Barkley’s got a mouthful of dirt and is going back for seconds while Champ grazes on grass… again. We just shake our heads, make them drop that grub, and wonder why our dogs insist on eating things they shouldn’t. Eating things not categorized as food: think grass, dirt, toys, socks, twigs, and even rocks is known as “pica” and is actually quite common in dogs. The reasons why a dog eats something he shouldn’t may depend more on what he’s snacking on though, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty to better understand the habit. 

He’s trying to ease an upset stomach

One of the more common reasons dogs eat grass is to purge their system. A dog will whine to be let out, bee line for the yard, and start mowing down large patches of grass. You’ll often see your pup licking his lips while doing this, a good indicator that he’s nauseous, and before long, he vomits. A few emergency grass eating sessions like the above, really is nothing to worry about.

It’s completely normal for a dog to vomit on occasion. As a scavenger, dogs are able to eat things they shouldn’t, and the body simply rejects it (i.e. vomit). If your dog is vomiting grass and undigested food weekly though, his digestive system is shouting for help. Frequent gastrointestinal upset is a good indicator that the food in his bowl may be to blame. Rotating recipes or proteins can help or, if possible, consider transitioning to a freeze-dried dog food or a raw diet that offers high-quality, whole food nutrition.

He’s in search of nutrients

Grass is full of fiber, phytonutrients, as well as digestive enzymes, dirt is packed with minerals, and poop may still have undigested macronutrients that your dog has no issue gulping down. Instinctually, dogs know what they need, so a dog may be in search of any one of those nutrients because they’re lacking in his diet. 

An occasional grazing session or even a poop snack pack when the opportunity arises is quite normal scavenger behavior, but if this behavior seems excessive, take him for a checkup and evaluate his diet to be sure it’s balanced. 

He’s doing what comes naturally

It’s normal dog behavior to forage through an environment in search of food. Biologists agree that dogs and wild dogs like wolves and coyotes feed on roughage. So, we can breathe easy knowing that snacking on blades of grass or even an occasional small twig is a natural and normal activity for the scavenger carnivore.  

We don’t have to stop our dogs from eating grass but we should be sure that the grass they are eating is free from pesticides or herbicides, especially because we live in a toxic world. Pets pick up toxins from food, water, grass, even the ground, so if he is snacking on the grass at dog parks, while on walks, or any public place that may be treated with more chemicals, consider a detoxifier to flush out those harmful toxins. 

He wants to

Dogs are naturally curious! Dogs investigate with their noses and mouths. If it passes the smell test, they chomp down on it. If your dog often visits one patch of long grass, carefully selecting blades to nibble, then he may just want to snack on a few greens. If he’s gnawing his favorite plush toy to pieces, it may just satiate his need to chew. 

While it’s certainly cute to see the stuffing fly, be sure to end playtime with toys once your dog starts to eat it. Cloth and stuffing can pass (it’s colorful and gross, trust me), but it could also become an obstruction. The same holds true for sticks; they can get lodged and if they’re splintered while chewing, they can irritate or even perforate the G.I. tract. If you’ve got a super chewer, it’s best to forego soft toys altogether and opt for tougher toys or raw bones like chicken or turkey necks. (And I can guarantee your pal won’t protest to that.)

He has behavioral issues

Dogs are active, social creatures. If he’s left at home all day, your pal faces boredom, stress, and restlessness, and destructive chewing and eating are certainly ways he can entertain himself. Giving dogs proper exercise, plenty of mental stimulation, and social interaction can nip these behavioral issues in the bud though. Doggy day care one to two days a week is a fantastic way to socialize your pal and also burn off some of that excess energy. Also consider giving him something to do while you’re away: fill a Kong with treats, wet and freeze a tug-of-war rope, or check out a few of these brain games.  

If destructive chewing continues or happens when you leave for even short periods of time though, reach out to your vet to discuss destructive behavior caused by anxiety.

We may not always agree with our dogs’ tastes, but there are plenty of reasons why dogs eat things they shouldn’t. It’s our job as pet parents to pay attention, investigate, and figure out exactly what they mean.