Why do dogs eat plants?

At last the sun is shining and all the plants in the garden and countryside are sprouting and aromatic, with their glorious fresh spring colours and scents – and my dogs are doing a good impression of sheep! Watching my pup with weeds hanging from the side of her mouth prompted me to write a blog about it.

Not only do dogs eat grass from time to time but there are other plants that they seem to favour, particularly at this time of year when they are tender and juicy. At the moment one of my dogs’ favourites is Cleavers or Galium aperine (Goose Grass or ‘Sticky Weed’ as we used to call it when I was a kid). It may seem an unlikely snack but it turns out that it is nutritious and valuable to a dog’s system. These plants are mildly diuretic and astringent, helping to keep the bladder and kidneys working efficiently. They have also been used to soothe burns and ulcers in poultices in the past. So it seems my young dog may be giving herself a detox and spring clean, ready for the year ahead.

Many dogs eat grass from time to time and again, it’s particularly succulent at this time of the year. I remember being told that they do this to make themselves vomit if they have stomach issues but in fact less than 25% of dogs vomit after eating grass. It is still unclear why some dogs, even those with balanced healthy diets, will enjoy tearing at the tufts in your garden but it seems that they may be using grass as a kind of detox. Some theorise that they would be eating grass from the stomachs of any ruminant they hunted in the past and that this is an attempt to replicate that. The stomach contents would be part digested and therefore the nutrients would be more accessible to the dog than in fresh grass which is much more of a challenge to digest, but it is possible. Careful chewing can break down plant materials but it takes a while and is not an efficient way to do it, so perhaps this is why some dogs eat so much plant material. Either way, unless the dog is eating so much grass that it makes itself sick frequently it is unlikely to be a problem.

There are many plants which are beneficial to dogs and I am only just beginning to find out about this fascinating area of nutrition and health. The next time I see my pup tearing up a dandelion plant by the roots and then devouring it I’ll check it out before taking it away. It may be just what she needs!