Text: Tarek Abu Sham
Birds chirping is the first indication that Spring has arrived, and the fresh green shoots of nature are blooming. But have you noticed your cat or dog munching on them? What is the obsession behind this odd behaviour?
You’ve probably seen it happen more than once. Your furry family member goes outside and immediately starts to gobble down grass. More often than not, that triggers a reflex, and they promptly vomit, either outside or on your freshly cleaned carpets. So why do our pets eat grass when it clearly isn’t something they should be eating? There are several reasons your pet might eat grass, and your veterinarian might not be able to identify why your pet is consuming this leafy goodness. However, some reasons can be ruled out by carefully looking at your pet’s history.
A need for nutrients
One of the most common reasons for pica, or eating something that isn’t a food item, is a lack of nutrients. As long as your pet is eating complete and balanced pet food, rather than just eating table scraps or food that doesn’t have a seal of approval from a veterinary and food administrative body, this cause should not be why they’re eating grass.
By consuming grass, your pet may be getting the fibre that it needs to help regulate its digestive tract.
An upset tummy
A common thought behind dogs and cats eating grass is that they have an upset stomach, and eating grass in some way helps relieve the discomfort. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, only 25% of dogs actually vomit after they eat grass, so this is not a likely reason in most cases. By consuming grass, your pet may be getting the fibre that it needs to help regulate its digestive tract. Eating grass helps keep food moving properly through the GI tract and helps your pet to pass stool, especially since some pets need more roughage in their diet than others.
Your pet might eat grass as a way to channel its instincts. In dogs, in particular, it may link back to their wild canid ancestry. In studies of the faecal material in wolves, between 11 and 47 percent of wolves eat grass. Most wolves have to hunt for the meals they consume unless they live in captivity. As part of scavenging for food, they may ingest grass and other plants. So even though your pet eats a balanced commercial kibble, it may scavenge on grass and plants in your yard.
A stress reliever
Dogs may eat grass as a way to alleviate boredom or anxiety. For example, if a dog is stuck outside with little human interaction, it may start to graze on grass. It can be a way for the dog to get more attention or a comfort mechanism to help relieve anxiety. When pets have more time with and attention from their owners, they tend to eat less grass when this is the case.
A tasty snack
Some pets eat grass because they like the taste of it. However, between the texture of the grass and its flavour, some animals may just enjoy it and treat it like a tasty snack.
Should you worry?
If your pet is on a good intestinal parasite prevention programme, eating grass from time to time is not much of a worry unless it’s getting sick (or feeling sick before or after eating the grass). These parasite prevention measures will help deworm if your pet ingests roundworms or hookworms from contaminated grass. However, if your grass is treated with herbicides or pesticides, you’ll want to keep your pet from eating it. Spending more time with your dog or cat and retraining its behaviour with appropriate treats or toys is a great way to stop grass grazing.