Most of us have seen our dogs munch on grass — in fact, more than 67 percent of people say that their dog eats grass on a weekly basis. The good news is that it’s common, it’s completely natural and it’s generally considered safe by vets. But, have you ever wondered why your dog does it? Do dogs eat grass to induce vomiting, because they’re sick or missing fiber in their diet, or is it something else entirely?
Illness & Vomiting
While many consider illness to be the most likely reason dogs eat grass, studies don’t necessarily support it. You might be surprised to learn that grass eating isn’t often associated with signs of illness. In one study, only 8 percent of the respondents reported seeing signs of illness before their dog ate grass, and of that group, only 22 percent reported that their dog vomited after doing so.
Likewise, in another study, researchers who compared the grass-eating behaviors of dogs with mild gastrointestinal disturbances to those without concluded that a healthy dog was more likely to eat grass than one with an upset stomach. Still, dogs do sometimes display anxious behaviors prior to eating grass, seeming to seek out longer grasses and eating them quickly, which stimulates the vomiting reflex.
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Normal Dog Behavior
There’s also another reason: eating grass is just normal dog behavior. It’s possible that dogs eat grass to pass the time or to aid in digestion, or because the grass tastes good. Wild canids, such as wolves, are known to eat grass as well. Plant material has been found in up to 74 percent of wolf-scat samples. It’s likely that eating grass is a natural behavior for dogs, one passed down from their wild canid ancestors.
Mark Derr, author of How the Dog Became the Dog, says “The genetic, dietary, physiological, behavioral and social flexibility of canids, combined with a relatively unspecialized dental structure that allows them to be generalist eaters, has made them adaptable to different habitats and to human societies.”
Grass may even provide dogs with a source of fiber. Speaking of fiber, it may be time to consider adding vegetables or high-quality sources of fiber, like wheatgrass, to your dog’s diet.
Keep Your Grass Dog-Friendly
- Make a dog-safe space. Don’t use pesticides that contain toxic chemicals, or consider making a special dog-safe space in your yard.
- Clean up poop. Reduce the risk of parasite transmission by making sure that your dog only eats grass in your own backyard. Dispose of dog poop regularly, and consider making a pet-waste digester.
- Keep an eye out for mean seeds. Foxtails—small, dry seeds produced by invasive, grass-type weeds—are prevalent in many lawns and pose a serious risk to dogs. These weeds grow quickly in the wet spring season, then dry during the summer, creating ticking time bombs. The seed is designed to burrow into its surroundings and can cause significant problems for dogs who ingest them, or even simply walk through them. If you have foxtails in your yard, be diligent about removing them (dig or pull them up, or soak them with vinegar at ground level), and watch your dog closely when in the yard.
A caveat: Long, rigid grasses with sharp edges have been known to cause throat abrasions. The esophagus is sensitive and in some cases, dogs who eat this type of grass can experience a serious medical issue. If your dog is coughing or showing signs of irritation after eating grass, it’s best to contact your veterinarian immediately.
And, as always, if you have any concerns whatsoever, especially if your dog’s grass-eating seems excessive or persists for long periods of time, or if she isn’t eating normally, it’s best to have her assessed by your veterinarian.