Why Dogs Eat Grass: Causes and Prevention
There are numerous peculiar behaviors in dogs that many pet parents have difficulty understanding. One of them stems from the question, “why is my dog eating grass all of a sudden?” This is a question that many pet parents have in their minds, but may be too shy to ask. It is a behavior that is quite common among dogs. Pet parents see their canines chewing on plants or grass. Sometimes, they also vomit these plant materials only to eat some more afterwards. So what’s wrong? Why does man’s best friend show a particular affinity to an item we all associate with herbivorous animals? Is it possible to make them stop or at least prevent them from eating grass?
Possible Reasons Why Dogs Eat Grass
There are several “theories” as to why some dogs show a particular knack for eating grass or any other plant material. It is important to point out that these so-called explanations are debatable. While there are already studies that somehow corroborate some or all of these assumptions, there are also those that contradict such statements. As such, we have to remind you that these reasons are “possible” but not conclusive. We have yet to meet a dog that we can “talk” to as to why some of its brethren love to eat grass (pun intended, of course).
- As a Means to Manage Whatever is Making the Dog Ill
One of the possible reasons some dogs eat grass is that they use it to induce vomiting whenever they feel unwell. It could be something that they ate that’s upsetting their tummy. It’s almost the same thing as the induction of vomiting in people who may have ingested something toxic. In some cases, the dog may have worms in its intestines that it will try to remove by inducing vomiting.
The way dogs ingest grass bolsters this assumption. Instead of munching on grass in a slow and deliberate manner, dogs swallow grass quickly. The idea is that the long and unchewed pieces of grass can tickle the dog’s throat. This can stimulate the gag reflex, allowing the dog to “vomit” its stomach contents. This assumption is further strengthened by the general observation that the dog seems to be a lot better after vomiting.
Unfortunately, there are those who dispute this claim. They say that less than 10 percent of dogs that eat grass “look” sick before ingesting grass. Moreover, eating grass does not always lead to vomiting in dogs. Only 1 in 4 dogs will vomit every time they feed on plants.
- A Behavioral Issue
There is reason to believe that dogs that eat grass without any organic causes may have serious obsessive-compulsive disorder. The dog has recurring sensations about eating grass. These recurring thoughts or sensations are what drives them to continue consuming plant materials.
The sad thing about such an assumption is that it’s difficult to prove or dispute. Obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs is an area that many of us are not qualified to describe in a meaningful way. Besides, it is very difficult to ascertain recurring “thoughts” in canines for the simple fact that they cannot “tell” us what they are thinking about all the time.
What may suffice for now is the observation that some dogs that consume grass despite having regular high-quality dog food. The assumption also gets a boost if the dog doesn’t have any need to induce vomiting.
- The Scavenger Instinct
You may be surprised to learn that the behavior may have its roots from a dog’s strong scavenger instinct. The theory holds that wild dogs are not obligate carnivores. They are omnivores, capable of thriving on both meat and plants. It is true, however, that their digestive tracts are shorter than other omnivores, but are still longer than true carnivores.
Because of this omnivorous nature of ancient dogs, it is okay for them to eat plants once in a while. Hunting prey takes time and effort. As such, they can munch on grass or other plant food in between meat-based meals. The idea is that ancient dogs devoured everything and anything as long as the item they’re eating fulfilled the dogs’ basic dietary needs.
It is, thus, possible that the canine behavior of feeding on grass is not at all surprising. It may have an explanation that’s as old as time itself.
- An Acquired Taste
This has a striking similarity to the “scavenger instinct” theory in dogs. What proponents of this assumption say is that dogs eat grass because they have learned to “like” its taste. This is a bit difficult to prove since no one knows when the dog “first” had a “taste” of plant food. There is also the question of whether the dog only eats a particular grass or will munch almost anything that’s green.
The point here is that we will never know if the dog’s predisposition to eat grass is indeed an acquired taste. Like everything else that we know about dogs, it is almost impossible to ascertain the truth. They cannot “talk” to us and validate our assumptions.
- An Unmet Nutritional Need
One of the most plausible explanations for this dog’s uncanny behavior is that it’s the result of an unmet nutritional or dietary need. The assumption is that the dog is not getting the kind of nutrients or substances from its ordinary meal. That is why it will try to eat other stuff like plant materials.
There’s this published study about a miniature poodle that consumed grass every single day for 7 years. The dog also vomited after every plant consumption. Veterinarians put the dog on a strict high-fiber diet. After 3 days, the dog ceased consuming grass.
This occurrence may seem odd, but it does bolster the belief that dogs somehow know that they’re lacking in something. For this miniature poodle, eating grass was the solution to its body’s need for fiber. After being given a high-fiber diet, the dog no longer needed grass.
It is, therefore, possible that some dogs are able to derive a certain nutritional benefit from grass. A closer look at the chemical composition of grass shows that it contains calcium, iron, and selenium as well as vitamins. Livestock farmers know that grass is the best diet for cattle, lamb, goat, and other farm animals. Hence, it is not far-fetched that dogs can also benefit from eating grass.
Risks of Eating Grass
It is true that eating grass poses no immediate threat to your dog’s health and safety. However, one should always look at it as a sign of a possible medical problem. This is especially true if you notice your pet eating grass all of a sudden. It must be feeling something that is making it want to consume plant matter at an increased rate and frequency. As such, a trip to your veterinarian is advisable.
Also, watch your teething puppy if it starts to consume plant matter. It may chew on grass to help it soothe its inflamed gums. Unfortunately, it may also ingest small sticks and leaves that can block its small esophagus.
There is also the risk of not knowing what chemicals are present in this type of plant. Grass in the lawn or yard can sometimes contain chemicals that homeowners apply to promote growth. Unfortunately, these chemicals may not be safe for your pet.
What Pet Parents Can Do to Prevent Such a Behavior
Preventing dogs from consuming plant matter can be quite tricky if you do not know what’s causing it. That is why it’s best to pay attention to the circumstances surrounding your dog’s behavior.
You can always start by introducing more fiber into its regular dog food. There are many healthier alternatives to grass. You can give your pet pureed pumpkin, carrots, celery, and green beans. Not only are these rich in fiber but they are also packed with vitamins and minerals. If your dog stops consuming grass after a week or so of introducing these food items into its regular diet, then you’ve found the solution. Better yet, you also identified the possible reason for its behavior.
Now, if the dog vomits every time it consumes grass, your action should be different. Your focus should never be on its behavior, but rather the vomiting. There are plenty of reasons why dogs vomit. Having a veterinarian take a closer look at your pet can help identify the underlying cause. Once identified, you can initiate the appropriate treatment. This will help put a stop to the dog’s unusual yet common behavior.
If the reason for the dog’s consumption of grass is boredom, then you can spend more time playing with it. Giving it something to do should keep boredom at bay. More importantly, it will also sharpen its cognition. Walking for about 45 minutes at least twice a day can be a great way to exercise your pet. Interactive toys are beneficial, too.
We cannot prove the reasons why dogs eat grass with 100% certainty. However, this should not stop us from instituting preventive measures.