Why Does My Dog Eat Grass (and Other Weird Stuff)?

Eating non-food items is known as pica — a fairly common behavior for dogs. “The causes of pica can be hard to determine, but can include gastrointestinal disease, anemia, liver disease, pancreatic disease, diseases causing excess appetite (such as diabetes), neurologic diseases, poor diet, being on medications such as prednisone, behavioral disorders such as anxiety, or a depraved home environment,” according to Best Friends Animal Society. Plus, in many cases it simply can be the result of a perfectly healthy animal exploring their environment.

Here are eight items dogs tend to eat, as well as potential reasons they’re drawn to them.

1. Grass

Many dogs eat grass — some on a regular basis. “Why does my dog eat grass?” is one of the most common questions veterinarians get, according to VCA Hospitals. So why do they? The answer isn’t so simple.

Some people believe dogs eat grass to vomit and relieve an upset stomach, but statistically that might not be the case. “Since studies show that less than 25% of dogs vomit after eating grass, it’s unlikely that they turn to the green stuff as a form of self-medication,” VCA Hospitals says. “In fact, only 10% of dogs show signs of illness prior to eating grass.” However, some dogs might instinctively eat grass because they need more fiber in their diets. And others might nibble on the lawn because they’re bored or anxious, they like the taste or it gets their humans’ attention.

As long as you protect your dog from parasites, toxic plants and lawn chemicals — and the grass isn’t making them sick — it’s OK to allow the occasional canine lawn mower.

2. Dirt

dog with dirt on them from knocked-over planterCredit: ChristopherBernard/Getty Images

Like grass, dirt is another common item dogs munch on (and dig in) while they’re outside. This could be for benign reasons, such as the dirt simply smells or tastes good to them. Or it could be a sign of a nutritional deficiency, as dirt contains many minerals.

“If your dog has occasionally dipped into the dirt and doesn’t appear to be making a habit out of it, there’s not too much to be worried about,” according to PetMD. “… However, if you’ve been feeding your dog a homemade diet rather than commercial dog food, and you’ve noticed that she’s been digging around in the dirt and eating more of it lately, it may be time to check in with a vet.”

Specifically, some dogs with anemia — whether it be due to a poor diet or an underlying medical issue — might be prone to eating dirt. So if your dog isn’t acting normal or is regularly consuming dirt, a vet visit is in order to diagnose the root cause.

3. Rocks

Some dogs have a tendency to swallow rocks and gravel — which can cause extremely dangerous and potentially fatal digestive complications. Again, dogs might eat rocks for any of the reasons that cause pica. “It’s thought the causes may include a mineral deficiency, internal parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, some type of gastrointestinal discomfort, a displacement behavior, and, in some cases, a compulsive type of disorder,” veterinarian Marty Becker writes.

Some dogs might not have enough enrichment, so they find rocks to chew. Or they might have learned the behavior in a past home and still engage in it, despite you providing them with dog-safe enrichment.

Still, prevention is imperative. Remove rocks from their environment as much as possible. Train them on the commands “drop” and “leave it.” And be sure you are giving your dog enough enrichment that hopefully makes them forget about gulping down those rocks.

4. Sticks

Although eating sticks might have its roots in some form of pica, often it seems dogs are just satisfying their natural desire to chew — especially on something that likely smells and tastes interesting to them. “Dogs love to chew on bones, sticks and just about anything else available,” according to the ASPCA. “They chew for fun, they chew for stimulation, and they chew to relieve anxiety.”

Dogs also might learn to pick up and chew sticks because you’ve introduced them as a fetch toy. And that’s not doing your dog any favors, as eating sticks can have some serious consequences. Small splinters can damage their mouth and esophagus, and larger pieces can perforate or obstruct their GI tract. So only use dog-safe toys when you play, provide your dog with safe items to chew and try to keep sticks out of their reach.

5. Paper and cardboard

dog with shredded toilet paperCredit: Chris Amaral/Getty Images

Has your dog ever demolished a roll of toilet paper or ripped apart a cardboard box? You’re certainly not alone. Lots of dogs prefer to chew, shred and potentially swallow paper products. And the cause might have more to do with their instincts rather than their health.

“Somewhere encoded in the canine genetic makeup is some kind of memory or preference for certain touch sensations such as the feel of fur or of feathers in their mouths,” according to Psychology Today. “Such touch sensations seem to give dogs a thrill and can trigger a desire to mouth, tear, and shred things associated with those feelings.”

Boredom or stress also can play a role in dogs deciding they need to shred something. But because paper products can cause digestive upset or a blockage, it’s important to prevent this behavior and give your dog something safe to play with instead.

6. Their own vomit

If you’re a dog parent, there’s a good chance you’ve witnessed your dog throw up and then proceed to eat their vomit. It’s more than a little disgusting — though it does make cleanup a lot easier. But why do they do this?

“The short answer is that it’s quite normal for a dog to want to eat what they’ve brought up, but the throwing up might be cause for concern,” veterinarian David Dilmore writes for Banfield Pet Hospital.

Often dogs eat their meals too quickly and regurgitate the food back up before chowing down on it again. If that’s the case, try to get your dog to eat more slowly by using a special feeder or offering smaller, more frequent meals. But if the vomiting isn’t associated with food, it could be a sign of an illness and require vet attention. So instead of worrying over why your dog eats their vomit (most often it’s likely because there’s undigested food in it), try to treat what’s making them sick in the first place.

7. Poop

Here’s another gross one. Some dogs have a tendency to eat feces — whether it be their own or from another animal. And there are both behavioral and physiological reasons for this. Some medical causes include malnutrition, parasites, diabetes and thyroid disease, according to PetMD. Plus, any condition that increases hunger in a dog might lead them to eat feces.

“Mothers with newborns will also commonly eat the feces of their newborns,” PetMD says. “As such, puppies may eat feces as an observation of the mother’s behavior or as part of exploration. In addition, a dog may eat feces as a response to recent punishment, to get attention or because it desires to clean its environmental area.”

If this is an ongoing issue, a trip to the vet is necessary to determine any underlying cause. But regardless it’s a behavior to discourage, as it can expose a dog to parasites and other pathogens.

8. Fabric

a puppy with a sock in their mouthCredit: cpjanes/Getty Images

Some dogs have a tendency to lick, chew and even eat fabric items. It’s possible any of the pica causes might spur this. And it also might be that they’re bored, anxious or enjoy the smell of the fabric. Many dogs are especially drawn to socks, underwear and shoes because these articles tend to have strong scents.

Moreover, this behavior might arise from some deeper behavioral issues. “Some experts believe that this behavior results from having been weaned too early (before seven or eight weeks of age),” according to the ASPCA. “If a dog’s fabric-sucking behavior occurs for lengthy periods of time and it’s difficult to distract him when he attempts to engage in it, it’s possible that the behavior has become compulsive.”

If it is compulsive, you might need the help of an animal behaviorist to train your dog to leave these items alone. And training is necessary not only to preserve your clothing and other fabrics, but also to prevent dangerous gastrointestinal issues.

Main image credit: Tamilisa Miner/Getty Images

54 comments

Roslyn M
Roslyn McBride6 days ago

Dogs will sometimes eat grass because they need to make themselves throw up, but it's nothing serious.

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Daniel N
Daniel N7 days ago

thanks

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D8 days ago

Interesting article - TYFP!! My sweet boy only nibbled on grass every once in a while. Thankfully he did not partake in any of the others. R.I.P. Mama's Angel.

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heather g
heather g9 days ago

I've been lucky with my dogs

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Thomas M
Thomas M10 days ago

thanks for posting

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danii p
danii p10 days ago

TYFS

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danii p
danii p10 days ago

TYFS

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danii p
danii p10 days ago

TYFS

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Leanne K
Leanne K11 days ago

I have the biggest stinker of all time. He can't get enough duck poop. He eats it like it's a competition. Mud, yes. Dead possum, in a heart beat. Dead bird. No more tug of wars. He either drops it or he doesn't

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Leanne K
Leanne K11 days ago

So it may just be normal or something serious. Right

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