As greenery awakens in springtime, we often see our cats and dogs munch on some of the freshly grown grass and other vegetation. You have likely been told at some point that your pet eating grass may be an indicator of an upset stomach. However – this is likely not the case, and most instances of dogs or cats eating grass are perfectly normal and healthy!
While dogs are hunters by nature, they are also known to scavenge. While many people want to believe that dogs are true carnivores, they do indeed eat some nuts, berries, grass, leaves and even bark in the wild. Coyotes, wolves and stray dogs can often be seen taking part in these behaviors as a perfectly healthy portion of their diet that can serve several different purposes. What we do not ever see is dogs in corn fields, wheat fields, digging up potatoes or looking for chickpeas….but I digress.
In the spring, pets munching on freshly grown soft grass is their way of celebrating and welcoming the season. Winter is a time where fresh live food is sparse, and eating soft grass introduces foods rich in phytonutrients that can help to cleanse the spleen, liver, and kidneys. As we have domesticated dogs we have taken away their natural ability to forage – so as long as they are not eating so much grass that they vomit regularly, let them eat!
If you watch an animal eating grass, they are usually very selective as to which blades of grass they consume – in a patch where there are multiple varieties available they often seek out a single variety to carefully pluck. This is self-selection at its finest, something that has remained intact as we have bred and domesticated dogs for other features and behaviors. Remember that dogs and cats know what nutrients they need, and what they are lacking. If this is a regular behavior, it may be time to consider trying some various green additions to their bowl to supplement phytonutrients and provide high-quality fiber.
The idea that dogs should not eat any greenery is proving to be detrimental to their health – for both kibble and raw fed dogs. Research has shown that dogs who eat leafy greens with their kibble or raw food have a more diverse (healthier) range of gut bacteria which results in better digestion and a more effective immune system. In fact, some studies even show decreased risks of certain cancers with the addition of leafy greens!
Let us look more closely at certain grass eating behaviors:
- The occasional soft-grass grazer – this dog or cat may be simply supplementing their current diet. As long as they are not vomiting regularly or ravenous with grass, grass grazing is a normal and healthy behavior, especially in the springtime!
- For dogs or cats who are seeing thick “sharp” grasses regularly– this may be an indicator of intestinal parasites. Again, dogs and cats are very self-aware and know that these blades of grass do not digest within their gut and therefore will help to cut up and sweep intestinal parasites out. If you see your pet seeking this type of grass, it is best to have a stool sample tested by your veterinarian. Intestinal parasites can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, and other serious problems.
- Since sharp grasses provide a hearty source of fiber – this can also be an indicator of constipation. The occasional indulgence in these grasses may not necessarily be an indicator of parasites as mentioned above, but it still may be best to get checked out to be sure. If everything comes back clear, a diet adjustment may be in order!
- For dogs that continually eat grass and vomit, this can be an indicator of a more serious digestive problem. They also know which types of grass to eat, and how much if their goal is to vomit. The best course of action is to visit your veterinarian to rule out obstructions, metabolic disease, malnutrition, digestive problems or other concerns.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, I find it necessary to warn against your pet eating grasses that are treated with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. There is significant enough research to show that these chemicals are contributing to certain cancers, GI disturbances, and other sensitivities. Our pets are often walking through these treated grasses, licking their paws and drinking water that may have these chemicals within them – and we need to be more cognizant of chemical intake.
Most people have their own opinion on the use of chemicals for lawn care and agriculture, and each of those opinions has merit and deserves respect – because there are arguments for both sides. However, there is something to be said about the lack of plant, nutrient and pollen diversity and the increase in food and environmental sensitives in humans and pets. Increased exposure to a variety of plants, nutrients and pollens may very well increase the effectiveness and function of the body’s immune system and therefore regulate immune response to environmental allergens, leading to less allergic response, sensitivities and overall discomfort!
The good news is that more and more homeowners, towns, & cities are reducing or eliminating the use of Roundup and other lawn chemicals to reduce exposure for children, adults, and pets. We see a trend where people are starting to embrace more natural methods of pest and weed control, and adapting to a more natural looking lawn, with a variety of grasses and wildflowers – and that is a good thing for all!