You’ve noticed your dog snacking on grass. Like many other dog parents, you want to know why. The scientific term used to describe eating non-food items is ‘pica’ (pronounced pai-kuh), and it’s a very common behavior in dogs.
The most important thing that dog owners want to know is if eating grass is bad for their dog. The short answer is no. The habit itself is not harmful, but it can be indicative of an underlying health condition, cause blockages in rare cases, and expose them to dangers lurking on the grass.
Keep reading to learn when you should be concerned and why it’s a habit you’ll want to break. We will also discuss the common reasons why dogs eat grass and what you can do to help them stop.
Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?
If your dog eats grass on a regular basis, it may be a sign that they have a nutritional need that they aren’t getting from their regular diet. Pica is associated with nutritional deficiencies of iron, calcium, zinc, thiamine, niacin, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. Grass can provide vitamins and minerals missing from your dog’s diet, but more importantly, it provides a source of fiber.
IS IT INSTINCT?
Fun fact! The wild dogs cousin of domestic dogs, wolves, also eat grass regularly, suggesting that it is normal for canines to source nutrition from grass from time to time.
Some dogs eat grass if they are bored, but may also do it if they are anxious or trying to get your attention. It’s possible that your dog may just enjoy the texture and taste of grass. The exact reasons behind the habit are not well documented in scientific research because it is difficult to study.
A 2019 study in Japan found that younger dogs and neutered dogs were more likely to exhibit pica behavior. These groups of dogs also tend to be ones that can get bored more easily and are more attention-seeking.
Imbalanced Gut Bacteria
Your dog’s gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of bacteria that play an important role in your dog’s overall health, from digestion to immune system function. In recent years, scientists have also been studying the ‘gut-brain’ axis, which is the way in which gut bacteria can communicate with their dog’s brain. Gut bacteria can release hormones, neurotransmitters, and other important chemicals to signal to the dog what they need.
When there aren’t enough beneficial bacteria in the gut, or the ones that are present aren’t getting enough food, the gut bacteria sound the alarm. They can signal that they need more nutrients to repopulate. This communication happens through the gut-brain axis.
Because fresh grass is rich in dietary fiber that helps good bacteria grow, the dog may start eating grass in response to signals from gut bacteria.
Why Do Dogs Eat Grass and Vomit?
Many people, including some veterinarians (DVMs), say that dogs will eat grass to induce vomiting if they’ve eaten something bad or to get rid of a parasite. However, there isn’t any conclusive evidence to back this claim of dog behavior, which stems from this 2007 study that looked at plant-eating in dogs. The authors concluded that vomiting seems to be incidental rather than caused by plant-eating.
While a small percentage of dogs do vomit after eating grass, research has shown that many of those dogs had signs of being unwell beforehand. This suggests that vomiting is less likely to be caused by the grass itself; their upset stomach is more likely a result of the signs and symptoms leading up to the episode.
If your dog appears nauseous before eating grass, or is regularly vomiting after eating grass, it may be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or another serious health condition. Talk with your veterinarian to learn more.
How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Grass
Address a Nutrient Deficiency
In many cases, pica behavior (eating non-food items) has been resolved by switching dogs to a high-fiber diet. There are many ways dog parents can add fiber to their dog’s existing food, such as mixing in fiber-rich psyllium husk powder to moist dog food or using DoggyBiome S. boulardii + FOS Powder, a probiotic and prebiotic supplement.
Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are tiny soluble fibers. These fibers are prebiotic, meaning that they are the preferred food of beneficial microbes like the ones in your dog’s gut. Studies in dogs have shown that supplementation with FOS improves both gut health and immune functions. By feeding the beneficial bacteria, fiber helps restore balance to the bacterial communities that live in the gut.
We encourage you to talk to your veterinarian about how to determine if your dog’s regular food is providing all the fiber they need. This article is a good resource to help pet parents learn how to create the best diet for their pet.
Enforce New Behaviors
If you think your dog is eating grass because they are bored, try redirecting their attention with a toy or a walk. Often boredom is a sign that dogs need more play, mental stimulation, and exercise, which is more common in active breeds and younger dogs.
If you think your dog is eating grass as an attention-seeking behavior, you can break the cycle by ignoring their behavior or rewarding them when they respond to your commands to stop. It’s hard to avoid grass as a dog owner, but if your dog has a favorite patch of grass to graze on, avoid the area for a few weeks to break the habit.
Provide Gut Microbiome Support
The gut microbiome is a term that refers to the community of the bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes (tiny organisms) that live in your dog’s intestines. The gut microbiome can be thought of as an organ – its health is directly correlated with the overall health of the animal. This community of gut microbes helps with digestion, disease prevention, nutrient absorption, and key parts of your dog’s immune system function. Many things can impact dog gut health, including diet, antibiotics, and more.
Once you’ve made sure that you’re feeding your dog the best diet for their microbiome health, it’s a good idea to check that the microbiome is balanced too.
Gut microbiome testing is a useful tool for dog parents to determine if there are any bacterial imbalances that may be present, and to learn about what dietary adjustments can improve their dog’s gut health. For example, if your dog’s test finds that they have low levels of Fusobacterium, a type of bacteria that digests animal proteins, the report may recommend that you increase the amount of protein in their diet.
While many gut imbalances can be resolved with diet changes alone, there are many ways to restore your dog’s gut health if an imbalance is present. You’ve likely heard of probiotics before, which are strains of beneficial microbes that can be found in fermented foods and supplements. Prebiotics and postbiotics are slightly different from probiotics, but are just as important for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Learn more about the differences between, and benefits of, pre-, pro-, and postbiotics here.
Eating Grass Can Be Risky
While eating grass isn’t inherently harmful to your dog, it can put them at higher risk for ingesting something they shouldn’t. Herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and other toxic chemicals on grass can poison your dog and make them quite sick. Eating grass in public places puts your dog at risk of picking up intestinal parasites like parvo or worms from other dogs too.
Even if you are confident the grass your pooch is snacking on is safe to eat, you don’t want them to develop a bad habit of eating plants, because they may one day eat a toxic plant.
Does your dog eat poop too? Click here to learn about this other common behavior in dogs. You may be surprised at how much overlap there is between the reasons dogs eat poop and why they eat grass!
Dogs eat grass for many reasons, and there are many ways pet owners can help them break the behavior. Pica because of a nutrient deficiency can be addressed with dietary changes and fiber supplementation. Behavioral reasons can be resolved with different reinforcement techniques, more play, and more exercise.
DoggyBiome has numerous tools, resources, articles, and products available to dog parents to help you support your dog’s optimal gut health. We encourage you to talk to your veterinarian about ruling out any underlying health problems causing your dog’s frequent grass eating behavior, especially if it is coupled with vomiting and nausea.
Your Questions Answered!
Q: Does a dog eating grass mean anything?
A: Yes! From behavioral reasons to nutrient deficiencies, dogs eating grass is a sign something could be going on.
Q: Why is my dog suddenly eating a lot of grass?
A: Your dog might be responding to their body’s need to fill a nutrient deficiency in their diet, such as fiber.
Q: Do dogs eat grass to settle their stomachs?
A: There is no scientific evidence that shows dogs eat grass to induce vomiting or cure nausea.