Modern Medicine, Old-Fashioned Care

Jun 6, 2024 | General Health

What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Grass?

Finish this sentence: “When a dog eats grass, it means they have _________.”

If you answered, “good taste” – well, to each their own.

But if you answered, “an upset stomach” or “a tummy ache,” you’re not alone. In fact, most pet owners jump to that conclusion. It’s been the prevailing school of thought for so long, just like how dogs can only see in black and white (also not quite true).

Interestingly, studies show that less than 25% of dogs vomit after helping themselves to an impromptu, backyard salad bar. According to Dr. Wendy Zimmerman, DVM, of Doylestown Animal Hospital, this presents an intriguing chicken vs. egg scenario.

“If a dog ate grass and then its owner noticed it throwing up, was it because they were nauseated and not feeling well, then ate the grass and vomited? Or were they maybe not nauseated at all, but ate so much grass that it made them sick?”

The relatively low percentage of dogs getting “green around the gills” after chowing down on a nice, green lawn points to other reasons for this dietary decision.

“It’s not always digestive issues,” Dr. Zimmerman says. “It can be other things, too.”

So, Why Does My Dog Eat Grass?

There are several possible reasons your dog may be gobbling grass that are completely unrelated to self-medication. The leading causes?

1) They like it.

Some dogs, Dr. Zimmerman says, simply enjoy the rich, complex flavor profile that only a fresh lawn can deliver. No judgment here.

2) They’re bored.

Eating grass, in essence, gives a bored dog something to do when there are no squirrels in sight or frisbees to chase.

Dr. Zimmerman notes that, occasionally, eating grass could be a sign of a psychological issue. Stress and anxiety sometimes prompt abnormal chewing behaviors in dogs, which – while often accompanied by other symptoms – may need to be treated by a veterinarian, or possibly addressed with the help of a trainer.

3) It’s instinctual.

We tend to view our domestic dogs as more or less carnivorous. Historically speaking, however, their diet once included plenty of vegetation along with their meat as they hunted and foraged for food eons ago.

According to Dr. Zimmerman, eating grass may be the product of a dog’s natural, nutritional instinct.

“It’s really interesting when you break it down,” she says. “Dogs, just like people, need plenty of fiber in their diet to keep their digestive tract running smoothly. So, if your dog is eating grass, it may just be their body telling them they need more roughage to help to keep things flowing.”

What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Grass?

If your dog helps itself to a blade or two, don’t panic. Most reasons a dog eats grass are harmless, Dr. Zimmerman says.

“If the dog is otherwise healthy and is on monthly parasite protection, eating grass, alone, is not a huge concern.”

The biggest danger exists in lawns that have been treated with fertilizers or pesticides. If your dog consumes grass that was recently sprayed – you should consult a veterinarian.

Parasites are also a concern, specifically for dogs who are not on monthly preventative medicines.

“If dogs eat the grass and then eat the soil, they could – in theory – be prone to intestinal parasites,” Dr. Zimmerman says.

Hookworms and roundworms are the most common, and the risk is a good reminder of the advantages of monthly controls.

Signs of intestinal parasites include gastrointestinal distress, such as diarrhea and occasional vomiting. Certain parasites can even lead to weight loss. The good news? They’re very easy to diagnose.

“It’s just a fecal sample that’s taken at your vet’s office,” Dr. Zimmerman says. “Intestinal parasites are also very treatable once you’ve identified that your dog has them, what kind they have, and what kind of medication is most effective.”

Rarely are the reasons for eating grass – or the act itself – life-threatening.

“I think most dogs at some point in their life will eat grass,” Dr. Zimmerman says. “They just will.”

The important thing is to know your pet, she adds.

“If eating grass is not normal for your dog, or if it seems other symptoms are accompanying the grass-eating, it’s never wrong to reach out to your vet. There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”