By Kim Boatman
Some dogs see a verdant lawn as an invitation to romp. Others view that swath of grass as a welcome snack. If you count your pup among the dogs that occasionally graze on grass, you’re far from alone. Veterinarians receive many questions about grass grazing, and they don’t always have direct answers for their clients, says Laird Goodman, DVM, a member of the board of directors of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association.
“Nobody really knows why dogs do it,” says Dr. Goodman. “The short answer is they do it because they like to eat grass. I sometimes say some dogs want to have salad before they have their meal.”
Why Dogs Eat Grass Several possibilities may explain your dog’s occasional inclination to munch on grass. Dr. Goodman and Dr. Steven Steep, past president of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association, explain the theories.
- Vomit stimulation It’s an unpleasant reality associated with grazing, but many dogs bring up their food after eating grass. However, it’s unclear whether dogs eat grass to stimulate this action and clear their throat or stomach of unwanted matter. “Most clients think that their pets eat grass because they need to vomit,” says Dr. Steep. “This isn’t necessarily so. Many seemingly healthy dogs eat grass and may or may not vomit. There are also many dogs that have gastrointestinal upset but do not show any interest in grass.”
- Nutritional deficiency Some veterinarians suspect that dogs graze because they’re missing something in their diet, says Dr. Steep. However, science doesn’t yet provide any definitive answers about what those deficiencies may be.
- Canines’ animal nature Wolves and coyotes often eat the grain- and green-filled entrails of their prey first, says Dr. Goodman. “That’s the salad before the meal part,” he jokes. One of Dr. Steep’s veterinary school professors suggested that eating grass may even be a throwback behavior that provides some evolutionary advantage to dogs.
- Taste The answer may be as simple as your dog’s enjoyment of the tender green stuff.
Helping Your Canine Grass Grazer Even though eating grass falls within the realm of normal behavior for dogs, handle your pooch’s grazing with caution, say the veterinarians. They advise you to take these three steps:
- Define the location your dog grazes Lawns are often treated with toxic fertilizers or pesticides, which could harm your dog -- particularly during the warmer months. Consider providing an alternative like the kitty greens that cat owners grow, in a small pot indoors. Fresh, moist shoots, which may be more appealing to your dog, are less likely to irritate its digestive system than are tough, sharp grass blades.
- Limit the amount of grazing The messy tummy-upset sometimes associated with grass grazing may cause inflammation of your dog’s esophagus. “Dogs are the consummate vomiters, but it is not always beneficial,” says Dr. Steep. Because dogs don’t digest grass well, provide it only as a small, rare treat.
- Offer pet food containing greens Feeding your dog a commercial food that contains greens, such as spinach, is a safe alternative, says Dr. Goodman. If your dog’s grass grazing is due to nutritional reasons, the food should satisfy that need.
If you take these steps, there’s no reason to worry about your dog’s behavior. “It has been my observation that some dogs just like to eat grass. They may have a preference for certain types of grass,” says Dr. Steep. “I had a wonderful dog named Moose who would wander the backyard until he found just the right type of grass -- long, slender strands -- and he would graze on those tender shoots.”
Kim Boatman is a journalist based in Northern California. She is also the managing editor of ExceptionalCanine.com. Boatman's work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals, and a frequent contributor to The Dog Daily.