Most dogs enjoy the chance to get outside to play, and for some dogs getting outside in the grass means snack time! Dogs eating grass might seem weird to dog owners, but the behavior is extremely common behavior for dogs of all ages.
But why do dogs eat grass, and is it safe?
Is eating grass a sign of illness?
Eating grass can cause dogs to sometimes vomit, which leads many people to assume that their dog eating grass is a sign of illness, or a symptom of a dog not feeling well. However, the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) explains that in studies, only 10% of dogs appeared unwell before eating grass. Related, VCA notes that based on these studies, fewer than 25% of dogs vomited after eating grass or showed any sign of illness.
Based on this information, it is generally understood that dogs aren't eating grass in order to try to self-medicate an upset stomach. For most dogs, eating grass now and then isn't a big issue, but this can be a problem for dogs with grass allergies. If you know your dog has allergies that are not managed, you may want to talk with your vet about how much time your dog should have access to grass and if you need to limit exposure.
Eating grass can also be a behavioral issue for dogs. Dogs may eat grass as a response to being bored or even anxious. In these instances, the grass eating is often chronic and obsessive, and is a way that dogs are trying to self-soothe. This can be a sign your dog needs more enrichment, activity and/or mental stimulation in their day. Intentionally spending time playing games with your dog is a great way to give your dog mental and physical exercise, and can help prevent or stop obsessive grass eating.
Is it natural for dogs to eat grass?
It may seem strange to watch a dog munching on grass because mostly we think of dogs as meat eaters, but dogs aren't strictly carnivores, they are omnivores. Many dogs seem to enjoy eating a bit of grass now and then, so the taste is probably pleasing to them. VCA also notes that in studies looking at fecal samples of wolves. 10-47% of samples contained grass, meaning our domestic dogs aren't the only canines to eat grass. It is generally understood that nibbling on grass may actually be helpful for your dog's digestion. Dogs need fiber in their diets just like humans in order for their digestive system to function smoothly. Grass is a source of fiber, which can help your dog to more comfortably digest and process their food through their gastrointestinal tract.
Safety concerns with eating grass
Unfortunately, many people choose to treat their lawns with a variety of pesticides or herbicides. These chemicals intended to kill weeds or prevent pests can unintentionally be very dangerous to dogs. Most parks will post information about if they have treated grass advising children and pets to be kept off the grass. If you see any of these signs, be sure to keep your dog from not only eating, but also walking on the grass, as the chemicals could get onto your dog's paws and fur and later be ingested when your dog licks. In addition, dogs who eat grass can be exposed to Roundworms and intestinal worms, other intestinal parasites, or other serious illnesses from other dogs who have defecated in that grass. VCA notes that Parvo, which is a very serious and sometimes fatal illness, is primarily spread via the feces of infected dogs.
How to stop your dog from eating grass
If there is grass that you don't want your dog to eat, the best strategy is to use positive reinforcement approaches to give your dog something else to do. Never punish your dog for eating grass. Instead, if your dog is chewing on grass, use treats, toys, or a dog safe chew to get your dog's attention and praise your dog when they direct their attention away from the grass to the toy/treat/chew that you do not want your dog to be eating or playing with.
Although it may seem strange to us, dogs eating grass is actually a common and natural behavior. Contrary to popular belief eating grass is not a sign that your dog is feeling unwell and trying to self-medicate. However, if you notice sudden changes such as your dog attempting to eat grass more often, eating grass in large amounts, or seeming uncomfortable it could be a sign of an underlying health condition and it's a good time to bring your dog for a checkup with your dog's veterinarian.