Nearly every dog owner has heard the explanation of why dogs eat grass. The common belief for many years was that the pet felt unwell and needed the grass to help them vomit. Some dogs may use grass to induce vomiting, but it does not seem to be the reason for most grass grazing. Here are what pet owners should know about this common habit.
Unexpected Study Results
Any dog owners that believed the explanation about dogs using grass for an upset stomach would find interesting the results of a study printed in a 2008 issue of Applied Animal Behavior. The study did not show a connection between illness, grass eating, and vomiting. In fact, the conclusion of the study was that this was just normal canine behavior.
The results revealed that 79 percent of the dogs in the study ate grass regularly. Only 22 percent of the grass consumers vomited after eating and only 9 percent appeared ill before they began to eat. Dogs that appeared ill prior to consuming the grass were more likely to vomit afterward than those that seemed healthy.
Possible Instinctual Behavior
It is difficult to look at a domesticated dog sleeping on a sofa and remember their ancestors were wild creatures. However, as descendants of the wolf, dogs still perform some of their ancient behaviors. Spinning before laying down, burying bones and toys, and rolling in odorous items are all behaviors found in wild canines.
Grass-eating may simply be one of these types of instinctual behaviors. Examinations of wild coyote and wolf scat have found grass in the droppings. Since the vegetation is in the excrement, it did not induce vomiting or it would not have been in their system to digest. Your pet may perform the behavior without any real understanding of why they do it.
Insufficient Fiber Consumption
Constipation can lead to stomach upset and this may be a concern for pets that only eat grass when they appear to not feel well. An easy way to stop the behavior is to add more fiber to their diet. A high-fiber commercial food can help, or you can add healthy fresh greens to their food to satisfy their fiber need. Spinach is a nutritious choice.
Potential for Risk
Let the dog eat grass but use caution. The risk is not the grass itself, but what may be on the grass that the pet consumes. Chemicals, bacteria, or parasites can lead to health concerns that should worry dog owners.
Pesticides and herbicides increase the risk of some types of cancer in dogs. The risk exists even when pets walk through treated grass, so consumption is more worrisome. Leptospirosis is a rare, but serious, bacterial disease that dogs can contract from infected animal urine. Fecal material can contain hookworms or tapeworms as well as giardia, salmonella, and parvovirus.
Monitor where the pet grazes to prevent infection or illness. Try to restrict their snacking to their own fenced yard and avoid the use of any chemicals in areas where they tend to wander. If the dog does not have their own yard, consider planting a pot of pet grass inside to satisfy them. Pet grass is usually a cereal grain like wheat or barley and grows easily in the home.
Grass eating does not need to be a worry for pet owners. Dogs enjoy a lot of things humans will never understand. Get help if the grazing seems obsessive or the animal may have been in contact with anything hazardous. At Central Veterinary Hospital, we are happy to talk to pet owners about the behavior. Contact us today for an appointment.