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Golden furred dog sniffing the grass

Why Do Dogs Eat Grass and Dirt?

5 min read

If your dog keeps eating grass or dirt, there’s no need to worry - this isn’t uncommon behaviour by any means, even though it might seem quite strange.

If you have a four-legged friend in your life, chances are that you’ve caught them grazing once or twice in the garden or out on walks. For pups that do this, owners often wonder, why do dogs eat grass exactly? Over the years there’s been numerous old wife’s tales about the behaviour, with many believing it’s for the purpose of self-medicating – but is this true?

Why do dogs eat grass?

Dogs eating grass is very common, but there’s actually little evidence to tell us why they do it. Behaviourists and veterinarians have been perplexed by the behaviour for years, but some of their theories include:

1. Self-medicating

It’s likely that you’ve heard this one for an answer to why dogs eat grass. It’s widely believed by dog owners that if a dog feels nauseous, they’ll eat grass to make themselves vomit and then feel better. However, this still remains a theory. In fact, dogs vomiting after ingesting grass is quite rare It has also been suggested that certain grasses and herbs can calm their stomach.

There is even a growing area of interest and study as to whether dogs (and other animals) can and will select what natural remedies, including grass, herbs and minerals, they need if given a free choice to do so (zoopharmacognosy) but as yet, - and given some of the things Labradors would eat if given a free choice (!) - this is lacking any robust scientific research, and could well just be another tool for owners to discover more about their dogs’ preferences rather than evidence of their veterinary skills!

2. They like the taste of it

Another reason could be because they simply like the taste of it. Dogs are descended from the same ancestor as wolves and as such, they’re natural scavengers – meaning that they might be grazing in your back garden as an opportunity to supplement their diet. Or if you have interesting and varied herbs that you grow to enhance your own culinary tastes, your dog might enjoy those too! 

3. Eating grass due to boredom

If you’re just letting your dog out into the garden by themselves and not offering enough mental and physical stimulation, then your dog eating grass may be because of boredom. Dogs do not play on their own – play is very much a social behaviour. Garden time alone is pretty boring so it’s easy for dogs to dig, start trying escapology, or eat grass and soil.

Make sure you’re giving your pup enough enrichment opportunities – and rather than just letting them out into the garden, go with them and play dog games, do some training or just have some quality time together. 

4. Dogs might need grass in their diet

Another explanation for why dogs eat grass could be down to the way they’ve evolved. This theory relates to the fact that wild canids eat all of an animal when they catch it. The animals that wild canids – your dog’s ancestors – would catch and eat were usually herbivores or omnivores. This means that when the wild canids ate these animals, they might also have ended up eating a lot of grass and plants that were in the intestines of their prey.

Wild canids such as foxes have also been known to eat certain berries and other plant material, supporting the idea that dogs eat grass, soil and fruits because it’s a part of their normal diet.

Additionally, some veterinarians have suggested that dogs might eat grass to make up for nutritional deficiencies. This is supported by a study outlined by Fetch by WebMD, with a dog who ate grass every single day for seven years, then the moment they were switched to a high-fibre diet, they stopped. However, one case doesn’t make for proof and there haven’t been enough studies on the topic to satiate if this is the reason behind why dogs eat grass or not.

Jack Russell in the long grass with a red collar

Why do dogs eat dirt?

Sometimes when your pup’s been munching on grass, you’ll notice that they’re sporting a muddy face too. Dogs that like to eat grass may also enjoy the odd sample of soil, but why do dogs eat dirt? Are they the same reasons as why they eat grass?

Mineral deficiencies

Dirt contains minerals, so when you see them digging with their tongue in the dirt, they may be trying to supplement their diet with these. If the food you’re currently offering your dog isn’t rich in minerals, try switching to a more high quality one that is and see if that makes any difference.

They might be digging instead

Although it may look like your dog’s eating dirt, they might actually just be digging in it. If your dog smells something wonderful in the soil, they’ll use their nose to aid with the digging and to help with locating the item in question or hunting down insects. If it’s in your back garden they’re doing this, they may be hunting for their own buried treasure!

A lot of the reasons why your dog eats dirt are the same as why they eat grass too. These include behavioural issues, stomach upset and simply just liking the taste

 

Is it okay for my dog to eat grass and dirt?

Grass eating is a normal behaviour for dogs and it’s not a concern unless they’re doing it excessively. If they start ingesting a lot and don’t seem okay in themselves or are repeatedly eating grass and vomiting over a period of a few hours, it’s time to contact your vet.

If your dog likes to graze in your garden, make sure that it’s not sprayed with pesticides or any chemicals that could be harmful to your dog. And, be on the lookout for plants that are poisonous to dogs too. It’s not unusual for dogs that love to munch on vegetation to sample other plants, some of which may be hazardous. Be careful with lawn cuttings too – as some toxic plants become more so when cut.

If you are still concerned about your dog eating grass or soil, we would recommend that you discuss it with your vet, just in case. They’ll be happy to check your dog over for peace of mind, so you can carry on enjoying each other’s company with no worries.

Looking to find out more information about dog behaviour? Find out how to stop a dog digging next.

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