As any pet owner knows, our furry companions are more than just animals that share our houses – they are also beloved members of our families. And like other members of the family, when they get sick, we always want to do everything we can to help them get better.
However, unlike the humans in the household, dogs can’t tell us when something’s wrong, so we have to work it out from their behavior. One particular type of behavior to look out for is the consumption of grass, so in this post, we discuss the question, why do dogs eat grass?
If you want a preview and summary of some of the things we’re going to be talking about, you can also check out this video before reading on.
Table of Contents
Is there a single reason for dogs eating grass?
If you have noticed your dog munching on grass or other plants, the first thing you should realize is that this kind of behavior isn’t actually all that uncommon.
In fact, many dogs eat grass from time to time, and the knowledge that there’s probably nothing seriously wrong with your pet will probably come as a relief.
The consumption of non-food items is known medically as “pica”, and it is also documented in humans too.
However, even when people consume earth, metal objects or other inappropriate items, the reasons are not always clear, so understanding why animals do it is even more difficult since they can’t answer questions about what they’re doing.
It is likely that pica in humans is not caused by one single factor, so it also seems logical that the same is true in pets.
This means there are probably several reasons why your dog might be eating grass, so let’s have a look at some of the most common now.
1 – 2. For digestion or nutritional reasons
One of the most likely reasons for dogs to eat grass is that they are suffering from some kind of dietary imbalance. For example, they may not be getting all the nutrients they require from their regular dog food, which causes them to begin consuming grass and other plants.
Alternatively, it could be because their regular diet doesn’t provide enough roughage, making it difficult for them to pass stools. In this case, eating grass could provide the extra fiber they need, and it could also help with digestion.
It’s worth pointing out here that dogs don’t make a conscious decision to consume grass because they feel they aren’t getting a healthy balanced diet – dogs aren’t capable of those kinds of thought processes.
Rather, this behavior is driven by instinct. Many bird species are known to visit salt licks because they need a certain amount of sodium chloride in their diets. They don’t know this, but their bodies tell them to do it – and dogs eating grass could be something similar.
In the wild, wolves and other animals related to domestic dogs are not 100% carnivorous, and they consume a certain amount of grass and other plants through their regular diet.
For example, when they consume a prey animal, the contents of the animal’s stomach may include plant matter, which is consumed with everything else.
However, wild wolves and coyotes have also been known to eat grass, with as many as 11-47% consuming plant matter. The simple reason could be that their bodies are telling them they aren’t getting enough fiber from their diet, and eating grass is a natural solution.
This is a reassuring thought for dog owners who are worried about their pet’s consumption of grass since it means that this behavior is at least partly natural, in which case you don’t need to worry about it too much.
Another reason that has been suggested for dogs eating grass is that it is a form of self-medication – the idea being that when they have an upset stomach, they consume grass to induce vomiting, which purges their digestive system.
However, this theory is probably less likely.
First of all, dogs aren’t capable of this kind of rational decision to self-medicate with grass – although it is possible to argue that this is another instinctive type of behavior, like seeking out extra dietary fiber.
The problem is, even if this were true, the numbers don’t back the theory up.
Studies show that only 25% of dogs that consume grass vomit afterwards, and only 10% show signs of being sick before consuming grass. These figures would suggest that, at least in the majority of cases, eating grass isn’t due to the dog being ill.
So most of the time, eating grass as a form of self-medication for an upset stomach is not likely to be the reason for the behavior.
4. Psychological issues
While dogs may sometimes eat grass for physical reasons, often, the cause is more likely to be psychological.
Dogs are social animals, and they crave interaction – either with other dogs or with their owners.
You might imagine that if a dog is outside and free to play all day, he will be happy, but if that dog is left alone, just like a person, he will get bored – and eating grass could be an expression of that boredom.
Similarly, dogs that are anxious or stressed may display behaviors like eating grass – which in a way is the same as behaviors like nail chewing in humans.
5. They just like it
Finally, the last possibility is that some dogs just like eating grass, either because of the taste or the feel in their mouth.
There is evidence for this too. Some dogs are known to eat grass only in springtime when the grass is at its freshest.
The fact that dogs choose to eat grass at this time could suggest a certain fussiness over the grass they eat, indicating that they eat it mainly because they enjoy the taste!
Is it a problem if your dog eats grass?
Since wolves and related species have been documented eating grass and other plants in the wild, this kind of behavior is at least partly natural, which suggests it shouldn’t be too much of a cause for concern.
That means if your dog partakes in a little nibble of grass from time to time, you can probably just ignore it without taking any further action.
However, if you think your dog is consuming excessive amounts of grass – or if the grass is making your dog sick – you might need to take steps to prevent her from continuing with the habit.
Also, bear in mind that while grass in itself is not necessarily harmful to dogs, the grass in lawns is often treated with herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, which may be poisonous for animals.
As a result, if your dog has started chewing the grass from your lawn rather than wild grass while out on walks, this could be a reason to take action.
Additionally, some plants are known to be toxic for dogs, so if you see your dog consuming toxic plants either outside or in the house, you should definitely try to stop this behavior.
Something else to consider is the fact that grass may harbor parasites like flatworm and hookworm that may have been deposited in the grass by other dogs in their stool. These parasites can then enter your dog’s digestive system when he eats the infected grass.
Finally, having said that grass-eating in itself is not necessarily harmful to a dog, you should look out for accompanying symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, a reduction in appetite, blood in stools, lethargy or lick lipping.
Symptoms such as these may indicate more serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or pancreatitis, in which case you should seek help from your vet immediately.
What can you do to stop your dog eating grass?
If you think your dog’s grass-eating habit has become problematic, there are several things you can do to rectify the situation, and the first step is trying to identify which of the reasons above is causing your dog to eat grass.
Think about the possible causes to see which you think is at the root of the grass eating. That way, you can then try to make changes to see if they can help solve the problem.
The first thing you can try changing is the dog’s diet. If you think your pet lacks fiber in his diet, changing to a high-fiber dog food may help resolve the issue.
There is a well-documented story of a dog that ate grass and then vomited every day for seven years.
However, after the owner finally tried giving the dog a different type of high-fiber dog food, the dog immediately stopped eating grass and vomiting ceased, showing that a lack of fiber was indeed the problem – and that a different diet can quickly solve similar issues.
Although changing a dog’s diet is one easy solution to try, you should also think carefully about the lifestyle the dog has and ask yourself questions about whether your dog gets enough exercise and whether she receives enough attention.
Thinking about these questions may lead you to realize that your dog’s behavior could well be due to psychological reasons, in which case, the solution is to ensure your dog can lead a more fulfilling life.
You should make sure your dog gets regular exercise – daily walks are a must. Interacting with your dog and playing more energetic games like frisbee or fetch with a tennis ball or stick are also great ways to alleviate boredom in a dog’s life.
Buying some new toys for the dog to play with when you can’t play can help, and even giving your dog an old t-shirt with your smell on it can be useful for times when you’re not in the house.
Some dogs may also benefit from time spent with other canines, so you could also consider sending your dog to doggie daycare to allow your pet to mingle and make friends with other members of her species.
In short, dogs are just like people – they get bored when sitting at home all day with nothing to do, so by providing engaging activities for dogs, we can reduce problematic behaviors like eating grass.
How to stop a dog eating grass
As we have already mentioned, occasional grass eating is not necessarily a problem – and many vets consider it normal behavior.
However, if you think your dog is eating too much grass or doing it too often – and making the changes suggested above isn’t helping – you can also try to train your dog not to eat grass.
You can do this in the same way you train a dog to do anything else.
For example, when you take your dog for a walk, if you see her starting to eat grass, simply distract the dog or call her away from the grass and then reward her with a snack when she obeys.
You can also do the same without snacks by rewarding the dog with a rub or a cuddle if you don’t want to give her snacks all the time, and often this will be enough.
At the same time, if your dog has a real need for eating grass – such as for dietary reasons – trying to stop the dog doing it may do more harm than good.
For this reason, you should think about whether you really need to stop your dog eating grass or if it is simply a harmless type of behavior that can safely be ignored.
Not necessarily anything to worry about
In sum, dogs eating grass is not necessarily down to one single cause and may occur for a range of different reasons, including dietary needs, psychological reactions to the conditions the dog is living in – or simply the fact that the dog enjoys eating grass.
Grass eating is often considered a natural behavior and doesn’t always have to be a cause for concern.
However, it may be an indication that something isn’t quite right in the dog’s life, and trying to identify what the issue is and making changes to rectify it may cause the grass eating to stop.