By Dr. Leslie Ross D.V.M. B.Sc.
Lawn grass and plant leaf snacks tantalize many dog and cat palates. Research to date seems to indicate that this is the main reason why pets will frequently seize the opportunity to munch on various types of lawn and field grass, especially if it is fresh and succulent, as is spring grass. However, some pets will eat grass or plants for reasons other than gustatory for example, because of mild stomach upsets or as a stress-relieving activity from over-excitement or conversely, boredom. A few pets may munch on grass obsessively due to persistent gastrointestinal disorders such as gastric hyperacidity, gastric reflux or chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
Although, recreational grass and plant-leaf eating is not in and of itself harmful there are some elements of risk involved if this kind of snacking is allowed without supervision. For example, there may be occasions where there are toxic plants in the grazing area, which could possibly be ingested along with a mouthful of grass. Another potential risk might be the ingestion of worm eggs or other parasites such as Giardia from contaminated grass or soil. or the ingestion of chemically treated grass. A quite common risk for indoor cats is their unintentional access to toxic houseplants.
Simple preventive measures to deter overzealous munching when dogs outdoors include ensuring that the dog is not overly hungry at the time of his outside access, and having him on a leash when traversing tempting greenery. Appetizing treats can serve well as a distractive influence to keep the dog focused on these rather than on succulent patches of grass.
Especially for dogs, increasing the fiber content of their daily diet with canned pumpkin or green beans may help blunt the urge to have a “taste of the wild”. For cats, wild oat grass or oat sprouts may redirect their inclination to munch on tempting plant leaves.
For pets that are often outside, it is very important to address the risk of parasite-laden grass being consumed. Since this risk is impossible to completely eliminate, regular deworming of pets is highly advised, ideally quarterly.
Of course, seemingly obsessive grass-eating should be a concern to any owner and is definitely a reason to consult with a veterinarian. With this kind of behavior, investigation for more obscure causes is likely to be pursued. If this becomes an unproductive fishing expedition and all health concerns are eliminated, then supervised grass consumption can be looked at as a relatively harmless pastime for most pets.