Have you ever noticed your dog, the dog of a friend or client (if you're an animal caregiver), or a dog at the park eating grass? Many of us have dogs that eat grass at least every once in a while, if not regularly. When you've seen a dog do this have you ever wondered why? Most veterinarians and animal health care professionals will tell you that this behavior is nothing to worry about- it is just a residual evolutionary behavior.
The ancestors of our modern domestic dogs would eat the entirety of the prey they caught - stomach, intestines and their contents included. Much of the prey that pre-modern dogs ate were herbivores - animals that subsist from eating plants, which often includes a diet heavy in various grasses. As a result, these pre-modern dogs were regularly consuming grass in various stages of digestion, based off of how soon they made their kill after their prey had eaten.
Dogs, unlike cats, are not obligate carnivores - meaning that their bodies are made to be able to digest a certain amount of plant fibers as part of their diet. Cats lack the digestive enzymes to sufficiently digest most grass. Because dogs are omnivorous (eat both plants and animals), and are often opportunistic feeders (i.e. scavengers) when food is not provided for them by people, they are able to eat and process grass (to a point) in their digestive system. At present, wild canines still regularly consume a variety of plant products, including fruits and berries, in order to fulfill their own dietary needs.
Now you are probably wondering- if dogs are supposed to be able to eat plants, including grass, why does my dog usually throw up after eating grass? This is likely because your dog is eating grass to settle an already upset, gassy or uneasy stomach. Have you ever felt so nauseated or upset to your stomach that you think you would probably feel better if you could just throw up already? That is what the dog's body is often saying when they eat grass - eat grass, which will scratch or irritate the throat and stomach lining, which will induce a vomiting reaction, solving the problem of an upset stomach. This is particularly true if the dog doesn't bother to chew the grass, but rather pulls up large pieces or clumps and swallows them down. However, most dogs do not throw up every time they eat grass, and this is perfectly okay too.
Sometimes dogs may eat grass simply because they like the texture. Other times they eat it because their body is telling them they need a little extra roughage and fiber in their diet - maybe their feeling a little blocked up and are trying to help their bowels move a little more smoothly. If your dog eats grass and it comes out more or less intact in their stool, not to worry, your dog was just trying to give themselves a gentle natural enema to move things along.
Regardless of the reason your dog may be eating grass, pet health professionals say their is no reason to fret. Your dog is simply doing something that it has evolutionarily learned to do. Grass contains essential nutrients that your dog may be craving, especially if they are being fed a "commercial" diet (food brands that would be deemed lower quality or "grocery store brands"). Such food is often lacking in key nutrients and is often full of fillers such as corn or wheat, which are low in nutritional value and can cause gassiness and bloating. If you happen to notice that your dog is regularly eating grass or house plants, you may want to consider introducing some cooked vegetables or herbs to their diet, in addition to their current food, to supplement for any nutrients the food may be lacking. Raw vegetables are also a possible additive, however many dogs prefer cooked to raw vegetables.
Though the consumption of grass and plants by dogs is, overall, not a problem, be wary of where your dog eats grass, as pesticides and herbicides may have been applied which could possibly make your dog ill. Also, keep in mind that a little snacking on grass here and there is alright, but if you see a marked increase in your dog's consumption of grass, contact your veterinarian as your dog may be experiencing some more severe digestive or other health issues. Remember that dogs require a wide arrow of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to make their bodies function well, just like humans, and just like humans they have their own methods for self-treating, but too much of anything (including eating grass) is never a good thing.
Whether your dog is a grass eater or not, try to make a habit of regularly visually examining your dog's feces. All that is needed is a quick glance to make sure things look solid, that no blood or worms are present, and keep tabs on the coloration - black or red in stool is what one should be considered about. Grass in stool, however, is to be expected!
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