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Why do dogs eat grass?

golden-retriever-in-grass advice
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Is she poorly? Is she bored? Has she all of a sudden got a taste for some home-grown meadow crop? Read on to find out the true reason for dogs eating grass.

By Nick Whittle

 

For a long time we have assumed that when we see our dog eating grass she feels poorly and is doing so to make herself sick. She may very well be, and this theory is yet to be ruled out (despite some suggesting that it is beyond the power of the average dog brain to formulate a ‘get well’ plan).

But there are other reasons too for your dog to be eating grass and one of the simpler ideas put forward is that she just likes the taste of grass. Especially in the spring, grass has a sharp and salty taste to it, which can be a real magnet for some dogs.

 
 
 
 
 
 
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It doesn’t harm your dog to eat grass in moderation - it is after all a normal canine behaviour - but too much of it eventually makes her vomit. A dog that feels sick may by trial and error throughout its life know that to eat grass induces vomiting or at the very least settles her tummy.

But why is she feeling sick in the first place? And are there other symptoms that accompany her sickness? Many diseases and conditions of a dog prompt her to sickness and such a possibility should not go unchecked. Let’s have a look at some of the other reasons dogs eat grass...

Why is my dog eating grass?

There are a number of reasons why your dog might eat grass and here we have outlined five major points. You will see that each one of these points (barring the first) requires the owner to do some remedial work.

Eating grass can be a sign of a physical or psychological problem. Vigilance is required of additional behaviour or physical symptoms so that a plan of action can be started.

1. She likes the taste of grass

Put simply: your dog enjoys the taste of fresh grass. Springtime grass is moister than late summer grass and is especially tasty!

2. Grass induces vomiting

Arguably a dog ‘knows’ that grass has an effect on her stomach; she may have learned this from seeing one of her puppy peers do this, or even her mother. It may even be an instinctive behaviour.

However, whatever the mechanics of the process, a dog will sometimes eat grass to make herself sick. If she is doing this because she feels unwell she will probably do so in a frantic manner.

3. Grass settles her stomach

Some studies of the diet of wild animals suggest that ingesting additional grass or plant fibres cures ailments of the gut (such as intestinal worms) by increasing the motility of the gut. Some owners of dogs that eat grass on a regular basis reported the habit to stop after they fed their dog a high fibre diet.

 

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4. Grass contains nutrients

The nutritional content of the top part of the most common roadside grass in the UK (dactylis glomerata) is as follows: 

  • Protein: 16% 
  • Fibre: 30%
  • Sugars: 10%
  • Carbs: 5%
  • Grass also contains minerals including calcium, potassium, sodium and zinc.

Although grass is high on nutrition it is not easily digested, and your dog’s eating grass may more than anything be a way to increase the motility of her bowel. Again, this is not something that she ‘knows’, but it is possible she has learned the cause and effect from other dogs.

 
 
 
 
 
 
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5. Your dog is bored

Your dog might also be eating grass because she is bored. If you suspect boredom is the cause you must look at ways to remedy her boredom. ‘Enrichment’ is called for, which can include some of the following activities:

  • Chase and retrieve
  • Hide and seek
  • Learning new tricks
  • Longer walks
  • Play fights

How much grass is too much grass?

If you think your dog is eating an excessive amount of grass it is worthwhile you talk to a vet to try to find out why. Eating grass can, as we have seen, be caused by a number of factors but each of those is worth further investigation or action.

If grass eating follows one or more of these patterns, the habit has become something more sinister:

  • Your dog is eating lots of grass and leaving her dog food
  • Your dog is repeatedly eating grass and vomiting and has done so for several days
  • Your dog’s eating grass is accompanied by other symptoms or odd behaviours
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Should I stop my dog eating grass?

You can prevent your dog from eating grass if the theories of vets and scientists about the causes of the habit are true. If she eats grass to hasten her bowel movements then a high fibre diet is in order; if she eats grass because she is bored then entertainment is needed.

You should STOP your dog eating grass when you suspect that the grass has been treated with a herbicide. Some chemicals used on lawns and by roads and paths have been treated with weed killers and insecticides which are exceptionally poisonous to a dog.

Summary

Dogs eat grass. That is what they enjoy or what they feel they ought to do. It is not necessary to stop your dog from eating grass but you should be aware of the signs of other problems to which she is trying to attend, and you must take action if you need to. Too much grass will not hurt your dog but it will in the end make her vomit, so if nothing else be sympathetic to her habit of eating grass and support her when she feels poorly.

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