It’s a common, albeit curious sight: a pooch devouring grass. Anyone who has ever owned a dog will know that now and then, man’s best friend will sink its teeth in a clump of grass, chewing and swallowing what we could only deem a very unsavory meal. But why would dogs voluntarily eat grass, when they have much tastier and more interesting food at their disposal? The short answer is: we simply don’t know yet.
There’s no reason to think that a dog is unwell when it eats grass. In the wild, eating grass has certain therapeutic benefits, though. When wild canids, the ancestors of dogs, eat grass, they purge their intestines of parasites. Whether dogs or canids do it on purpose, to rid themselves of intestinal parasites and alleviate some of the symptoms of an infestation, is another matter altogether. But clearly grass does not cause, and it’s not a sign of illness. Eating it may be a way to prevent parasitic infestations in the natural world.
There’s a hypothesis that dogs sometimes eat grass because they’re hardwired to do it. We know that wolves and foxes, the wild canids of our times, not only feed on herbivores but eat their entire carcass. Because they eat the prey whole, foxes and wolves involuntarily also eat the plants that are in those animals’ stomachs. The dog’s ancestors probably did the same. So, it may not be a matter of needing the grass as much as it is about instincts.
Watching a dog chew grass stirs up questions about their diet. But there’s no reason to believe that a dog eats grass because it’s trying to compensate for something lacking in their diet. The nutritional value of grass is very low, and except for dietary fiber, there’s not much a few clumps of grass will provide a dog with, in terms of nutrients.
Does your dog lead a dog’s life? If so, they probably show it. A dog can wreak havoc out of boredom. So, eating grass isn’t the most efficient way to grab a human’s attention. Also, certain dog breeds are less inclined to prance, skip, and enjoy themselves in the great outdoors, but it doesn’t mean they eat grass to protest at the drabness of their existence.
Some think eating grass is a remnant of wild canid behavior. But it could be down to more than just instinct; it could be in their genetic makeup. We know that dogs are omnivorous in the wild, eating berries and grains, as well as meat. So, rather than being instinctive, it could simply be the natural thing to do. After all, based on the length of their intestines, and the fact that they are adapted to eating starchy and sugary meals, dogs could be classed as omnivores. On the flip side, their low coefficient of fermentation means they are unable to extract nutrients from plants. So, they may feel an urge to eat grass, but not get much satisfaction from it.
Dogs have six times fewer taste buds than we do. So, it may be that they either don’t need as many as we do to experience certain tastes - because they have a much keener sense of smell, or it could be that they simply don’t feel flavors as intensely as we do. So, they may eat grass because they like the taste of it, the texture, the smell, or all of the above.
An idea that’s been floated for decades is that dogs eat grass to alleviate stomach cramps. According to some veterinarians, it makes them vomit, and vomiting helps relieve some of the symptoms of an upset stomach. The trouble with this hypothesis is that few dogs vomit after they eat grass and even those that do don’t all the time. Surely, if a dog ate it specifically for that purpose, it would go on eating until it would vomit, even if it took time and effort.
As strange as it may seem, there’s no reason to think eating sharp, and pointy blade-like leaves is dangerous for your dog. That said if your dog often regurgitates after eating grass, and you’re seriously concerned about the effect that this is having on your dog, it couldn’t hurt to ask for a medical opinion. A vet can carry out a physical examination, checking for inflammation, testing blood and fecal matter, and looking for an underlying illness.
The fact that, in this day and age, we have so little research on dog behavior to rely on is very telling. For all we know, dogs could eat grass because it’s healthy, it’s instinctual, they’re genetically hard-wired for it, they’re trying to rid themselves of parasites, they have a stomach upset, or they like the taste. It could all or none of these things. There’s simply no scientific basis for any of these claims.
We may not yet understand much about a dog’s urge to eat grass. But we do know that we shouldn’t try to correct this behavior. Until there’s clear scientific evidence for or against grass eating, it’s best to let dogs do what they do. After all, there are far stranger things a dog can eat, and with great gusto, too. So, let’s give canines the space and the freedom to eat their grass clumps in peace.
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