By Sarah Hilario, DVM
Recently Google released the top ten questions that people search about on the internet concerning their dogs and cats. The questions range from why cats purr to whether pets dream in their sleep. However, the number one question is, why do dogs eat grass? As a veterinarian, I want to shed some light on this common question from a medical standpoint. First, this is a completely normal behavior. A lot of dogs just like the taste of grass. No one knows exactly why. As the wild ancestors of dogs consumed their prey, they ate the plants still contained in the stomach and intestines. Consequently, grasses were inadvertently a common part of these animals’ diet.
A very popular theory is that dogs tend to eat grass when they want to vomit. In a 2008 study published in the Applied Animal Behavior Science Journal, 68% of dogs in the study ate grass frequently but only 22% of those vomited afterwards. As the majority of dogs who munch grass do not vomit, this theory does not have a strong scientific backing. If your dog does vomit consistently after consuming grass, consulting your veterinarian to discuss possible causes is encouraged. Some dogs with intestinal parasites or inflammatory bowel diseases can have an increase in upset stomach. Your veterinarian may recommend a dewormer or even a change to a higher quality diet to decrease persistent grass eating. If you feed a home cooked diet, it is imperative to ensure that it is nutritionally balanced and not lacking in any vital nutrients. Two websites I have found helpful if preparing home cooked recipes are www.petdiets.com and www.balanceit.com.
Finally, some dogs simply enjoy chewing on everything, and grass is no exception. In cases where grass ingestion may be a behavioral problem, adding extra chew toys, ball and Frisbee throwing, and extra exercise in the form of walking, running, or dog park outings may help.
Even though eating small amounts of grass is usually harmless, I recommend discouraging it as much as possible, especially here in Florida due to the large amount of pesticides used on our grass. Not only can some grasses treated with chemicals be toxic, but some weeds and decorative plants growing in and around grass can also be harmful to your dog. One of the most toxic plants in Florida is the Sago Palm, especially its seeds. This plant can be fatal and requires emergency treatment if a dog is suspected of having ingested even a small amount of it. Supervising your dogs outside time can help reduce their grass eating habits regardless of what causes them to want to include it in their diet.