Anyone who has owned a dog for longer than a minute knows pups of all ages eat all kinds of things that might not qualify as “food,” including paper, shoes, the stuffing from their toys, and sometimes even grass and leaves. Dogs are no more able to digest high-cellulose vegetation than we are, but they will often snatch a mouthful while out on a walk or playing in your yard.
Why do dogs eat grass? Is this something to worry about, or is it just normal behavior? Here’s what might be going on if your pup is grazing on the lawn.
Defining Grass Eating
First of all, that occasional mouthful of grass snatched from the sidewalk is completely normal behavior. Most dogs will do this, and it might indicate curiosity, boredom — think: “I want to get to the dog park already” — or even just because they feel like it. The occasional mouthful is just that, and likely nothing to worry about.
What is less normal is your dog taking several mouthfuls of grass, especially if they ignore your commands to leave it alone and don’t appear to be listening. In some cases, pups might be munching on it frantically, as if desperately trying to get something from it. That’s what you should consider “eating grass.”
Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?
There are many reasons your dog might eat grass, and doing so generally does not cause issues unless the ground has recently been treated with certain herbicides. If you have a dog, make sure to choose pet-safe lawn treatments to avoid this problem, and do your best to minimize exposure to unknown neighbors’ lawns if you suspect recent treatments.
Your dog might be grazing for any of the following reasons:
1. They like it
Some dogs just like the taste or texture of grass or other plants. If your dog is carefully choosing the grass or leaves they eat, they most likely just find it pleasant. Grass won’t hurt them, so there’s generally no reason to stop your dog from sampling it as a self-chosen treat.
Dogs chew things when they get bored, and that might well include the lawn. If yours eats grass when hanging out in the yard, he might not have enough to do. A couple of extra toys might help, or a longer walk. This is particularly true for puppies, young dogs, and higher energy breeds.
3. Nutritional deficiency
A dog who doesn’t normally eat grass and suddenly starts doing so might have a nutritional deficiency. Most commonly, they’re looking for more fiber. If your dog is eating grass it’s worth looking to see if they are producing stools regularly and making sure the stools are not excessively hard or runny. You can try switching to a higher-fiber dog food or adding high-fiber treats. Grass eating can also be a sign of other deficiencies, so make sure your dog is getting a balanced diet, without too much “people food.”
4. They have an upset stomach
It’s a lot rarer than people think, but sometimes a dog with an upset stomach will rapidly eat grass to induce vomiting. This is worth keeping an eye on. Dogs do get upset stomachs on occasion, but it could be a sign of a medical problem or food allergy if it’s happening regularly. Talk to your vet. If you’re lucky, you just have a silly dog that likes grass a bit too much.
5. They’re anxious or worried
Some dogs will eat grass when they are anxious about something. In this case, it’s a habit much like a human might bite their fingernails. A dog that eats grass when you leave may have separation anxiety, while one that has to have a couple bites before entering the dog park might be a little shy. Separation anxiety can sometimes be reduced by leaving an old sweater in your dog’s crate to keep your scent around when you’re gone.
6. They’re thirsty
If the grass is wet and your dog is thirsty, he may be trying to lick or chew the dew off the grass. If you have your dog in the yard and he suddenly starts eating grass, make sure he didn’t empty his water bowl when you weren’t looking.
What to Do if Your Dog is Eating Grass
Most vets agree that grass eating does not cause health problems, but you still may want to stop your dog from doing it — especially if you need to stop her from eating any that might have been treated with herbicides. What can you do to stop your dog from eating grass?
1. Work on training “leave it”
You should have a goal of always being able to stop your dog from eating or chewing something inappropriate.
2. Give your pooch some entertainment
If your dog is bored, try giving her a puzzle toy to distract her, or get out her favorite chew toy. It’s a good idea to always have a toy or two in the yard.
3. Make sure your dog has access to water at all times
Don’t leave your dog outside without water. Dogs will drink as much as they need to when left to their own devices.
4. Try increasing dietary fiber or talk to your vet about your dog’s nutritional needs
Your vet might recommend feeding a broad spectrum vitamin supplement, for example. If the behavior stops then you know the issue was with your dog’s diet.
When to Call the Vet
Sometimes eating grass can be a sign of a serious problem, especially if your dog appears frantic and the behavior is not normal for them.
- If your dog is routinely eating grass and throwing up, or if he looks unwell or unhappy prior to eating grass, there might well be something wrong. You know your dog and can tell when the behavior shifts from normal to not-so-typical. If this occurs, it’s time to call.
- You should also call the vet if your dog appears to be bloated. Check their stool and/or vomit for worms, as an upset stomach can be a sign of a parasitic infection. (Always talk to your vet about the best preventive regime for your dog).
Most of the time, though, munching on grass is normal dog behavior. Unless it’s bothering you or you’re worried about herbicides or toxic plants, it’s not a behavior to worry about. Just make sure your dog does not have access to plants poisonous to dogs.
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