Why do dogs eat grass? If you’ve ever had a canine friend of your own, or even just observed the family Labrador on a sunny day, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of dogs like to chomp on leafy greens in the backyard. Granted, these are the same animals that love to eat garbage, but munching on grass still seems like a step too far. So why do they do it?
There are a couple of answers to that question—and some hidden dangers.
What Do a Dog and a Toddler Have in Common?
First things first, you should know that as much as you may love Fido, dogs eating grass is technically a disorder. It’s called pica, and it’s a type of eating disorder where you compulsively eat things that aren’t actually food. But don’t worry; pica is actually very common. Aside from dogs, humans also commonly get pica. As we all know, toddlers in particular love to put foreign objects in their mouths.
So, no, your dog isn’t a freak because he likes to eat grass. Some studies actually show that up to 80% of dogs like to eat their lawns. This, of course, still doesn’t explain their behavior…
The Grass Is Always Greener
Common wisdom says that dogs eat grass if they have an upset stomach. According to this theory, the grass then makes the dog vomit, clearing their stomach and making them feel better almost instantly. Dogs definitely can vomit if they eat too much of the green stuff, so this theory starts out pretty solid. But there’s at least one thing wrong with it.
Some veterinarians and animal experts say this theory simply can’t be the case, as dogs are not intelligent enough to be able to notice their stomach is upset, self-diagnose, and then self-treat with a dose of grass.
Of course, there’s another, even more compelling, issue.
Most evidence suggests that usually when dogs eat grass their stomachs aren’t even upset at all. If you want to crunch some numbers on this, a study showed that only about 10% of dogs seem unwell before they eat grass. Oh, but there’s more. Of the dogs that do eat grass, just 25% throw up after doing so, which makes grass eating a pretty bad doggy remedy for an upset stomach.
Well, there goes that popular theory—but there are more convincing ones.
A Square Meal a Day
Other researchers have suggested that the answer to why dogs eat grass may still have something to do with their overall health. Many theorize that dogs eat grass as a way to cure intestinal worms (lovely!), up their digestive health, ingest more fiber, or meet some other as-yet-unknown nutritional requirement.
If you think this is the case with your dog, you might want to consider putting them on a high-fiber diet. One study looked at a miniature poodle who loved eating grass, but after the dog was put on a high-fiber diet, she stopped craving and eating it—giving a strong indication that diet affects dogs’ behavior when it comes to grass.
On the other hand, the answer to why your dog is eating grass may be much darker.
It’s a Dog’s Life
Although the above explanations are quite reasonable, your dog might actually be eating grass because he’s bored. Many dog breeds—like Border Collies, Airedale Terriers, and even some smaller dogs—require a lot of exercise, one-on-one time, and mental stimulation. If they aren’t getting this extra attention, they may start eating grass. It may give them a kind of physical and emotional release, or might just give them something to do.
However, if you suspect that this is a problem with your dog, it’s easily fixed. Make sure to give your dog ample time with you, set up a play time with her favorite toys, or take her out to the park more often. All this activity should tire her out and curb her appetite for grass.
Red (and Green) Flags
There is one final thing to keep in mind. Although dogs’ habit of eating grass is usually pretty harmless (and can continue as long as you’re sure your dog is getting the nutrition and exercise they need), there are some risks associated with the practice.
Primarily, you should make sure that the grass your dog is eating hasn’t been treated with pesticides or herbicides, both of which could be extremely damaging to your pet’s digestive tract. In addition to this, you should also be on the lookout to make sure that your dog doesn’t have a taste for a naturally toxic herb, because many common garden plants are poisonous or even lethal to dogs.
The ASPCA (Animal Poison Control Center) has a full list of these troublesome plants. You should know right now that seemingly innocent sprigs like daffodils, tulips, oleander, and amaryllis are all toxic to dogs. When it comes to your beloved pet, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
An Acquired Taste
Still, for all this, there may be a much simpler answer to the question “why do dogs eat grass?” Some posit that dogs eat grass, well, because they just like to eat grass. Maybe for them, the fibrous plant is a delicious delicacy that they can find right in their own backyard.
After all, dogs (unlike even your common house cat) are not technically carnivores. They’re actually what are known as “opportunistic scavengers.” After centuries of evolution, they’ve gotten used to both meat and vegetable nutrition. If it’s just a matter of taste, as long as there aren’t any toxic plants around, there are no special diets or schedules needed.
The Final Bark
We may not know the exact answer to why dogs eat grass. Reasons can range from digestive issues to your dog’s personal cravings. In the end, just make sure your dog is healthy and happy—and you can keep letting Spot eat his grass.
Interested in learning more about your canine pal? Check out our article: Why do dogs howl?