At least she's not smoking it
June 12, 2013 7:27 AM   Subscribe

My dog is a grass-eater. I would like her to NOT be a grass eater. But am I being cruel by cutting her off from her favorite pasttime - grazing?

Thunderdog will eat wide-bladed grass (we call it crab grass here in MN) and, when she's had enough, she'll puke it all back up in a frothy yellow pillow of bile. Yummy! She doesn't seem to be bothered by the puking - she'll puke a few times and then be back to her normal old self. I asked my vet about the grass-binging and she said that it's not really good for the dog to puke grass. It's bad for their teeth, their throats, etc.

I recently went on vacation and Thunderdog stayed at Doggy Camp. They did not have access to grass at Doggy Camp (the yard is covered with pebbles) so I figured it was a good time to break her of the habit. No more grazing! We've been back home for a week and she's not had any grass cravings...until today.

People, she is absolutely jonesing for grass. Yanking on the leash, whining and yowling to get close to the grass, surreptitiously stuffing her mouth with grass when I'm not looking. It's not easy to avoid grass here, we live in a rural area and...well, it's pretty much all grass unless we're walking in the middle of the road or on the beach. We went to the beach today and she got all of her business taken care of (she will happily poo anywhere - grass, beach, sidewalk, whatever) and we came home.

Well, now she's still whiny and grumpy. I put my ear on her side and her stomach is churning and making all sorts of funny noises. I gave her a bowl of kibble and she wasn't interested, but she was thrilled to eat some treats (of course). Does she actually need to puke? I've had dogs before, but never one with this habit.

A bit about my dog: Thunderdog is a generally healthy (if a bit whiny) German Shepherd mix. She eats Orijen kibble with pumpkin in it for fiber. She usually will let the food sit out for a while before eating it, so her not jumping at the kibble today is not an unusual thing. She gets at the very least an hour of walks a day, and at the most many hours of hiking. She did test positive for Lyme Disease two years ago, went through Doxy, and now it's "inactive". Here's a link to a blog post with some pictures of her being a goofball.

I guess my question is two (and a half)-fold.

1. Do dogs eat grass because they have to puke anyway and it helps them puke, OR do dogs eat grass out of some weird compulsion and the grass is what makes them puke?

2. Right now, should I take Thunderdog and her rumbly tummy back outside and lead her to the salad bar, where she will eat grass ravenously and then puke?

2.5 If it is okay to take her out to eat grass and puke, how often is it okay for her to indulge in this activity?
posted by Elly Vortex to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I suspect that it's because crab grass tastes sweet. Dogs are pretty bad at cause and effect if they aren't very closely temporally related, and they really don't mind puking anyway, so the fact that she eats enough to make her sick isn't an actual deterrent.

My dog (pic in profile) eats crab grass, too, and left to his own devices, he will eat a ton and throw it back up. Usually, we can redirect or otherwise distract him from it. That works best.

When he starts to graze, we call him over and make him do some tricks and he'll forget about it for a bit. If we are out for a walk, I just keep walking. That sort of thing.

It's otherwise harmless enough - not the greatest thing for them to do, but it probably won't really harm them if it doesn't happen that often.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:47 AM on June 12, 2013

Have you tried getting her a wheat grass pot and supervising her eating it? If she only eats a little at a time it won't make her sick.
posted by winna at 7:50 AM on June 12, 2013

I won't speculate on why dogs do this, but the main concern of dog owners in my group is keeping them from eating grass sprayed with chemicals as much as possible.

Have you asked your vet?
posted by Room 641-A at 7:58 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have certainly had a dog (also with Shepherd in the mix) who, when not feeling well, went to munch on grass until she threw up. I could tell she wasn't feeling well at those moments because she was pacing, whining, and generally displaying lots of anxiety until she ate grass to the point of throwing up. At that point, she returned to her normal self. If they anxiety was being caused by something else (the need to relieve herself, for example), she wouldn't eat grass, but rather address the concern directly as soon as she could.

My other dogs will graze a bit on grass, but not with high frequency and not to the point of being sick.

So I would say that it would be worth checking out exactly what is going on with Thunderdog when these grass cravings are occurring - is her tummy always rumbling/grumbling and needs to be settled? If so, this might be her best strategy for the moment (and there might be better solutions to help her, but I don't know them)...if it's more of a compulsive thing, then trying to find a way to redirect her would probably be best.
posted by nubs at 8:05 AM on June 12, 2013

There are many reasons that dogs will eat grass, one of which you are right about. Dogs will sometimes eat grass when their tummy is upset and because the material is not digestable it makes them throw up. Though this may be why your dog is wanting to eat grass now, it seems unlikely that if Thunderdog is a regular grass muncher that is the reason that she eats it regularly. Sometimes they will eat it out of boredom as well. Or a dietary deficiancy. It seems like with the Orijen and supplementing the pumpkin puree that she wouldn't be having that problem, however you can try implementing green veggies into her diet to see if that helps. Spinach, kale etc. Those work best if steamed and pureed or finely chopped to make them more palatable and digestable.

I would definitely suggest continuing with trying to deter her from eating grass however. Though it isn't in itself awful for them, any pesticides or weed killer or anything else that could be on the grass that is not good for them could cause more problems. Not to mention the reasons your vet brought up.
posted by Quincy at 8:05 AM on June 12, 2013

I have a Beagle who has done exactly as you described. It got to the point she was puking so often that the bile was irritating the lining of her esophagus, and she would puke up blood. Our regular vet couldn't find the underlying cause and referred us to a special type of animal hospital.

The hospital planned to put her under and scope her, but after meeting with the doctor he suggested switching her to a limited ingredient diet with a novel protein source and splitting her meals up into smaller portions delivered to her 4 times a day. He said that if that didn't work, bring her back and they'll do the scope.

So we switched to a limited ingredient diet (turkey and potatoes based), and we feed her at 8am, 12pm, 4pm, and 8pm. And it worked. She went from grass-binge puking 5-6 times a week to... maybe once or twice a month she'll do the grass-binging (which seems normal dog frequency).
posted by jms18 at 8:24 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hi all, thanks for your comments so far. I had to leave the computer because apparently Thunderdog was wily when we went out earlier - she snuck enough grass that she puked! At least I got her outdoors before she decorated the living room floor with grassy bile.

I did ask my vet. She said that it's not really good for the dog to puke grass. It's bad for their teeth, their throats, etc.

The area we live in is pretty wild - we tend to walk and hike in state park/state forest areas that I don't believe would be sprayed with chemicals. We almost never walk on lawns, but I'll make sure she stays off of the ones we DO walk on.

Thanks, everyone.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:27 AM on June 12, 2013

I would take her back to the vet or consult a less-dismissive one to rule out any medical reasons for why your dog is eating so much grass. The first thing that comes to my mind is ulcers. Ulcers don't always have a lot of overt symptoms that cause an animal to appear noticeably sick, other than chronic vomiting. There may be other things that could cause chronic digestive upset as well.

In my experience, dogs mostly eat grass because they have to/want to puke. My dog's a bit of a grass eater/plant nibbler and also sometimes snatches a few blades when she's stressed out by other dogs and other scary things when we're walking. It's only a little bit, and she never pukes that up. She only starts serious grazing when she's about to puke.
posted by drlith at 8:45 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

She only starts serious grazing when she's about to puke.

How do you tell the difference between "she only starts serious grazing when she's about to puke" and "she only pukes when she's done some serious grazing"?

It seems to me that so far one actual person with profession expertise has offered an opinion: Elly Vortex's vet. That person has said that repeated puking is bad for the dog. The grass makes the dog puke--keeping the dog from eating grass would consequently seem to be a good idea.
posted by yoink at 9:29 AM on June 12, 2013

My dogs eat grass because they like it. One of them was a half starved dog when we got him, he'd been mistreated and was so starved for the first year whenever we walked him he'd eat dandelion heads like they were candy. He slowly relaxed a lot of his food issues though and no longer does this. He does still love to eat grass, though no longer does it with the frantic fear of a half starved dog and just for fun now and taught it to my second dog.

Our dogs rarely puke from eating it, and our vet actually said it is a misnomer that dogs eat to puke, they puke because they ate the grass and they eat the grass because they like it, dogs can puke up food fine without it it's what they are designed to do as they are scavengers.

You may want to look into the dogs diet, dogs love veggies of many sorts and adding some to the dogs diet may help. We make our own dog food (for unrelated health reasons of our second dog), and I've found that if I am low on veggies or don't include enough variety of them in the meat/rice/veggy mix my dogs will eat more grass. Even if you don't make your own mix many dogs will chow down on raw veggies like a treat and they are less likely to puke after eating them.
posted by wwax at 9:56 AM on June 12, 2013

Not a dog, but I had a cat whose normal grass interest was suddenly unstoppable and it turned out he was trying to soothe...cancer.

I'm not saying your dog has cancer. I'm saying you should see a vet who will actually ease your very real concerns by doing real diagnostic checks to see if there's an underlying reason for the grass-eating.

Aside from that, I'm with those suggesting planting some wheat grass for the pup, so you can be sure that it's free of pesticides and other toxic residues as well as actually being more soothing.

And getting some veg variety is a great idea. Pups love veggies. They all have different taste opinions, though, so you'll want to experiment. Just not garlic, onion, or anything made from grapes.
posted by batmonkey at 10:13 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I was wondering about the same thing about the veggies. I also make our dog's food, and include vegetables, and though she loves to nibble at grass, she actually ingests hardly any. I was going to suggest that you might ask your vet about using green beans, carrots and/or zucchini as treats in case your girl is craving plant fiber. My dog adores green beans (especially cooked-and-frozen; for her, this is apparently the ice cream of vegetables), likes sweet potato and beets, is pretty okay about zucchini, hates carrots with the heat of a thousand suns; she sometimes, but not always, likes apple, pear and banana.

You can see what your vet thinks, but if you try it out, basically you just want to be sure that you don't *replace* essential protein with veg, and that you don't give her so much (especially at first) that it upsets her tum.
posted by taz at 10:24 AM on June 12, 2013

I'm not a vet, but from what I've read about grass-eating, most vets agree that letting your dog eat grass to stimulate digestion isn't really a good idea. There are other palliatives for an upset stomach. We fast for 24 hours and then feed a diet of rice, then rice + chicken until the upset is cured. Chronic upset stomach isn't normal and should be dealt with at a vet.

We have a grass-eater who clearly does it for fun, not for digestion. We muzzle our grass-eater with a basket muzzle and a stool guard. She can still get a little bit of grass, but not enough to make her sick. It works for us.
posted by muddgirl at 10:33 AM on June 12, 2013

(I just noticed that the link I posted does recommend feeding grass, but I don't think vets agree in general that stimuating vomiting is a good idea.)
posted by muddgirl at 10:35 AM on June 12, 2013

She eats Orijen kibble with pumpkin in it for fiber.

I'd say your dog is eating the grass in order to be able to throw up because something is making her sick, and that it could well be the pumpkin in her dog food.

Pumpkin and canteloupe, and other members of the cucurbitaceae, can contain lots of citrulline, which is an amino acid produced in meat which is starting to decay (and may make dog food containing pumpkin more attractive to some dogs).

Antibodies to citrulline are associated with some diseases in humans:
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis often have detectable antibodies against proteins containing citrulline. Although the origin of this immune response is not known, detection of antibodies reactive with citrulline (anti-citrullinated protein antibodies) containing proteins or peptides is now becoming an important help in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.[5]
And I know that Lyme disease can cause a kind of arthritis in humans and animals, though not whether anti-citrulline antibodies are a feature of that arthritis, but I think it's at least possible they could be.

If she has such antibodies, that could trigger throwing up after eating the Origen because of its pumpkin content, and I'd guess continued feeding of that food could cause those antibodies to increase in that case, and speculate that increasing such antibodies would make her more likely to develop arthritis in the long run.
posted by jamjam at 2:40 PM on June 12, 2013

Actually, arthritis is common enough in German Shepherds that no intermediation by Lyme disease is needed to guess that she might have anti-citrulline antibodies.

(And make that cantaloupe).
posted by jamjam at 3:05 PM on June 12, 2013

What does Thunderdog do during those 6 or 7 months of the year when there's no crabgrass available to eat? Does she still have those whiny and grumpy periods and a rumbly stomach but no way to deal with it? Is there as much puking?

Talk to your vet about changing Thunderdog's diet to see if that may be the source of the problem.
posted by theory at 3:25 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

My greyhound is part cow, as best I can tell - if there's tall grass, he will munch it quite contentedly, and it neither makes him ill nor seems to happen only when he feels ill. He just really likes grass as a snack. The first time he did it, I called my adoption coordinator in a panic, sure this meant he was sick and needed to throw up. She laughed for about five minutes straight and then informed me that greyhounds just like to graze and that as long as I was careful about keeping him away from pesticide-d grass, it was fine. So some dogs grass. But on the other hand, if Thunderdog is doing it regularly, I would still be concerned about the health of her esophagus, teeth, etc - but that's because of the puking, not the grass.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 3:18 PM on June 13, 2013

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