Both dogs and cats can sometimes be seen eating grass....but is this normal ?

Grass is pretty indigestible for cats and dogs because they do not have the digestive enzymes necessary to breakdown the fibre content .. which is high. Apart from fibre and water, grass also contains some minerals, vitamin A and sometimes vitamin D. 

The nutritional value of grass for cats and dogs is very poor...so there is unlikely to be a basic instinctive nutritional reason why cats and dogs would eat grass ...unless they have a need for dietary fibre itself which is thought to be unlikely. Cats in particular are known to be obligate carnivores and have no requirement for nutrients derived from plant material.

There are many plants whose common names link them to animal species. Lamb's ear, cattails, and pussy willows, for example, are so-named because they bear physical resemblance to the animal, not because of any real affinity with their namesake.

Knowing this, is there any real connection between plants and pets? Aren't all dogs strict carnivores? After all, how many dogs do you know that would choose to eat a hay bale over a hamburger?

While the physical structure of a dog's teeth, jaws, and intestinal system tell us they are natural carnivores, they also require some plant matter in their diet. Canine species in the wild ingest the stomach and intestines of their plant-eating prey. In doing so, they consume partly digested plant matter, which helps in digestion of the flesh and bone they feed upon.

Today, with the majority of pets fed a commercial diet of store-bought pet foods, we tend to forget that, given a choice they would instinctively choose some vegetarian fare.

In her book, The Complete Herbal Handbook For The Dog And Cat, author, herbalist and long-time dog breeder Juliette de Bairacli Levy writes: "I am always amazed at the way my Afghan Hounds have selected their medicinal plants, shrubs and trees, and know where to find them and how to use them. By use, I mean the amount to be eaten to serve its purpose. Mostly their use is as a laxative or to promote vomiting, and they know exactly how much to eat to achieve one or the other effect."

While Juliette is in a position to be able to allow her dogs to freely roam the countryside of her native England, merrily chomping and regurgitating couch grass, few of us urban pet owners are so privileged. For urban North Americans, about the only plants we see our dogs eat is lawn grass.

But exactly why do dogs eat grass?

While de Bairacli contends it is to help aid digestion, others disagree. Some say dogs eat grass simply because it tastes good. (This is one case where it would be wonderful if our pets could communicate. Then again, they might ask us what we see in hot salsa.) However, couch grass is so well loved by dogs that its botanical name is Agrospyron canina (canis is dog). Some people believe that dogs eat the grass to help cleanse their bowels and for removal of worms.

It has been reported (but not scientifically proved) that cats and dogs will eat grass if they have a digestive system problem such as gastritis or nausea. They will also eat unusual materials if they have a nutritional deficiency, or if they are hungry and do not have access to food. On the other hand eating small amounts of untypical foods .. grass, wood, leaves, can just be a normal behavioural trait and is not important providing the material eaten is not toxic - such as laburnum leaves or sticks. Grass is usually safe - unless it has been sprayed with herbicide or insecticides. 

The "pets and grass" controversy aside, basic to all folk medicine in every culture since ancient times, herbology was the basis of all remedies. Many of our current-day pharmaceutical drugs are derivatives of plants.

For both people and pets it is believed that herbs can assist in the healing process by helping the body eliminate and detoxify, thereby going to the root of the problem (pardon the pun) and not simply treating the symptoms caused by it.

Herbal remedies have been used successfully to treat many illnesses in animals including intestinal worms, fleas, skin problems, mange, distemper, kidney and bladder trouble, arthritis, obesity and digestive problems, to name a few.

As we become more conscientious of the world around us, it is only natural that we also take our companion animals' health and well being into consideration. Caring for your pets naturally may very well be the wave of the future that requires a look at the past.

If your pet suddenly starts eating grass it would be worthwhile getting your veterinarian to examine it just in case there is an underlying gastrointestinal problem or a nutritional deficiency.

Tip:  I buy small pots of Cat Nip grass from my local garden centre, replant them into larger pots, then place them in the dog's yards where it is readily available to them. They love it!


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