Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Eating Grass....why does my dog graze?

Dogs do a lot of things that we don’t really understand, one of which is eating grass. Why do dogs eat grass?

Firstly, dogs eating grass is actually very common. Wild dogs as well as domestic dogs will eat vegetation sometimes. One study showed that approximately 75% of dogs had eaten grass or plants at some time…grass being the most commonly eaten plant.

Okay, so my dog’s behavior is not unusual. But WHY do they eat grass?

There many theories as to why dogs eat grass.

It may be nothing more than a natural behavior. Dogs are, in a certain sense, omnivores. Before being domesticated, dogs ate whatever they could hunt or scavenge. They would eat whole prey animals, including meat, bones, organs, and the content of the stomachs, which more often that not included plant material. This provided a balance diet for the dog. Wild dogs still eat vegetation in addition to prey items.

Sometimes dogs eat grass as a means to make themselves throw up. Perhaps the dog has an upset stomach, or even something such as acid reflux, making them uncomfortable. Vomiting often makes them feel better. Most often the dog will not act sick, so it is hard to know why they are doing it. The majority of dogs that eat grass, however, do not throw up. In fact, studies show that only about 25% of dogs that eat grass vomit regularly after doing so. One interesting study reveals that the way dogs eat grass makes a difference. Dogs that eat grass slowly and chew it rarely get sick. Dogs that eat grass rapidly and swallow it without chewing almost always throw up. Whether this is on purpose or not is not know for sure, but it certainly seems to be deliberate on the dog’s part.

One of the beagles I have now will sometimes run out into the yard, quickly gobble down a few mouthfuls of grass, and promptly throw it up. Once he does that, he seems fine and eats his meal with no problem.

Another theory is that dogs eat grass as means to improve digestion by adding fiber to their diet. Grass can also provide some nutrients that may be missing from some commercial diets.

Other theories include grass eating from boredom, or a condition called Pica, which is a compulsion to eat items that are not edible. If your dog exhibits anxiety before eating grass, it may be the result of a psychological condition. A vet should be consulted to determine if there is a medical condition underlying the anxiety. There are ways to treat anxiety with either medication or behavioral training.

Lastly, dogs may eat grass simply because they enjoy it. Just as humans eat some foods simply because they enjoy the taste and/or texture, dogs may be doing exactly the same thing. If this is the case, the dog will rarely ever vomit. I once had a terrier that would graze like a cow, happily munching on grass and leaves to her heart’s content. Never once did it make her sick. She simply liked it.

Should grass eating be something to worry about?

The general consensus is that grass eating is not anything to be concerned about. If your dog eats grass and throws up often, it is best to let a vet determine if there are health issues behind the behavior. If you have a grazer like my terrier, there is no reason to interfere with their grass eating, but keeping an eye on them is always a good idea.

There are instances where grass eating should be avoided. Often lawns are treated with chemicals. Herbicides and pesticides  used on lawns are quite toxic, especially if ingested. The dog may ingest the chemicals by eating the grass, or by licking their paws after walking on treated grass. Treated areas should be avoided at all cost. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can help if you think your dog has ingested these chemicals. They also have a list of toxic plants that your dog should never eat.

If your dog is eating grass, carefully monitor its behavior and seek veterinary advice if there seems to be health or behavioral issues. Keep your dog away from treated areas, and keep an eye on the types of plants they are eating.

More often than not, your dog is just doing something dogs have always done. In most cases, there is nothing to be concerned about.

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