It is a fresh, clear spring morning with the dew still on the unbelievably green grass as you let your dog out for their morning constitutional. Coffee in hand, you drink in the natural wonder of our world and survey your backyard with a sense of pride mixed with awe that all this yours. Then you hear the retching in the corner and the magical spell disappears faster then the rabbit your dog startled when you opened up the backdoor.
Why, on such a picturesque morning, does your dog feel the need to go outside, eat grass and then vomit not just once, but twice? Always twice. The first seemingly a warm-up for the main event when all that lovely fresh green grass comes back up for a revisit. Why do dogs eat grass? It does not make sense if it is only going to make them vomit!
So Why do Dogs Eat Grass?
One reason dogs eat grass is because it makes them sick! Dogs that use grass to binge and purge do so because of a build up of bile in their stomachs. The gallbladder produces bile and it is excreted into the stomach to aid in the digestion of fats. On an empty stomach, bile can cause an acidic or sick feeling that triggers the dog to eat grass in order to vomit up whatever is making them feel ill. Most often, the dog vomits up the bile and grass combo only to then dive into their breakfast a few minutes later as if nothing ever happened.
This is actually normal doggy behavior although steps should be taken to limit the frequency of the binge/purge sessions. One way is to feed your dog smaller meals more frequently so their stomach never has that sick bile feeling or to give them a cookie before going to bed so their stomach has something to work on overnight. Another option is to mix their regular kibble with a fiber formula diet available through your veterinarian. Fiber stays in the stomach longer then normal food, alleviating the empty stomach problem. Switching brands of food can cause nausea as well so sticking to one brand that your dog enjoys and that keeps their weight at an optimal level will help.
When should you be worried? If the grass eating increases in frequency or if it occurs more then once a week, a visit to the vet is in order. The nausea or acid stomach could be caused by an unknown condition or they may prescribe antacids to help calm that hollow stomach.
Does your dog eat grass and not vomit?
Eating grass is normal for dogs. When wolves and coyotes kill a deer or rabbit, they eat the contents of the stomach as well as all the juicy bits to garner the nutrients and enzymes of the grass within the digestive tract of their prey. Domestic dogs have developed their own way to get the nutrients from grass – they go straight to the unprocessed product! Many dogs can digest the grass, or at least it passes right through them without causing the dog to vomit. Although this can have significant effects on the opposite end of their digestive tract, it normally passes through without any ill effects on the overall health of the dog.
Why then does the dog eat the grass if all it is going to do is pass right through? Sometimes it is something deficient in their diet and the grass replaces the necessary nutrient. Your vet can give suggestions on what the missing nutrient(s) could be and suggestions on how to include it in their diet without resorting to the grass eating method.
Although normally the grass passes through the dog’s digestive tract, there can be a few things to be aware of in order to guarantee the health of your dog. Thick stemmed or non-cultivated grass has tiny barbs that can slice the esophagus on the way down. This usually results in it coming back up but with a bit of frothy blood as well. Although this not overly detrimental to the dog, discourage them from eating grass that is not the soft, green cultivated grass that we enjoy in our yards.
If your dog must eat grass, try to limit it to your own yard and leave the grass as natural or organic as possible. Fertilizers, weed killers and insecticides all build up in their systems and although it is hard to say what the long-term exposure would be to these substances, it cannot be healthy either. Remember that fertilizers developed for use on grass are not formulated like the products developed for the vegetable garden – no one ever suspects that large quantities of lawn will be digested. Keep your lawn clear of chemicals and discourage your dog from random munching while on walks or while visiting the neighbor’s house.
Adding a source of greens to your dog’s regular diet may help decrease the amount of grass they eat. Greens can include adding vegetables to their dinner, giving them a carrot to snack on during the day or buying a good quality green dietary supplement to their meal. For more information about green supplements, talk to a knowledgeable pet store employee or visit a health food store that carries pet products.
Eating grass is normal for dogs but there are ways to help decrease the amount they eat. Look at what they eat, how often they eat and what could be missing from their diet for clues and if you see them chowing down on your lawn, keep them outside until it comes back up – it’ll save some clean up and probably your carpet from a lovely yellow stain!