Should I be concerned if my dog eats grass?

Dr. Mavis McCormick-Rantze graduated in 2003 from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. She also has undergraduate degrees in Animal Science and Zoology from the University of Georgia.

Besides small animals, Dr McCormick-Rantze has a strong interest in avian and exotic animals. She lives in Cumming with her husband and their two children, five cats, and two saltwater fish tanks.  Dr. McCormick is the owner of Lanier Animal Hospital, 5700 Cumming Highway, Building B, Sugar Hill, GA  30518.

Spring has sprung and the trees and flowers are blooming and the grass is turning green and growing!!  My favorite time of year is spring.  It is a time of year that is motivating to everyone to get outside and get fresh air and we all want to take our dogs with us.  Dogs just love all the new growth of grass and plants.  They love to run thru the grass, roll in the grass and even eat the grass.  I often get the question from my clients should I be worried if my dog eats grass.  I personally used to have two Labrador Retrievers that I used to call little yellow cows because they would literally graze in the back yard, especially in the spring.  They used to drive me crazy with it as sometimes it was hard to get them to stop and I could never figure out why they were doing it.  Neither one of them ever got sick from it so I just figured it was their job to drive me crazy and the answer was they just liked it.

So I have done research over the years and well this question can be answered several ways and the true answer has been up for debate among all the veterinary experts.  There has been tons of speculation about this habit and none of them have been proven to my knowledge and the dogs aren’t talking about why they do it either!!    Some of the theories include that the dogs are bored, have a dietary deficiency (such that they need more fiber, vitamins or mineral in their diet), have gastrointestinal upset and are trying to vomit or that it is a trait inherited from their wild ancestors.

When I have a client come in with a history of the patient (usually a dog) eating grass (a lot of grass not just an every once in a while thing) I do several things.  First I question the client to make sure the patient is on a good well rounded diet and is feeding the correct amount and the correct frequency.  I do a good physical exam, check for intestinal parasites, de-worm and do bloodwork.  If all of this is normal then it is likely a behavioral issue.

A few things that I like to warn owners about when their pets eat grass is that we need keep them away from chemically treated lawns which can be toxic if eaten.  Also there is the rare occasion that if an animal eats too much grass it can cause an obstruction in the stomach or gastrointestinal tract.  But this would only occur with tremendous amounts of grass or I have seen it happen with a dog that had a foreign body (child’s toy) originally and ate a bunch of grass and leaves also which only made the situation worse.  

Amazingly there is a veterinarian, Dr. Karen Sueda that did her resident research project on grass eating while doing her behavior residency at UC Davis.  She did an internet survey of owners that had grass eating dogs.  In the end no link was found to diet or history of gastrointestinal disease.   Owners reported that some dogs ate grass if they already had an upset GI system but the majority seemed to eat grass just because they could and they liked it!

So the moral to the story is if your wonderful furry friend eats grass just makes sure that it is clean grass (no chemicals) and he only eats a little bit at a time.  Some animals just have interesting habits that make them unique and that is why we love them.