Dogs are omnivores, meaning they should eat both animal and plant foods to stay healthy. Still, it might be a little disconcerting to find your dog munching away at your lawn like a grazing rabbit. Why do dogs eat grass? And – more importantly – is it dangerous?
According to veterinarians, this behavior is usually nothing to worry about.
“It is super common for dogs to eat grass,” says Dr. Katie Pagán, a partner doctor at Heart + Paw in Fells Point in Maryland. “Most dogs do end up eating grass at one point in their lives.”
Dogs Eating Grass: How Common Is It?
According to one recent study, nearly 90 percent of all surveyed pet parents said that their dogs had eaten grass or other green plants during their lifetimes, and 68 percent of the dogs ate plants daily or weekly.
Dogs of any age will eat grass, but puppies seem more interested in it. This is likely out of curiosity, says Dr. Megan McCarthy, a veterinarian at the Best Friends Animal Society Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Puppies, similar to toddlers, tend to put more objects in their mouths and may be eating grass due to boredom or teething/chewing behavior,” she adds.
Most puppies eventually grow out of this playful behavior, although they might continue eating grass occasionally or even routinely as adults.
Research doesn’t necessarily indicate that certain dog breeds eat more grass than others. Yet Dr. Pagán says she commonly finds this behavior in Labrador Retrievers: “Those guys eat everything!”
In most cases, grass consumption is nothing to worry about and is part of normal dog behavior. Yet, Dr. McCarthy says “moderation is key.”
So, in general, dogs eat grass, and it’s usually not bad for them. But why do they eat it in the first place?
Why Does My Dog Eat Grass?
If you notice your dog frantically eating grass in your yard, you might scratch your head and wonder: why on earth does my dog want grass when she has other food available? A common belief is that dogs eat grass when they have an upset stomach, which is true – sometimes.
According to Dr. McCarthy, grass can induce vomiting, which, in turn, helps a dog feel a little better if they are experiencing nausea. However, a study found that only 25 percent of surveyed dogs will vomit after eating grass, and only 10 percent of pet owners noticed signs of illness in their pets before their dogs ate grass.
In other situations, dogs may eat grass simply because they like it.
Veterinarians say that dog grass eating could be for pleasure, taste, or even a habit borne out of boredom and anxiety. It could also be an instinct since wolves and other wild dogs regularly consume grass. It’s even possible that a dog will eat grass to get attention from his or her pet parent, says Dr. McCarthy.
Grass might be a strange snack choice, but it’s not necessarily unhealthy. It can provide a source of fiber, and even help dogs “bulk up [their] feces and help aid digestion,” says Dr. McCarthy.
Another study by researchers at the University of New England found that dogs tend to eat grass more often before a kibble meal and less often after kibble, suggesting that dogs consider grass a food source.
But a dog’s grass-eating habit doesn’t necessarily indicate that something is missing from a dog’s diet, says Dr. McCarthy.
“As long as the dog is on a well-balanced commercial diet, I would not change anything or add any supplements,” says Dr. McCarthy.
In rare cases, grass eating might signify a medical condition called pica, which is the consumption of non-food items and could mean that your dog has a mineral or nutrient deficiency. But Dr. McCarthy says that “true pica is rare,” and that as long as your dog eats a balanced diet, he or she shouldn’t be deficient in anything.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Eating Grass
In most cases, you don’t need to stop your dog from eating grass. But pet parents should ensure their dogs aren’t eating twigs, litter, or anything else found in the grass.
“Twigs and plastic can get lodged in the gastrointestinal, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and oftentimes they need to be surgically removed,” says Dr. Pagán.
Dr. McCarthy’s view is similar: “Eating things like twigs or sticks can cause wounds in the mouth or blockages in the stomach or intestines. Likewise, plastic or other foreign material can cause stomach upset or blockages. Make sure to pick up any other materials and make sure your dog is under supervision outside to prevent them [from] ingesting these things.”
It’s also essential not to allow your dog to eat cocoa mulch, which is toxic to dogs and can cause gastrointestinal issues, seizures, or even death. Other backyard dangers for dogs include pesticide sprays, certain fertilizers, and even different types of plants and flowers such as azaleas, oleanders, and tulips. If in doubt, contact your vet or consult the Pet Poison Hotline.
Another danger lurking in the grass is parasites like hookworms and roundworms, which your dog may accidentally ingest, especially if they are also consuming feces-laden soil along with the grass. While parasitic infections can lead to serious health problems if left untreated, Dr. McCarthy says these infections are easy to prevent with routine deworming treatments. For instance, most monthly heartworm preventatives also keep your pet dewormed.
As for leaves, it’s generally OK for dogs to eat these, as long as they’re not from a tree or bush considered to be poisonous. Consuming leaves in leaf piles is not a good idea, however, as those leaves could be contaminated with bacteria or fungus. It’s also normal for dogs — especially puppies — to deliberately eat leaves.
“[Eating leaves] often seems to be out of more playful behavior, puppy behavior, or curiosity,” says Dr. McCarthy.
While grass is usually benign, if you notice your dog eating excessive amounts, it might be best to stop them, so they don’t develop an upset stomach or diarrhea. According to Dr. McCarthy, you can also tell if a dog has overeaten grass or have another medical issue if they vomit it several times throughout the day, refuse to eat, experience constipation, or have diarrhea with grass mixed in it. It’s of particular concern if you find large amounts of grass in their vomit or feces, she says.
“A dog should be taken to their vet if vomiting, diarrhea, or inappetence lasts longer than 24 hours, and should be taken to a vet right away if [there are] any concerns for bloat,” she added. “Bloat is a life-threatening condition, and signs include a distended or bloated appearing abdomen, panting, pacing, and retching with no material brought up.”
How to Stop a Dog From Eating Grass
If you think your dog is eating more grass than he or she should, there are some things you can do to help. The best thing, in most cases, is just to take their mind away from it.
“You can distract them and try to divert their attention to something else,” says Dr. McCarthy. “You can use a leash to lead them away from the grassy area and distract them with toys or a short leash walk.”
Bitter apple spray, a product used to prevent a dog from biting, chewing or licking, may work temporarily. However, Dr. McCarthy says this isn’t a long-term solution since the spray doesn’t stay on surfaces for long.
Dr. Pagán says that some pet parents, especially those who have Labrador Retrievers, have even resorted to “grazing muzzles” or “basket muzzles” if their dogs can’t kick their grass habit. However, she only recommends these for dogs who have had “multiple foreign body surgeries from eating things they shouldn’t be [eating].”
“I usually end up diagnosing these dogs with pica,” Dr. Pagán said. “[Basket muzzles] should only be used in a situation where your veterinarian recommends it.”
But in most cases, as long as your dog isn’t exhibiting any other sickness behaviors, grass eating is not a problem, and you won’t need to take any action to stop this behavior. If there is a problem, consult a veterinarian to figure out the best solution for your dog.
Dog Eating Grass FAQs
Is it okay for dogs to eat grass?
In most cases, yes. It’s normal for a dog to eat grass occasionally or even routinely. However, excessive grass eating may lead to gastrointestinal issues or indicate an underlying medical issue. In rare cases, a dog’s grass-eating habit may indicate pica, the consumption of non-food items, but this is unlikely. If in doubt, consult a veterinarian.
Is grass good for dogs?
Grass can be good for dogs. Dogs are omnivores who eat plants and animals, and grass can add fiber to their diets. One study found that dogs tend to eat grass before kibble, suggesting they consider it a food source. However, too much grass can have the opposite effect, causing gastrointestinal issues. Dr. Megan McCarthy, a Best Friends Animal Society veterinarian says that “moderation is key.”
Why do dogs eat grass and vomit?
Grass can irritate the stomach and induce vomiting, which can help a dog with an upset stomach feel a little better. However, one study found that less than 25 percent of surveyed pet parents noticed that their dog vomited after eating grass, which suggests that dogs don’t automatically vomit after consuming grass.