Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
A dog frantically eating grass may have owners scratching their heads wondering why in the world their canine companions are so eager to start chewing the scenery and gulping down grass like there's no tomorrow.
Perhaps on walks, your dog is pulling you left and right in hopes of eating the foliage (plus or minus dirt), and you may have stopped to wonder why your dog may be so desperate to be munching on some grass. Turns out, there are a few reasons behind this behavior, especially when dogs are going to town on it.
Now, it's important to consider that there is grazing and frantically eating when it comes to dogs munching on greens. The keyword here is "frantically" which denotes a sense of urgency versus the relaxed type of grass eating seen in dogs who simply wish to enjoy savoring some tender greens.
These dogs are therefore grabbing grass by the mouthfuls, gulping it down quickly and not even paying much attention to what is being ingested. This form of grass eating, therefore, requires careful monitoring as dogs may ingest rough grasses and sometimes even rough weeds that may not be too healthy for them.
Soothing an Upset Tummy
If you notice that your pup is wolfing down grass in big mouthfuls at rapid speed, then this may be one of the many signs of a dog's upset stomach. Either it was something they recently ate which didn't agree with their stomach, or they might be dealing with some acid reflux problems, just like humans.
Unfortunately, dogs can’t tell us in words that their tummy is all wonky, so they engage in behavior that they think will help solve the problem. And sometimes, eating grass may in fact help purge their upper intestines. But you don’t want to leave your fur baby to deal with this problem all on their own.
So, keep an eye on your dog if you notice him going after any type of grass, especially if it’s rougher and harder than the grass they may have nibbled on before.
Remember, even the softest grass doesn’t digest in a dog’s stomach so it’s going to likely make them sick anyway. Gobbling up grass like it’s going out of style on a frequent basis likely means there is a bigger underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
Some dogs can’t have empty stomachs for long periods of time and might engage in grass-eating because they need extra food. Your vet can prescribe antacid medication to help soothe your pup’s sour tummy and that should curb the need to consume large quantities of grass.
Need For a Well-Balanced Diet
Like their humans, dogs can suffer from an imbalanced diet. Think about it, if you aren’t eating enough vegetables or fruits or fiber, you can end up with some really unhappy symptoms like GI discomfort.
Well, the same is true for your pup. He or she needs to have a fully balanced diet to be happy and healthy. When they are missing key nutrients from their dog food, they will seek it out elsewhere. And yes, that means they may go foraging for grass to get those needed supplements to make them feel better.
Now, there is a clinical term for when a dog is eating other non-food items for nutritional needs: PICA. This is a condition that exists in humans, too.
You’ll want to have a chat with your vet about changing up your dog’s food. Adding in a high-fiber food may be able to help solve this problem for your pup so that they are getting all the things they need to be happy and healthy.
Echoes of the Past
And then there are the pups trying to keep their bellies full in case of scarcity. Long ago, before dogs were domesticated by humans, they lived on their own and had to rely on their own hunting skills to survive.
Sometimes, there would be plenty of prey to catch and eat. But sometimes, food would disappear, and they learned and adapted to eat their fill as quickly as possible to make sure they didn’t starve to death if their food supply suddenly dried up.
And they also wanted to be sure they didn’t leave anything for other predators to steal. Yes, as gross as it sounds, wild dogs would eat the entire carcass, including the stomach contents of their prey. And depending on the type of animal they were consuming, that could include grass.
Some habits are hard to break and this is one of them. You may not be able to stop your pup if they are eating grass because they don’t want to miss out.
Next time you’re on a walk, pay attention to how your dog behaves. Do they gobble up plants or grass at a specific spot on the walk? It could be that they really like the smell or taste of that particular grass and it only grows in this area so they snatch it up because they know they won’t get a chance to savor it again until they pass by that spot on another walk.
It may seem odd that your dog is living by the “carpe diem” philosophy, but hey, in an ever-changing world where we don’t know what the future holds, maybe that attitude isn’t such a bad one.
A True Love for Greens
Many dogs enjoy eating grass and you can observe their leisurely grass-eating habit take place when the opportunity pops up. This form of grass eating is in general quite relaxed, with dogs sniffing around and picking the most tender grasses just like cows on a pasture.
After all, who can blame them? Dogs are ultimately omnivores, which means that they eat both meat and vegetable matter, explains veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman in the book: The Well-Adjusted Dog: Dr. Dodman's 7 Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness.
While wild dogs get to enjoy the best of both worlds when eating herbivorous prey animals along with their stomach contents, our domesticated canines may be content with simply eating a blade of grass or two for dessert when the opportunity arises.
Now back to the word "frantically," if my dog enjoys eating greens, where is the urgency coming from? Good question. If you ever stopped your dog from eating grass in the past, it could likely be that he's trying to gulp it down quickly while you're not looking or before you catch him in the act and tell him to stop.
A Form of Canine OCD
Sometimes, dogs may bring the art of eating grass to a higher level, turning an innocent habit into an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
It may start with the dog eating grass when he feels nervous or anxious and then progressing to the grass eating becoming excessive and out of hand, with the dog eating it frantically and with determination.
These cases in general warrant the intervention of a veterinary behaviorist after having ruled out any underlying medical conditions.
A Seizure Disorder
Finally, something worth mentioning is that a dog ingesting grass frantically may be suffering from a seizure. Affected dogs may eat grass during or following the seizure, points out Dr. Dodman. See your vet for this especially if the behavior occurs in bouts or your dog appears frantic.
This form of grass eating may warrant a trip to a specialist, more specifically a veterinarian specializing in neurology for proper diagnosis and treatment.
How to Stop Grass Eating Behaviors in Dogs
So, as you can see, there are several reasons why your dog may be chowing down on grass. Most cases can generally be managed simply, although some may require a vet visit to be sure that there aren’t any other underlying issues you might not pick up on right away.
So let’s do a quick recap of what may be causing this behavior as well as a few other pieces of advice to remember to help your pup live a happy, healthy life.
- If your pup is eating all kinds of grass and vomiting it back up, they might be trying to calm a stomach upset. A trip to the vet for some antacids or anti-nausea pills can help solve that issue.
- If your pup is eating grass and not throwing it up, you might have a dog who needs to balance their diet. Getting them on a high-fiber dog food may help reduce the need to go looking elsewhere for food. Ask your vet for advice.
- Dogs are often acting on an instinct bred into them through centuries of life in the wild. Feast or famine was the ruling concept of the day and some dogs just enjoy the taste of greens. Just make sure you don’t let your pup eat grass that’s been treated with chemicals or pesticides as that can lead to serious complications
- Try keeping your lawn mowed short so there’s less temptation for them to try and chew on it. This will also keep pesky ticks out of the way!
- If your fur baby is still a puppy, they may be doing it out of boredom so be sure to engage with them and keep them active through brain games, training, and play to deter that kind of behavior.
- Dogs with OCD may require a trip to a veterinary behaviorist for a plan to interrupt the behavior and prevent it from putting roots.
- Dogs suffering from seizures may require anti-epileptic drugs prescribed by your vet.
- If you discourage grass-eating, be aware your dog may seek out other behavior to satiate whatever ails them (including excessive paw licking which can lead to other health issues). Avoid saying "no" or other forms of discipline. Try instead to redirect your dog by offering alternate, incompatible behaviors such as playing with food puzzles and interactive toys. Praise your dog for engaging with these toys.
- When in doubt, contact your vet for advice and support!
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- Papageorgiou N, Vlachos C, Sfougaris A, et al. Status and diet of wolves in Greece. Acta Theriologica 1994;39:411–416.
- Sukhdeo MVK, et al. Leaf-swallowing by chimpanzees: a behavioural adaptation for the control of strongyle nematode infections. Int J Primatol 1996;17:475-503
- Hart, Benjamin. (2008). Why do dogs and cats eat grass?. Veterinary Medicine. 103. 648-649.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 23, 2020:
Hi Devika, Yes, especially when dogs eat grass in excess or in a frantic way.
Devika Primic on June 23, 2020:
Dogs eating grass is unusual and you explained in detail and enlightened me on this issue to the point.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 17, 2020:
Your dog's grass eating behavior sounds sure like a mystery! Several puzzle pieces to put together. It is good that you are watchful. There are weeds that may not be safe to ingest and then we must worry about treatments in neighbor's lawns.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 17, 2020:
Hi Peggy, interestingly, my male dog ate grass often just for the pleasure, while my female dog ate grass frantically instead when she would have an upset tummy. She would then vomit after ward and feel better.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 17, 2020:
Hi Linda, many dogs eat grass, but when the grass eating in dogs takes place with a sense of urgency, this often is a sign that something may be amiss in the health department. My two dogs ate grass most of the time, and when they ate it calmly, they were just enjoying it, when they ate it in a rush, it was often a sign of an upset tummy.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 17, 2020:
Is the a checkbox for all of the above? Our golden boy is a grass eater! All of our dogs have done it to some degree, but he's been the worst. I think his issues are multiple.
He was a stray as a young pup. So we think he's got that food scarcity issue. He loves chomping on our lawn which is why we're very careful with whatever goes on it. I think he does love greens, in spite of his grass allergies. On the walks, we really have to watch him.
He also does occasionally go through seizure and OCD episodes.
So it's really difficult to figure out which of these issues were addressing. Our one vet said that some dogs are just prone to it, and didn't see a reason for extreme concern. Just monitoring for changes in his grass gobbling.
Great topic! Thanks for the helpful info!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 16, 2020:
Our dogs rarely ate grass, but when they would do so, they would vomit not long afterward. It never happened often, fortunately.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 15, 2020:
This article is interesting and informative, Adrienne. Thank you for sharing the information. My sister's dog eats grass occasionally and one of my previous dogs did, too. I'll keep what you've said in mind.