By Tracie Korol
My late dog, Dave, used to crop grass like a cow. He’d eat it with gusto, often the second thing he did once out in the yard in the morning. He ate grass so enthusiastically a friend referred to him as “The Ruminant.” His habit didn’t bother me too much, since it didn’t have any ill effects on him, whatsoever. But I’d groan when he’d hork up a wad on the carpet, not just once, but twice. Always twice.
Grass munching is actually normal dog behavior. Dogs excel as scavengers. They’ll eat anything they find lying around, including dead animals, poo and random pieces of god-knows-what. Their love of grass may have started early in the evolutionary process of canines, as they would entirely consume their prey, including the stomachs of plant-eating animals. When they couldn’t catch enough prey to survive, the wild dog was forced to seek out alternative methods of survival such as greens, berries and fruits. Wolf biologist David Mech notes that grass appears in 14% to 43% of all wolf scat found in North America and Eurasia. Plant material in fox and coyote scat, including grass, is so common as to be unremarkable. Our Best Friends may have simply developed a taste for grass and plants to go along with their love of bones and meat. While they may no longer eat an entire animal carcass, their love of leafy green substances remains.
Another theory is that grass-eating dogs seek fiber, vitamins and minerals. If your dog isn’t getting enough of what he needs from his kibble, he may eat grass as a way to get what his body needs to survive. Dogs that are fed “diet” kibbles — you know, the ones with powdered cellulose, pea filler and a load of chemicals — are often the most ardent munchers as grass is the only fresh thing available to them.
Yet another popular theory is that dogs use grass as a sort of natural emetic: that, since a nauseous dog lacks the phalangeal structure necessary for the ‘finger down the throat’ move, he’ll resort to what he can find as an alternative. It’s true that grass does sometimes make dogs vomit. Tickly stems can irritate the stomach lining, and there have been a few occasions when I’ve seen dogs throw up a chunk of something indigestible along with a wad of grass.
Grass eating is nothing to worry about — it’s a life-long habit with many dogs, and if yours decides that it’s no longer in his best interests, he’ll simply stop eating it. Keep an eye on him around recently treated lawns, or anywhere where nasties like pesticides, herbicides and snail bait could be around as garden chemicals are highly toxic. Ideally, you’d be keeping an eye on him anyway if he’s around those substances, but grass-eaters are at higher risk than most since they’re more likely to ingest treated greenery.
If your dog’s grass eating is really bothering you, there are a couple of things you can try doing to reduce his desire to supplement his diet with backyard eatables. The easiest thing to do is introduce green vegetables into his diet. Green beans, parsley and broccoli are good for a start and dogs tend to like their taste. Supervise him whenever he’s around grass. Distract him from grazing in tainted grass with a voice command or a more-fun activity. This is not a particularly user-friendly option, especially for off-lead walks. Realistically, though, there’s not much you can do about your dog’s grass-eating habit aside from denying him access to grass entirely, which wouldn’t be fair to your dog. Plus it makes your daily dog-walk more of an exercise in frustration than a relaxing stroll.
The consensus from experts seems to be that grass eating, although somewhat of an enigmatic pastime to us humans, is just ‘one of those things’ as far as your dog is concerned. It won’t do him any harm, and you can be sure that if he’s eating it, he’s enjoying it — why worry about such a simple pleasure? Watching your dog ripping up and chewing generous mouthfuls of turf with an expression of half-lidded bliss on his face can provide you with some unexpected entertainment, too.