Many pet owners notice that their dogs have a tendency to graze on grass. Most of the time, there is no cause for alarm. In many instances, dogs eat grass because they simply like the taste or enjoy the behavior. However there are a few reasons this can occur that merit further investigation.
A U.C. Davis study conducted research on this topic, specifically studying the theories that dogs eat grass when their stomach hurts, and that dogs eat grass because they have a nutrient deficient diet. The study concluded that the majority of dogs that eat grass regularly do not have any gastrointestinal upset or other similar conditions.
While this applies to most dogs, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that there are instances when some dogs eat grass to soothe an upset stomach. The theory? Dogs will seek out grass, eat it rapidly, the soft blades stimulate retching, and the dog attempts to vomit in order to get rid of a noxious substance they ingested. If the pet eats grass, vomits, and no further complications ensue, the dog may have been successful in their attempt to feel better. If your dog is newly seeking grass, seems uncomfortable, or retches but fails to vomit, a visit to the veterinarian is in order to determine the underlying cause.
Another theory is that dogs eat grass because of a nutrient deficient diet. This is hard to prove, because some dogs choose to eat grass even though they are on a nutritious diet. In addition, most major dog food brands provide diets that are clinically tested to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. If your pet is eating a boutique pet food brand and has developed grass-eating behavior, it may be wise to visit the Association of American Feed Control to ensure your pet’s food is adhering to current nutrient standards.
It is always important to consult with your veterinarian or dog nutritionist to determine which diet is appropriate for your pet. Dogs require different nutrients at their various life stages, so it is necessary to evaluate their diet as they reach new age milestones. General nutrient guidelines suggest that dogs need protein, fat, fiber, carbohydrates, fatty-acids, amino-acids, vitamins, and minerals for a balanced diet. If your dog eats a specialty diet that is known to be deficient in key vitamins and minerals, there are multivitamins on the market that can help fill in the gaps. The amount of each ingredient needed can vary based on your pet’s age and health.
Another reason dogs may choose to eat grass is boredom. For instance, this can occur when dogs are left outside with limited activities and few toys available. In order to change this behavior, it is recommended to introduce enrichment into their environment to occupy their mind. There are many toys on the market designed to entertain dogs for a long period of time. You can freeze toys with peanut butter inside, or purchase dog treat puzzles. You can try placing their meal in food dispensing toys instead of in a bowl to occupy more energy. Not all toys work for all dogs, and a trial-and-error process may be needed in order to figure out which product is the best fit.
Lastly, in rare instances, a dog that eats grass and other non-food objects may have a condition called pica. These dogs tend to ingest items such as clothing, towels, rocks, and plastic items. Eating indigestible products of this nature can lead to intestinal obstruction and other complications that often require surgery.
It is important to note that puppies that ingest only fecal material should not automatically be considered pica patients. This behavior is quite common and can be the result of a nutrient deficient diet or simply because they enjoy the taste. To correct this behavior, a consultation regarding appropriate diet choices for puppies may be in order.
Dogs that eat grass continue to be a bit perplexing to the veterinary community. It is always best to have the individual pet evaluated, in order to properly assess their environment and medical/behavioral history. Be sure to visit your regular veterinarian to have your pet checked in person if you have any concerns about your pet’s health or nutrition.