Q:Whenever I take my dog outside, they want to eat grass. Why do dogs eat grass? Is this normal?
A: Good news, pet parents: It’s normal-ish for your pup to eat grass, but there are some things to be on the lookout for.
If your dog chomps on a few blades here and there, it may be because they’re bored or because they just like the taste of grass. However, there are instances in which it can be cause for concern. For example, if there’s an underlying health issue that makes them crave grass, if they’re eating grass that’s recently been sprayed with pesticides, or if they’re getting sick after chowing down.
We spoke to the experts to find out why dogs eat grass, if it’s safe for your dog to eat grass and when you need to stop your dog from eating grass.
Reasons Dogs Eat Grass
There are several reasons why dogs eat grass, ranging from boredom and behavioral issues to more serious health issues and nutritional imbalances. We tapped two veterinarians to find out exactly why dogs eat grass—and what you can do about it.
Dogs eat grass because they’re bored (or just because!).
Just like humans, dogs can get bored and will find creative ways to entertain themselves. Since they can’t exactly turn on Netflix or scroll through Instagram, they turn to eating grass to keep themselves busy.
“Dogs will eat small amounts grass occasionally under normal conditions,” says Sarah J. Wooten, DVM, CVJ, a veterinarian at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital in Greeley, Colorado.
“If your dog occasionally nibbles a few blades here and there, then there isn’t anything to worry about,” she adds, as longs as the grass itself is safe to eat (more on that below).
Dogs eat grass because of behavioral issues.
If your pup seems perfectly healthy, but can’t seem to shake their grass-eating habit (for example, you notice they always make a beeline for the same grassy patch or only eat certain blades along the fence), it may be caused by behavioral issues, such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, says Marc Bercovitch, DVM, Dip ACVIM, a veterinary internist at Veterinary Specialists of Birmingham, in Alabama.
Eating grass can serve as a coping mechanism that helps stressed or anxious dogs calm down, similar to licking and chewing.
Dogs eat grass because their stomach is upset.
“Dogs will eat grass to try and feel better if they are nauseous or their stomach otherwise hurts,” says Dr. Wooten.
While grass may help settle their stomach, eating large amounts of grass can actually upset their stomach and cause dogs to vomit.
“Dogs vomit up grass if they eat a large amount,” Dr. Wooten says. “Most dogs eat grass and don’t throw up—but if they are eating grass and throwing up, that is cause for concern and shows that their stomach is upset.”
As always, if your dog is showing signs of illness such as vomiting or lethargy, it’s definitely worth taking them to the vet to get a checkup.
“I had a dog that acted normally in every way, except that she would run out to the yard every morning and eat grass,” Dr. Wooten says. “I thought nothing about it until she started vomiting after she ate. Turns out, she had a giant ball of hair stuck in her stomach that was blocking normal passage of food and making her feel sick!”
Dogs eat grass because they like the taste.
It’s possible that some dogs just really love the taste of grass and want to chow down on an all-you-can-eat lawn buffet.
Before the days of kibble and canned food, our pup’s ancestors consumed grass and other plants by way of their prey (i.e. that’s what their prey ate and when eating their prey, they also ate the prey’s stomach contents). So your dog could just be tapping into their wild instincts.
Dogs eat grass because they have a nutritional deficiency.
Speaking of a dog’s diet, our canine BFFs are omnivores with very specific nutritional needs (read: They need more than an all-meat diet). Dr. Bercovitch says they could be eating grass because they’re “lacking fiber or nutrients in their diet” or they could have “underlying intestinal inflammation resulting in pica.” (FYI, pica is a condition in which dogs compulsively eat non-food items such as paper, wood, dirt, socks, or, you guessed it, grass).
“If your dog is eating grass for non-behavioral reasons, it could signal an underlying medical condition,” Dr. Bercovitch says. “This may not be life-threatening, but nonetheless should be investigated as your pet is trying to tell you something.”
Dr. Wooten also suggests heading to your vet to make sure your pup has a clean bill of health and is eating a complete and balanced diet.
Should you let your dog eat grass? Is it bad if your dog eats grass? (Spoiler alert: maybe)
Generally speaking, eating a few blades of grass in your backyard won’t hurt your pup. However, there are a few times when you should be extra vigilant and redirect this behavior.
Don’t let your dog eat grass in public areas. “Some diseases can remain in the grass for weeks and still be infectious,” Dr. Bercovitch explains. “The one most would be familiar with would be canine parvovirus.” Parvovirus is an extremely contagious (and sadly very common) virus that spreads through direct contact with an infected dog or infected vomit and feces, or indirect contact with a contaminated object. So, if your pup is sniffing around or eating grass with infected feces, they could get sick.
Don’t let your dog eat grass that has been treated with herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals. Even grass from your own yard could be a potential danger if it has been treated. “Pesticides and lawn sprays are toxic,” Dr. Wooten says. Also beware of toxic plants in your yard. Dr. Wooten recommends checking the ASPCA for a list of toxic yard plants and making sure your pup doesn’t try to eat them.
Don’t let your dog eat a lot of grass. “Dogs can eat so much grass that it can cause an intestinal obstruction necessitating surgery,” Dr. Bercovitch says. Though it sounds extreme, it can happen.
What can I do about my dog eating grass?
Pet parents: Don’t worry too much if your dog is munching down on the occasional patch of grass—especially if it’s in a trusted place like your backyard where you know there aren’t any harmful pesticides or dogs who have been sick.
However, if you believe your dog’s grass eating is due to anxiety or other behavioral issues, Dr. Bercovitch recommends “diversion, distraction and environmental enrichment.” Some recommendations include:
- Increase your pup’s daily exercise (#morewalksplease).
- Provide plenty of chew toys.
- Stimulate them mentally with lots of enrichment activities, like dog puzzles.
We love filling a KONG toy with peanut butter (just make sure your pb is free of xylitol, which is toxic to dogs) or a little pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) and freezing it, or smearing their wet food on a lick mat and then freezing it. These activities will make your four-legged friend have to work a bit harder for their food, and the act of smelling, licking and chewing can help reduce anxiety and boredom in dogs.
When to Call the Vet
If you’ve tried the above steps and your dog is still eating grass daily, or is eating a lot of grass and then getting sick, Dr. Wooten recommends getting them checked out by a veterinarian to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions.
Your vet may recommend changing your dog’s diet to meet their specific nutrition needs or performing a more thorough exam to get to the root of the issue.
If your vet believes the issue to be behavioral, they or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist can recommend a specialized treatment plan.