Why dogs & cats eat grass

The following article is originally from the Sandton SPCA website – all credit to them.

 

If you are fortunate to have a dog or cat in your home you have probably seen them eating grass at some stage. We know wolves, tigers and other wild canines and felines eat grass too.  What we don’t know for sure is why they eat grass. It’s likely that our dogs and cats eat grass for a variety of reasons and, in most cases, the behaviour is nothing to be concerned about.

There are a number of theories that scientists and others have put forward to explain why our domestic dogs and cats eat grass. Of course every animal is a unique individual and may have any number of reasons as to why they are eating grass, and their motives may change over time. Theories as to why dogs and cats eat grass generally fall into three categories:

§  Eating grass for pleasure

§  Eating grass to maintain health

§  Eating grass to regain health

Eating Grass for Pleasure

Dogs and cats may eat grass simply because they like it. The taste and texture of some grasses may be pleasing enough for them to seek out the grass for a nibble for no other reason than they enjoy the sensation. If this is the case, a happy, healthy dog or cat will occasionally eat grass in a leisurely manner and show no adverse effects. The behaviour may become a routine or habit, with a dog revisiting the preferred grass every time it goes for a walk for example. As in humans, overdoing it can lead to problems and too much of a good thing may cause a stomach upset and result in vomiting.

Eating Grass to Maintain Health

A dog or cat’s desire to eat grass may also be a normal, adaptive behaviour. In other words dogs and cats may like to eat grasses because of an instinctual or innate drive. The grasses eaten may play a functional role in maintaining health, provide essential nutrients or help to prevent disease.

Nutritional Needs

Grasses contain a wide variety of nutrients. Common nutrients found in grasses include vitamins, minerals and amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Their rich nutrient profile means grasses should be a good way to enrich an animal’s diet. However, grasses contain high levels of cellulose (a component of plant cell walls) that is indigestible by carnivores. The cellulose is the reason why we often see grass and other cellulose-rich vegetable matter pass through undigested in the faeces of dogs and cats. Cellulose is usually referred to as ‘fibre’ or ‘roughage’. Despite its indigestibility, fibre also plays an important role in the diet.

To access the hidden nutrients in grass, herbivores (like cows and horses) break down the cellulose by processing the grass with special microbes in their intestines. For dogs and cats to access the trapped nutrients in grass they would need to chew it or, as is the case of wild carnivores, eat the intestines of their grass eating prey.

Preventing Disease

Some constituents of grasses are not nutritious but may have other benefits to health of animals. For example bitter or astringent chemicals in some grasses, despite being less palatable, may help maintain a healthy digestive function, minimise intestinal worms and protect against intestinal disease. More alkaline grasses, like cereal grasses, may also help neutralise excess stomach acid when an animal is hungry but without food. Fibre retains water in the intestine and helps keep stools soft and easy to pass. Fibre also leads to a feeling of fullness, and grass eating may be a way of alleviating hunger when no other food is available.

Eating Grass to Regain Health

Grass eating may also be an adaptive response to illness. We know an animal’s preferences and behaviours change when they are unwell. Eating grass can then be seen as a way of self-medicating.

Nutritional Deficiency

It may be that some grass eating is a way for dogs and cats to gain missing nutrients. For example, there are cases of dogs that excessively eat grass where the behaviour has resolved by changing their diets to include more fibre.

Indigestion

Grasses may provide dogs and cats with a first-aid remedy for nausea or minor stomach upsets as a result of eating something disagreeable. Dogs and cats eating grass for this reason may ask to be let out with some urgency and appear ill beforehand. They rapidly bite off long blades of grass, swallowing the grass whole. The grass hairs and sharp edges irritate the intestinal mucosa and induce vomiting and/or diarrhoea helping to purge the offending intestinal contents. Bitter grasses may serve to stimulate digestion and liver function and perhaps remedy some infectious causes of indigestion.

Intestinal Worms

A large burden of intestinal worms can greatly affect an animal’s health and ability to survive. Hairy grasses may act as a mechanical scour as they move through the intestine helping to remove worms like tapeworm and round worm. The Alaskan brown bear is known to eat large quantities of a sedge grass just before hibernation that results in large expulsion of tapeworms. Canadian snow geese use grass in a similar way just before migration.

Stress

Grass eating may occasionally be a sign of stress. We know stress and anxiety can affect an animal’s digestive function leading to nausea and indigestion. For dogs that have very little mental and physical stimulation in their lives, eating grass may be a way to alleviate boredom or gain attention. In rare instances, the behaviour may even become compulsive as a way to alleviate on-going stress.

Words of Wisdom

It is a good idea to provide dogs and cats with access to safe, useful plants for them to select when they feel the need. In urban areas especially, companion animals may have a very poor environment within which to meet their nutritional and behavioural needs. Beware of pesticide treated grass – ensure public parks and grass verges where your dogs and cats have access to grass have not been sprayed with insecticides or herbicides. Any excessive grass eating, especially when associated with vomiting, may be associated with serious disease. Allow your family vet to help you rule out any reasons for concern.

Thank you to http://happinessis.co.za for sharing this interesting read with us!

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