Why do cats and dogs eat grass and is it safe?

Why do cats and dogs eat grass and is it safe?

As a pet owner, you’ll know that both cats and dogs are known to chomp on a bit of grass from time to time – and sometimes throw it back up again! Leaving some of us a bit curious and concerned. That’s why this week we’re taking a look at some of the reasons that dogs and cats eat grass, whether there are any potential risks in letting them eat it and if so, how to manage them.

A beagle eats some grass

Why does my dog eat grass?

  • Dietary needs: Some dogs may nibble on a bit of grass to supplement their diet with extra fibre or nutrients that they instinctively feel that they're lacking.
  • Digestive aid: Grass can help dogs improve their digestion or stimulate a bowel movement. Dogs don’t digest grass particularly well, so it provides them with a bit of fibre to help stimulate their gut and you might notice it passes through their system mostly undigested.
  • Instinctive behaviour: Dogs may eat grass out of instinct, inherited from their wild ancestors who consumed entire prey, including the stomach contents which often contained grass. Research on wolves has shown that around 2-10% of their stomach contents contain plant material and other wild members of the dog family including jackals, wolves, dingoes, foxes, and coyotes have been observed eating grass.
  • Boredom: Dogs sometimes eat grass simply because they are bored and looking for something to do.
  • Enjoyment: Your dog might just enjoy the taste and texture of grass, or are curious to see how it feels in their mouth
  • Attention: Some dogs have learned that when they eat grass you might give them some attention, whether that is distracting them with a treat to stop them from eating the grass, or physically pulling them away from it.
A husky eats some grass

Is it safe for my dog to eat grass?

For the most part, yes, it is safe for your dog to eat grass. However, it’s important to ensure that the grass hasn’t been treated with pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals that could be harmful to them.

Will eating grass make my dog sick?

Eating grass can sometimes lead to vomiting, especially if your dog eats a large quantity. This isn’t usually a cause for concern unless it happens frequently. Persistent vomiting or signs of gastrointestinal distress should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Cats eat grass on purpose, in order to induce vomiting and expel things that they can’t digest. It is a popular misconception that dogs eat grass for the same reason, but recent studies have shown that this is not the case. So if your dog is sick after eating grass then there may be a problem.

A dog eats some grass

When is it OK for my dog to eat grass?

  • In small amounts: Occasional grass eating is generally harmless and is probably part of your dog’s normal routine behaviour.
  • Without chemicals: Ensure the grass is free from toxic chemicals.

When Is It not OK for my dogs to eat grass?

  • Excessive consumption: If your dog eats large amounts of grass regularly, it may indicate an underlying health issue that needs veterinary attention.
  • Chemically treated grass: Avoid allowing your dog to eat grass that has been treated with pesticides or herbicides.
  • Frequent vomiting: If grass eating leads to regular vomiting, consult a vet.
A dog enjoying some grass

How can I stop my dog from eating grass?

To stop your dog from eating grass, ensure that their diet is nutritionally complete and balanced, to reduce the need for additional fibre or nutrients. Increase both physical and mental stimulation through engaging activities such as toys, regular exercise, and training to alleviate any boredom that could lead to grass eating. Teaching commands like "leave it" can help discourage the behaviour. Additionally, if they are munching on your lawn and destroying parts of your garden, you can use safe deterrents sprayed on the grass to make it less appealing. Finally, supervising your dog while they are outside will allow you to intervene if they start eating grass and train them not do so. 

A cat eating some grass

Why does my cat eat grass?

Cats are of course very different to dogs and they eat grass for different reasons. Even if you have an indoor cat you may notice them munching on your houseplants – particularly grass-like species such as spider plants (Chlorophytum Comosum). Let’s take a look at why they might want to do that:

  • Digestive regulation: Grass helps to aid your cat’s digestion by inducing vomiting or facilitating bowel movements. Some scientists believe that traditionally, cats eat grass to help them expel parts of their prey that they can’t digest. If you have an outdoor cat that catches mice and birds, they might be eating a bit of grass on the side to help with that.
  • Nutrient intake: Some cats instinctively eat grass to get a bit of folic acid or other nutrients that may be missing from their diet.
  • Furball management: Grass can help cats expel hairballs that accumulate from grooming.
  • Natural instinct: Like dogs, cats have wild ancestors that consumed grass, which may carry over to domestic cats.
  • Curiosity: Cats are naturally curious and might chew on grass just to see what it like.
  • Palatability: Some cats simply enjoy the taste and texture of grass.
  • Attention: If your cat is munching on your houseplants this could be because they are bored or they want you to give them some attention – even if it is negative! Nothing will make you jump up quicker than catching sight of Tiddles chomping down on one of your favourite pot plants. If you have any plants which are potentially toxic to cats such as poinsettia or lilies make sure they are always out of reach, just to be on the safe side. 
A ginger cat checking our some cat grass

Is it safe for my cat to eat grass?

Generally, yes, it is safe for cats to eat grass, provided it is free from harmful chemicals.

Will eating grass make my cat sick?

Yes, eating grass can cause cats to vomit and they may choose to eat some grass specifically to scour out their stomach. While this is generally a normal part of their digestive process, it can be concerning if it happens too frequently or if the cat shows signs of distress. In this case you may wish to consult your vet to check that everything is OK.

A tabby cat eating some indoor cat grass

When is it OK for my cat to eat grass?

  • Occasional consumption: Occasional grass eating is typically safe and can help with digestion.
  • Chemical-free grass: Ensure that the grass is not treated with harmful substances.

When is it not OK for my cat to eat grass?

  • If they’re being sick a lot: If your cat is eating grass and vomiting frequently after eating grass, it’s time to consult a vet.
  • Treated lawns: Grass that has been treated with chemicals should be avoided.
  • Excessive eating: Overindulgence in grass eating might indicate a nutritional deficiency or other health issue.

How can I stop my cat from eating grass and/or my houseplants?

To stop your cat from eating outdoor grass that is not safe to eat (or if you have an indoor cat, your houseplants) offer safe indoor alternatives like cat grass, which provides a controlled and healthy option to satisfy their chewing instincts. You can buy kits for growing cat grass in your local pet store or online. Pet MD has an excellent guide to growing cat grass, if you want to find out more. You can also work to ensure that your cat's diet is nutritionally balanced to meet all their needs, reducing the likelihood of them seeking nutrients elsewhere. Offer a variety of toys and activities to keep your cat engaged and alleviate boredom. Use positive reinforcement to discourage grass eating, to train your cat to avoid this behaviour. Lastly, supervise your cat during outdoor activities where possible, to ensure they don’t eat any dodgy grass and if you can’t get them to stop munching your houseplants it may be time to invest in some high shelves and position your house plants out of reach.

A black cat eating a house plant

Understanding why cats and dogs eat grass can help you manage this behaviour effectively and ensure it doesn’t lead to health issues. Whilst occasional grass eating is generally safe, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and take steps to mitigate them. If you have concerns about your pet’s grass-eating habits, it could be a good idea to consult with a vet just to make sure they are OK.

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