Have you ever taken your dog out for a potty break and turned your back, only to discover your canine pal chomping on a large mouthful of grass? While you might panic and think about the vomit you’ll be cleaning off the carpet later, this behavior is not always cause for alarm. But why do they do it, and how do you know when it’s a problem? And are there ways to get dogs to stop eating grass?
Reasons Dogs Eat Grass
There are a variety of reasons why dogs find grass to be a delicacy. These include:
Some dog owners and veterinarians assume that grass eating is a form of pica, or eating strange nonfood items, sometimes caused by a diet deficiency. Many diet deficiencies are rooted in missing vitamins, nutrients, or minerals that are absent from daily intake.
This should not be a problem for dogs who are fed a well-balanced diet, so consider asking your veterinarian about switching dog food if your dog repeatedly eats grass.
Need for Fiber
Eating grass could also be your dog’s way of getting more fiber, which helps them digest their food, pass stool, and keep their GI system operating like clockwork. A change to food with a higher-fiber content may help.
If a dog’s diet is complete and balanced, eating grass may not be related to a deficiency at all — it might be instinct. Dogs’ digestive systems, dietary needs, and cravings have evolved to fit the lifestyle of domesticated dogs.
While canines in the wild weren’t getting their primary source of nutrients from grass, eating an entire animal provided an optimal diet, especially if the animal’s diet consisted of various plants. Perhaps they naturally crave grass as part of their genetic makeup, dating back to when they hunted their own prey.
My active young dog was on a high-quality, balanced diet when she suddenly started an odd behavior. Upon going outside first thing in the morning, she would frantically gobble up as much grass as possible until she threw up some yellow foam. After that, she was perky and ready to launch into her morning two-miler.
“Yellow foam, or bile, usually indicates that the dog has an empty stomach,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer. “The bile can be very irritating and uncomfortable to the dog’s stomach. People take antacids to ease this pain, but dogs may eat grass to help them release the bile and feel better.”
In my dog’s case, there was a simple solution to the problem. My vet suggested feeding her a bit of her food as soon as we wake up in the morning as part of our routine. That way, the bile that enters the stomach does what it’s meant to do – breaking down the food for digestion – rather than causing pain. A small meal at night, right before going to sleep, can also help.
Maybe you have a fenced backyard and are lucky enough to be able to let your canine pal out there to play. But most dogs would rather have your companionship. If they’re hanging in the yard alone and eating grass, it may be that they’re just bored. You could stop the behavior with a combination of positive reward training, an exercise regime, and quality time you spend out there with your dog throwing a ball.
Of course, your dog might also just enjoy the taste and texture of fragrant, wet grass in her mouth, especially when new grass is emerging for the first time during the spring, or when your dog is thirsty. Always keep a bowl of fresh, cool water outside to satisfy your dog’s thirst.
Is Eating Grass Bad for Dogs?
The consumption of grass may just be a sign that your dog is attempting to relieve an upset stomach, and some pups do vomit soon after eating it. That said, a small limited study conducted at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine showed that only about 22 percent of dogs studied frequently vomited after eating grass and only 9 percent frequently show signs of illness prior to eating grass. The researchers concluded that grass and plant-eating is a normal behavior of domestic dogs.
But sometimes even normal behaviors can be harmful. Grass may be treated with herbicides and pesticides that are toxic to dogs. Eating grass can also cause dogs to ingest intestinal parasites, for example roundworms and hookworms, that are left from animal droppings. In both cases, your veterinarian may want to perform assessments with fecal samples or blood tests to look for parasites and toxicity.
If you notice your dog eating grass more frequently or excessively, be alert for potential underlying illnesses that may be causing the behavior. Check for vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, decrease in appetite, bloody stool, lethargy, or lip licking.
How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Grass
- If you can, try to prevent your dog from eating grass, especially the stuff that’s not growing on your own property. While chewing on the lawn is a common behavior in many canines, you can train your dog out of the behavior to help provide peace of mind. Teach the “leave it” and go outside with your dog until you’re confident that the habit is broken.
- Always monitor your dog when there are houseplants nearby, as certain varieties can cause toxicity if they’re chewed or ingested. It’s best to consult with your vet if you think your dog has chewed on a toxic houseplant or possibly ingested too much grass with a small amount of chemicals. Don’t use harmful chemicals or fertilizers – plant a dog-safe garden.
- Feed your dog smaller, more frequent meals – feeding especially first thing in the morning.
- Consider different products or a deterrent spray that will show your dog what areas are off-limits.
- Ask your veterinarian or a veterinarian nutritionist for recommendations of a balanced, nutritional food that will best suit your dog’s age, breed, and activity level.
- When you let your dog in the yard, play with him or give him a safe chew toy.