The Truth About Grain-Free Diets

Grain-free diets have become increasingly popular within the pet food industry in recent years.  Clever marketing has lead us to believe that going grain-free is more natural for our dogs and cats and can result in fewer food allergies.  But is this true?  How can we know if our pet would benefit from a grain-free diet?

The first thing to know is that there is no evidence to support the claim that grains are harmful to our pets.  Quite the opposite, in fact!  Just like for humans, many grains – particularly whole grains – contain nutrients (vitamins, minerals, proteins, etc.) that are beneficial to dogs and cats.  Okay, but what about allergies?  Grains, especially corn, cause allergies in dogs, right?

Actually, no.  Or at least, very rarely.  Food-related allergies are one of the least common allergies in dogs, and in most cases, it is the animal protein to which dogs are allergic.  Even more rare in dogs are gluten allergies/sensitivities.  Two ways to know if your pet has a food allergy are allergy testing through a laboratory such as Spectrum Labs and performing a food trial.  So, next time you visit the store, look for pet foods that emphasize high-quality nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals) more than the ingredient list.

-Dr. Amanda Wagner


Grain-free diets: big on marketing, small on truth. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. Published June 14, 2016. Accessed January 31, 2018.


Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding Pet Foods. The Ohio State Veterinary Medical Center. Accessed January 31, 2018.


Spectrum Labs. Accessed January 31, 2018.



Fire Safety Tips for Pets

Fire Safety

1. Place a pet alert sticker in the window of your home.

Include how many pets are in the home, what types, and any important information for locating them.

2. Keep pets near entrances when away from home.

This will make it easier for firefighters to find them. Make sure collars and leashes are easily accessible.

3. Include pets in your escape plan.

Create an escape plan and practice it regularly. Someone will need to be in charge of getting your pet out of the house if there is reasonable time to do so. 

4. Have your pet microchipped and keep tags up to date.

In the event your pet is able to escape, this will make it easier to find him or her after the fire. 

5. Do a fire prevention scan of your home.

Inquisitive pets can start fires. Never leave open flames unattended, consider removing stove knobs, and invest in flameless candles.

Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

Veterinarians will tell you that they answer this question all day, every day which means lots of dogs eat grass. Eating “strange” non-food items (like grass) is technically known as pica and may be associated with a diet deficient in nutrients, vitamins, or minerals. But, dogs on well-balanced, commercial diets shouldn’t be nutritionally deficient, so why do they eat grass?

The question may be simple, but the answer is not. Nevertheless, here are a few reasons your veterinarian will discuss when you pose the question, “Why does my dog eat grass?”

Is it a physical need?

One common assumption is that dogs eat grass to relieve upset stomachs. Some dogs consume grass with urgency, then vomit shortly afterward. Here’s the chicken vs. egg dilemma: Does a dog eat grass to vomit and soothe an ailing stomach or does he develop a stomach ache and vomit because he ate grass? 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. In fact, only 10% of dogs show signs of illness prior to eating grass. The bottom line is that the majority of grass-eating dogs aren’t sick beforehand and don’t vomit afterward.

However, there may be another digestive need filled by grazing. Dogs need roughage in their diets and grass is a good source of fiber. A lack of roughage affects the dog’s ability to digest food and pass stool, so grass may actually help their bodily functions run more smoothly.

Caution: If your turf-munching dog shows signs of stomach discomfort, he may have a medical problem such as gastric reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, or pancreatitis. See your veterinarian to rule out serious medical conditions and receive appropriate treatment.

Is it a psychological need?

A dog’s day focuses on his owners’ activities, watching them leave and anxiously awaiting their return. Although most dogs enjoy being outside, some get bored when alone and need to do something to pass the time. Nibbling grass that’s readily available helps fill the hours.

Dogs crave human interaction and may try to get their owners’ attention through inappropriate actions like eating grass if they feel neglected. In addition, anxious dogs eat grass as a comfort mechanism much like nervous people chew their fingernails. Whether dogs are bored, lonely, or anxious, it’s often noted that they grass eating increases as owner contact time decreases.

What can owners do for these grazing canines?

For anxious dogs, a new toy or an old t-shirt with his owners’ familiar scent may provide a modicum of comfort. A food-containing puzzle toy that challenges the dog will provide mental stimulation and relieve boredom. More active dogs benefit from more frequent walks and strenuous play time. For dogs that crave socialization with other canines, doggie daycare may be a good option.

Is it instinct?

Your dog’s ancestors didn’t eat kibble packaged in sealed bags. Dogs in the wild balanced their diets by eating what they hunted – all of what they hunted – including meat, bones, internal organs, and stomach contents of their prey. Eating an entire animal provided a fairly balanced diet, especially when the prey’s stomach contained grass and plants that fulfilled the dog’s need for fiber.

Dogs are not true carnivores, but they aren’t exactly omnivores either; dogs in the wild consume anything that helps fulfill their basic dietary requirements. Examining stool samples shows that 11-47% of wolves eat grass. Modern dogs don’t have to hunt for their food, but that doesn’t mean they don’t retain the natural instinct to scavenge. Some dogs, even those that love their commercial dog food, will eat grass as a reflection of their heritage and the need to be scavengers.

For these dogs, eating grass is a behavior problem that really may not be a problem at all. You need not worry if the occasional grazing session doesn’t make the dog sick and consistent parasite prevention is provided. In fact, behavior modification may interfere with natural instincts and do more harm than good.

Do they like it?

Despite the numerous well-thought-out explanations for why dogs eat grass, we cannot overlook the simplest explanation of all….they like it. Dogs may simply enjoy the texture and taste of grass in their mouths. In fact, many canines are grass connoisseurs that prefer to eat grass in the spring when it’s newly emerging.

How do I stop my dog from eating grass?

Regardless of why your dog eats grass, it’s not the best snack for him. While the grass itself may not be harmful, the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on it can be toxic to your dog. Also, when plucking the grass from the ground, your dog may ingest intestinal parasites such as hookworms or roundworms that contaminate the grass in fecal residue from other dogs. So, how do you stop the grazing?

Dogs that respond to food treats may be trained to stop the grass eating in exchange for a better option. That means you need to bring treats along when you take your dog for a walk and accompany him on potty breaks. Any time the dog leans down to nibble grass, distract him by directing him to walk in another direction or offer a verbal correction and offer a treat when he complies.

Dogs that are driven by affection can be trained using the same method substituting positive verbal reinforcement and petting as rewards. Dogs that respond to verbal commands may require a simple “heel” command to interrupt the grassy snack and re-direct their attention.

After reviewing the reasons why dogs eat grass and possible grazing solutions, one fact remains clear… the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but your dog still shouldn’t eat it!