The temperature is dropping, trees are covered in shades of orange, and leaves coat the sidewalk — fall is the air.
While you may enjoy the sound of crunching leaves under your feet, you may not find it so lovely when your dog is munching on a stray leaf or two. Ultimately, it is not harmful for your dog to eat a few leaves here and there, as it’s part of their natural curiosity. If they’re eating leaves all the time, however, there are ways to get them to curb their taste for greenery.
Why Do Dogs Even Eat Leaves?
So why do pups want to eat leaves in the first place? Research shows that eating leaves isn’t just a domesticated dog behavior. Wild dogs have been observed eating grass and leaves in the wild, especially when they aren’t able to find regular sources of meat. While plants are not as nutritionally dense as meat, wild dogs still use them to fill gaps in their diet.
According to veterinarian Dr. Andrea Rediger, DVM, there is a theory about how domesticated dogs inherited traits from their wild brethren. In an article in the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, Rediger explains that “undomesticated dogs are naturally omnivores (meat and plant-eaters), therefore domesticated dogs instinctively include plant material in their diet.”
The condition wherein dogs are compelled to eat non-edible items is known as pica, and it may be an indicator of underlying issues. Eating leaves may be a part of your dog’s primal instincts, but the behavior could also be a sign of other medical issues, nutritional deficiencies, or even boredom.
While leaves may be high in fiber, they are not nutritious, and therefore will not enrich your dog’s diet in any meaningful way. If your pup seems to love the taste or texture of leaves, consider adding dog-friendly herbs and vegetables into their diet, such as carrots, peas, and celery. You could even plant a dog-friendly herb garden, which may include rosemary, basil, and thyme.
If your dog has an upset stomach, they may also use leaves and grass as a way to make themselves vomit and get rid of whatever is causing them gastrointestinal pain. Leaves and grass are not technically harmful, but, in large amounts, they can cause a blockage, especially in puppies. Make sure to keep an eye on how often your dog is vomiting, especially concerning how much foliage they’re consuming. It could be a sign of an underlying gastrointestinal issue, which could require a visit to your veterinarian.
Eating leaves while on a walk is also risky, as that foliage could be covered in pesticides or other harmful chemicals. While most leaves that fall from trees are harmless, there are also a few toxic trees and plants whose leaves or berries can make your dog very ill, including black walnut trees, Japanese yews, and tomato plants. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the types of trees in your yard and neighborhood before getting a new dog.
How Can You Curb Leaf-Eating Behavior?
Your dog may think leaves are a special kind of canine potato chip, but it’s never fun to clean up vomit after they gorge themselves. If you’re concerned about the behavior, there are a few easy ways to keep your dog from eating too much fall foliage.
First, when you let your pup outside, follow them and keep a close watch on what they put in their mouths. If they start eating a leaf, give them a stern “no”, and gently remove the leaf. If they start to eat leaves while on a walk, give the leash a gentle tug, followed by “no”, and redirect their attention.
The interest in leaves may also be an indicator that your dog is bored and need something to keep their attention. Try purchasing chewing sticks or other toys to redirect their need to eat leaves. You can also try food puzzles to stimulate your dog’s brain and get them to engage with something other than leaves.
Lastly, make sure to make time to play with your dog. If you let them outside and they start to sniff for a backyard snack, throw a ball or other toy to redirect their attention. The exercise and interaction with their owner may provide distraction from the fall snack and will help strengthen the bond you have with your dog.