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Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

It’s something many dog owners may have experienced; you’re out on a walk, and your dog is happily sniffing along when they suddenly have a mouthful of grass. But why do dogs eat grass? It is a reasonably expected dog behavior, but the reasons behind why they do it can be complex. Let’s explore why some dogs eat grass, what safety considerations to be aware of, and when it may be time to call the vet.

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Potential reasons dogs eat grass

There are many theories on why dogs eat grass. Some speculate it's physiological, and dogs eat grass when they have an upset stomach or are not getting enough fiber in their diet. Others believe it’s psychological and linked to dog anxiety, boredom, or attention-seeking behavior. And many think it might just be instinctual, and grass-eating is a scavenging behavior led by hunger, curiosity, or intrigue.

While many of these theories have some studies adding weight to the argument, there is not enough research to reach a consensus. There is no one scientifically proven reason why dogs eat grass.

Is it safe for dogs to eat grass?

While grass is not inherently harmful, there are some safety concerns dog owners should be aware of if their pup has a penchant for grass munching.

Toxins

Whether it’s your backyard, the grassy swale next to the sidewalk, or the field at the park, it’s not uncommon for grass to be treated with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other potentially harmful chemicals. Fertilizers, in particular, can appeal to dogs, as many contain fish or bone meal they might sniff out.

Sometimes, the chemical treatments are apparent through a noticeable odor accompanied by wet grass or posted warnings to keep off the grass. Still, no visible signs don't always mean it’s safe. It’s a good idea for dog owners to familiarize themselves with the common signs of poisoning and be prepared to take action.

Common signs of poisoning include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Increased thirst
  • Disorientation
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weakness/collapse
  • Seizures/tremors

If you think your dog ate contaminated grass or is showing signs of being poisoned, contact your vet or pet poison control right away.

  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control 888-426-4435
  • Pet Poison Helpline 855-764-7661

Be advised, there is a fee for these services.

Infectious disease

Grass can sometimes be contaminated with viruses and bacteria from other animals, including dogs in your neighborhood or local wildlife. The highly contagious parvovirus can be spread through contact with feces from an infected dog, and leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, can be spread through urine from wildlife like rodents and raccoons. Unvaccinated dogs and puppies are most at risk of contracting these types of infectious diseases.

Parasites

Like viruses and bacteria, grass can also be contaminated with parasites, especially if fecal matter from other dogs or wildlife is present. Eating grass contaminated with feces can lead to intestinal parasites in dogs, like hookworms. And if fleas are in the grass, dogs can accidentally ingest them while grazing, leading to tapeworm infections. Dogs not on a parasite prevention regimen are most at risk of contracting parasites.

Eating large quantities of grass

A few bites of grass won’t cause much harm for most dogs unless it’s contaminated. However, grass can cause problems in the canine digestive system when eaten in excessive quantities. These can range from nausea, vomiting, and other signs of an upset stomach in dogs to more severe issues like gastrointestinal blockages. To avoid potential problems, it’s always best to limit unsupervised outdoor time, especially if you commonly find your dog eating grass.

When to be concerned about grass eating in dogs

While occasional grass eating is typically not concerning, if you have a dog eating grass and vomiting or having diarrhea frequently or an unvaccinated puppy eating grass, it’s a good idea to speak with your vet. If your dog is otherwise healthy but still loves to munch on grass, a behavioral component could be involved that warrants consulting your vet.

Overall, anytime your dog exhibits signs of anxiety or illness or starts eating abnormal items like grass, dirt, or other things (like a dog eating houseplants or flowers), schedule a check-up with your vet to ensure there’s no underlying illness or psychological reason, like pica (a compulsive condition where dogs may eat grass, dirt, plants, rocks, and other non-food items).

Does pet insurance cover grass eating?

If your dog needs medical care due to grass eating, it may or may not be covered. This all depends on the specific problem and the type of plan. For instance, treatment for pesticide poisoning from eating grass or a gastrointestinal obstruction (if your dog eats a large amount of grass) may only be covered under an accident and illness plan or an accident-only plan. However, treatment for intestinal parasites from grass-eating is typically only covered under a wellness plan.

Keeping your dog safe while outdoors

To minimize your dog’s risk of toxins, infectious diseases, parasites, and overall tummy troubles from eating things they shouldn’t — keep them leashed on walks and under supervision while outdoors. It’s also important to remember that even if you don’t use toxins in your yard, lawn care products used by neighbors can travel via wind and rain. It’s best to avoid letting your dog eat grass altogether, even from your own “safe” yard.

If your dog is a habitual grass eater or likes to pick up other foreign objects outside, consider training with a basket muzzle. This allows dogs to sniff, pant, and drink water, making it harder for them to eat things off the ground. Or, you could consider alternatives to grass for dogs, like pet-safe astroturf, if your dog routinely spends a lot of unsupervised time in your backyard. Remember that astroturf can still carry bacteria and parasites from other pets and wildlife, but your dog may find it less tempting.

Making sure your dog’s needs are being met can also help reduce the urge to eat grass out of hunger or boredom. This means a balanced diet, adequate hydration, and enough exercise, and consider investing in some safe chew toys for dogs.

Dogs will be dogs, and a little grass-eating is bound to happen at some point. Stay on the lookout for any signs of recently treated grass, protect your pup with vaccines and parasite preventatives, and consult your vet with any health concerns — grass eating or otherwise.

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