comes from vegetables and grain as important ingredients. But they do not specify amounts for carbs and grains. See my post Is it Okay to Feed Your Dog kibbles? for more information about this.
Many researchers believe that vegetables and fruits can help prevent cancer and provide your dog with much needed nutrients like dark leafy green and yellow vegetables. Blueberries, apples, and carrots are especially good for dogs. But avoid fruits that are toxic to dogs like avocados, raisins and grapes. Dogs also need grains, fiber, and moisture in their food. But starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peas should be a minimal part of a dog’s diet, since large amounts can cause weight gain.
If you are feeding your dog a quality dog food that has been approved by the AAFCO, then your dog should be getting a healthy, balanced diet. However, supplementing 5% of his diet with some additional fruits and vegetables could be a helpful addition. I always give my dogs a carrot at lunch time when I eat. They love their carrots!
2. Grass Provides Some Antioxidants and Phytonutrients
Grass along with other vegetables and fruits provides nutrients that are important to help prevent cancer, inflammation, and other disease such as diabetes and heart conditions. Phytonutrients are only found in fruits and vegetables and also promote gut health and healthy livers.
Dogsnaturallymagazine.com has a great post, 11 Reasons Your Dog Should Eat Vegetables, which describes the many benefits that fruit and vegetables can have for dogs. They also include a wide range of enzymes that help dogs to digest their food.
3. Grass is Alkalizing
Protein is acidic and dogs can have very acidic stomachs. Although most dogs do not eat grass because they are sick, grass can have a soothing affect on a canine’s stomach. If your dog does have a bit of an upset stomach, he may want to eat grass to help calm things down. But in most cases, dogs like to munch on grass as a supplement to their normal diet.
4. Grass Provides Additional Moisture
In addition to drinking water, your dog may enjoy grass as an additional way to get more moisture into his system. You may notice your dog eats more grass in the summer than in the winter when it is warmer and dryer. Just like we enjoy a cool glass of iced tea or lemonade during hot spells, your dog may turn to grass as a refreshing treat during the summer months.
5. Wolves Have Been Observed to Eat Grass and Other Plants
Contrary to popular belief, even wolves and wild dogs are not strict carnivores. Wolves in the wild have been observed eating plants. Additionally, wolves will eat whole animals which often include digested plants. A lot of a wolf’s diet depends on what he can get and where he lives. He eats what is available. Wild dogs have demonstrated similar behavior. Additionally, wild dogs and wolves usually eat their entire prey which includes part of the animal that provides fiber, minerals, and vitamins not found in just meat alone.
6. Your Dog May be Hungry
It is possible that your dog may simply be hungry. If you find your dog eating grass a lot, he may be hungry. Make sure his weight is right for his size and age, and that you are not under feeding him. If you have intentionally cut back on his food as a way to manage his weight, then this may be a natural reaction to reduced calories in his diet. The extra grass he gobbles up should not have an impact on a weight loss program.
Emotional Reasons Your Dog May Eat Grass
1. Your Dog May Eat Grass Because He is Bored
Sometimes dogs try to entertain themselves if they are out in the yard and not a lot is going on. They may eat grass as something to do.
My rescue dogs where given back to a kennel/day care facility when they were 5 years old. They had been adopted as pups, but the owner could no longer care for them. Fortunately, the kennel facility had a huge grassy lot for them to run around in and play with other dogs. In addition to hanging out in the field, they started to eat a lot of grass as something to do during the day. Tiffanie, the owner of K-9 Country Club where the dogs stayed for nine months, said that her boarders thought she had the best grass in town!
I think that eating grass was also a way that my dogs dealt with their anxiety and grief of losing their home and family. Even though they have been part of my home and family now for over two years, they have stuck to their grass habit! Some learned behaviors don’t change.
2. Free Snacks
Let’s face it. Dogs usually have very little control over what and when they eat. Most dogs get two meals a day which we provide. Additional snacks are whatever we decide to hand out. So, they have very little control over what and when they eat.
Finding snacks on their walk to the park is a plus and what dogs would naturally do in the wild to build up their supply of resources.
My two rescue dogs love grass! They also like a particular type of weed that looks like it could be a succulent grown in the garden.
One of my dog’s who has the most pug-like features of the two, loves to walk in the street with her nose in the gutter. You never know when there may be a stray French fry or lollipop left behind by a family who recently parked their car there. When those tasty leftover are not available, grass is the next best thing!
3. Resource Hoarding
In the wild, food may be hard to come by. Dogs will gorge themselves when they do find prey, and even regurgitate some of what they have eaten for their pups and pack family when they return home. Collecting and guarding resources is a very important part of survival for wild animals. It is an instinct that is not forgotten easily by our domesticated canine companions.
So, eating grass or anything else that seems edible, may be another reason that our furry friends like to eat grass.
4. Sometimes Eating Grass is Just Plain Fun!
When your dog eats grass, it may be he is just having fun. It is always pleasurable to eat, so chewing on some grass may be a form of entertainment. What else do dogs have to do during the day? They don’t read or watch TV. Everything they enjoy involves one of their basic senses like smelling, listening for new sounds, and tasting and eating.
As with my dogs who started eating grass while at the kennels, it may become a simple habit. Once your dog discovers the fun and tastiness of munching on grass, he may continue to do so just because he is used to doing it. It may become a part of his daily routine in his yard or at the park. Especially if there is not a lot of other things going on, he may resort to eating grass as a pleasant part of his day to pass the time.
How many times do we come home and munch on snacks, as we try to shift from work to relaxation in the evening? Emotional eating seems to be one of the key reasons people gain weight. Fortunately, your dog’s grass habit is a pretty low calorie snack, so weight gain should not be a concern for your furry friend.
When to Discourage Your Dog from Eating Grass
1. If Grass is Making Your Dog Sick
If your dog is eating a lot of grass and throwing up, something may be wrong. He may be instinctively trying to eat more fiber and also soothe an upset stomach by eating grass. This happens in less than 10% of the cases when dogs eat grass.
If this happens, you should probably take your dog to the vet to determine, if he has a health condition that needs to be dealt with.
2. Beware of Pesticides and Recycled Waste Water
A lot of parks, schools, and commercial areas use pesticides to kill weeds. Additionally, waste water is often recycled and used to water large grassy areas. This could contain toxins which your dogs may ingest as they eat grass in these areas. Just be aware of this. A little bit is probably okay, but a daily feeding of grass that has been sprayed with pesticides or other toxins could be harmful.
3. If Your Dog Has Not Had All of His Recommended Vaccinations
A lot of other animals will roam around in the same areas that you walk your dog. Parks, trails, and other common public areas are host to many species of dogs, cats, and many wild critters. Vaccinations such as distemper, rabies, flu, Bordetella, and lepotoris are very important to protect your dog from diseases passed on by other pets and wild animals.
Grass that has been visited by many other critters can harbor a host of viruses and germs that can potentially make your dog sick. If your dog is not up to date on his vaccinations, you should definitely not let him eat the grass in a public area.
Grass Eating is Usually Not a Problem
In summary, dogs who eat grass are in the large majority. There are a lot of positive and benign reasons that your dog enjoys his grassy snack. For the most part this should not be a problem. Just make sure you are feeding him a well-balance diet. If you use commercial dog food, make sure it has the AACFO seal of approval. If you provide a home cooked meal, please consult with your primary vet or a dietary specialist to make sure you are including all of the key nutrients and ingredients for your dog’s good health.
Grass eating is a common behavior in many dogs. Unless your dog seems to have an adverse reaction, allowing him to enjoy his green snack should be fine.