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  • Grass eating in Companion Animals (Part 1) – Dogs

    Growing up with a dog that struggled with pancreatitis attacks, I always associated any dog eating grass as a way for them to induce vomiting, but when I adopted my own dog I shortly found out that sometimes that isn’t the case. My current dog, a standard golden-doodle named Benny, munches on a bit of grass almost every day. I’m not sure if it is something he picked up from being raised around horses or from his older dog friends, but nonetheless, Benny enjoys a bit of grass in his diet. 

    Turns out, I’m not the only owner who recognized this behaviour in their dog. In 2008, Sueda et al. administered a survey to 47 US dog owners and 68% reported that their dogs ate plants on a daily or weekly basis, grass being the most popular plant on the menu (Sueda et al., 2008).  Similar behaviours were even identified by Greek philosopher Aristotle, stating that carnivorous animals, such as dogs and the wolf, will consume grasses only when they need to detoxify via purging themselves.

    Bjone et al. (2007) completed a study regarding patterns of grass eating in domestic dogs, in which the study was devised to explore three questions; whether grass eating was influenced by satiety, if dogs have a preference for types of grasses, and is the consumption of grass was related to the time of day (Bjone et al., 2007)  The researchers determined that dogs showed no preference for the type of grass, but grass eating was in fact influenced by time of day. The dogs in this study spent more time eating grass in the morning and this decreased throughout the day, the researchers suggested this may be due to hunger because the dogs ate their kibble before the afternoon (Bjone et al., 2007). The dogs involved in this study were also free of parasites and deemed healthy by veterinarians, furthering the theory that they were simply eating grass out of an innate behaviour such as hunger or boredom. 

    Bjone and colleagues also recorded that puppies with frequent grass-eating mothers consumed grass more often than the puppies with mothers who infrequently ate grass (Bjone et al., 2009). This suggests that viewing the mother’s eating habits is likely to further the innate consumption of grass in puppies. It is also important to note that the dogs involved in this study exhibited only 6 vomiting events compared to the recorded 1399 grass-eating events (Bjone., et al 2009). These numbers align with their previous study, in regards to the low number of vomiting events, implying that the results from this study do not support the theory of dogs using grass as an emetic. In sum, it appears as if more dogs eat grass for the flavor, a source of nutrition, or self-soothing, than as a means to induce vomiting. 

    Overall, to this date, little research has been published regarding the consumption of grass in cats and dogs, which strikes me as interesting due to the number of questions that are searched about this specific topic online. An earlier study highlighted the difficulties surrounding research involved in quantifying the consumption of grass. This could be an explanation of why little research has been completed on this topic. Grass blades don’t weigh much and can easily be disrupted by dogs urinating or digging (Bjone et al., 2007). This could be explained due to the low level of urgency of pets eating nontoxic grass and the minimal side effects displayed. I personally don’t mind that my dog likes to snack on grass, though it would be interesting to know exactly why and what he and/or his body thinks it is getting out of it. As a side note, I don’t appreciate the odd strand of grass that will sometimes get stuck in his bum after a poop. The joys of being a dog mom.  

    Friendly disclaimer: I have cited a Veterinary Record Case Reports issue about grass as a liner gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction in four dogs (McCagherty et al., 2020). It does seem uncommon for fibrous grass to be the cause of an obstruction, but if your dog is eating excess amounts of large pieces of grass /non-toxic plant matter – it might be worth contacting veterinarians for more information or prevention of significant damage in the gastrointestinal tract. It is always important to check with your vet if your dog is ingesting something you are unsure of! 

    Citations:

    Álvaro, M. M., Luis, R. R., Mezcua, C., Álvaro, M., Mezcua, M., Álvaro, R. R., Luis, S., De, L., & Prieto, J. (2019). The origins of zoopharmacognosy: how humans learned about self-medication from animals. International Journal of Appl Ied Research, 5(5).

    Bjone, S. J., Brown, W. Y., & Price, I. R. (2007). Grass eating patterns in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. Recent Advances in Animal Nutrition Australia, 16.

    Bjone, S. J., Brown, W. Y., & Price, I. R. (2009). Maternal influence on grass-eating behavior in puppies. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2008.10.003

    Kandwal, M. K., & Sharma, M. L. (2011). Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.: A self-treatment grass for dogs. In Current Science (Vol. 101, Issue 5).

    McCagherty, J., Yool, D., Earley, N. F., & Woods, S. (2020). Grass as a linear gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction in four dogs. Veterinary Record Case Reports, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1136/vetreccr-2020-001116

    McKenzie, S. J., Brown, W. Y., & Price, I. R. (2010). Reduction in grass eating behaviours in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris, in response to a mild gastrointestinal disturbance. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 123(1–2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2009.12.003

    Sueda, K. L. C., Hart, B. L., & Cliff, K. D. (2008). Characterisation of plant eating in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 111(1–2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2007.05.018

  • Introduction

    Hello!

    My name is Mikaela and Welcome to the blog!

    I’m an animal lover who recently graduated from Western University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Minor in Classical Studies. Now, I’ve begun my journey at the University of Guelph as a graduate student, more specifically, I am completing a Masters of Science specializing in Animal Nutrition.

    So, I’ve decided to document my journey on the blog: here are some things you can expect from me:

    • Posts about Articles / Scientific Research I have read that is relevant to my area of study
    • Other aspects of the natural world that I find fascinating
    • The overall scope and journey of my degree

    Hope you enjoy! Hope to write soon.