If you've ever caught your pup sneaking a bite from a blade of grass then you may have wondered why any dog would select such a strange snack. As it turns out, eating grass is a common behavior in dogs and though many perceive this action to be a sign of illness or an unhealthy habit, it’s actually quite safe. There are many reasons your pooch may consume this simple snack, ranging from health benefits to simple preference.
To understand why dogs might seek out grass, it can help to understand their dietary habits and evolutionary background. Unlike carnivorous cats, dogs are naturally omnivores. Ancestors to our canine friends were opportunistic hunters and scavengers that consumed their prey in its entirety. This means that when eating an herbivore, these animals would also consume the grass and plants in its stomach
It’s also true that these ancestral canines may have naturally sought vegetation as part of their diet, as even wild canine relatives today seek out berries and other vegetation. Healthy domestic dogs also generally require fruits and vegetables in their diet, which are commonly included in top brands of dog foods; however, one study seems to indicate that nutritional value may not play as significant a role in grass consumption as previously thought.
Do Dogs Eat Grass to Make Themselves Vomit?
A series of surveys1 conducted by the University of California, Davis suggest that less than 25% of dogs that eat grass vomit afterwards. These surveys also indicate that signs of illness exhibited beforehand increase the likelihood of a dog vomiting after consuming grass; though, it does not appear that grass is consumed with the aim of inducing regurgitation.
The surveys also suggests that nutrition may play less of a factor in the behavior than commonly thought, as dogs with diets that included fruits and vegetables continued to eat grass just as often as those that did not. The same researchers that led the study, however, also proposed that dogs may eat fibrous grass to help prevent parasitic infestations. When grass is consumed, it increases intestinal contractions and can wrap around intestinal parasites to help purge them from your pet's system.
In the small fraction of dogs that do regularly vomit after consuming grass, there is a possibility that this behavior may be indicative of a more serious problem. Dogs that do consume grass before vomiting often exhibit different behavior than those that casually chomp on grass or that bite a blade while grazing. Many of these dogs gulp down large quantities of the plant at a surprisingly rapid pace.
These dogs may be exhibiting signs of gastrointestinal distress. A common indicator of gastric reflux or inflammatory bowel disease is vomiting, often preceded by gulping at the air and grass consumption.2 If your dog repeatedly vomits after eating large quantities of grass, you may consider bringing your dog to the veterinarian.
Is Eating Grass Helpful or Harmful?
Grass acts as an intestinal cleanser, which can cleanse the bowel and expel worms. Cereal grasses contain enzymes, vitamins, minerals and amino acids and chlorophyll was once used for relieving pain, treating infections, ulcers, and skin diseases. In spite of these ingredients, however, grass is not digested well by dogs and therefore may not deliver these nutritional benefits effectively.
The problem with eating whole grass is that each blade is covered with microscopic barbs that can cause stomach and throat irritation. It is thought to be these barbs that cause sickness in animals that have consumed excessive amounts grass and if grass did not contain the barbs, then the grass could likely be consumed in greater quantities without many adverse effects.
If your pet enjoys the texture of grass and consumes it regularly, there are replacements for your pet to chew on that will not upset their stomach. Certain types of grass grown specifically for pets may provide a safer alternative to wild grass that may have been treated with pesticides or herbicides that can cause harm to your dog if consumed. If your pet appears to be consuming grass to quell an upset stomach then you may also consider administering probiotics to support healthy digestion.
For more about why dogs eat grass, check out the video below.
1 Sueda, K.L.C., Hart, B.L. & Cliff, K.D. (2008). “Characterization of plant eating in dogs.” Applied Animal Behavior Science, 111, 120-132.
2 Goldberd, Michael (n.d.). “A Vet’s Take on Why Dogs Eat Grass.” Modern Dog Magazine.