On a recent socially-distant park hang out, a friend with a beagle-mix puppy surveyed the group. “Why does Dottie keep eating grass?” she asked. It’s a good question, especially since many dog owners spoil their pups with human grade meal plans. Why chow down on someone’s lawn when you just had lamb? Another friend whose basset hound-dachshund mix has been eating grass for years surmised he does it to get rid of tummy aches by inducing vomiting. Sounds counter-intuitive. So, why do dogs eat grass, then?
Every dog’s motivation will be different, but the reasoning behind eating grass usually boils down to one of three scenarios:
1. Unbalanced diets
There’s an overwhelming selection of dog food brands, services and options available to dog owners these days. Most do their best to provide canines with all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. However, depending on individual health complications, digestive issues or plain old preference, some pups may not be getting all the nutrients they need from their current meal plan.
According to VCA Ark Animal Hospitals, the six nutrients dogs need are “water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins.” Fiber is a carbohydrate. Grass contains a ton of fiber. It’s possible dogs crave grass when they aren’t getting enough fiber. They may also simply be hungry and grass is the easiest solution.
2. Ancient instinct
Some studies have shown wolves consume a small amount of grass in the wild. Though meat is their primary source of fuel, wolves do eat vegetation on occasion. More often than not, it’s an accident. Grass gets gobbled up because the meal was sitting on the ground or due to the stomach contents of the animal being eaten. If prey is in low supply, wolves have been known to forage for plants to eat. So, you could make a case for your dog following his instincts to get a tiny daily dose of grass, but it wouldn’t be a super strong one.
3. Behavior quirks
We’re calling them “quirks” because these behaviors aren’t necessarily bad. Unless your dog is hurting himself or throwing up constantly because he’s eating grass, they aren’t too worrisome.
Some dogs may be afflicted with pica, the compulsive desire to eat things that aren’t food. Usually, pica is observed in puppies, though if not dealt with can linger into adulthood. According to Westpark Animal Hospital, the most common cause is simply that your dog wants to eat non-food items. Other causes include parasites, stress, boredom or learned behavior (if you’ve got one dog who eats rocks, your second pup may follow suit).
If, as my friend suggests, dogs eat grass to make themselves throw up in an effort to alleviate an upset stomach, we’ve got to hand it to them for ingenuity. The problem is, the tummy ache could also be the result of eating grass in the first place—a vicious cycle that’s hard to pinpoint. Again, if vomit and diarrhea are consistent because of your pup’s grass habit, it’s time to see a vet.
There’s no real answer to this popular question. The biggest takeaway for us has been: You’re not alone. Lots of dogs do it. And, as the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine puts it, “Maybe dogs just like to eat grass.”