Why do dogs eat grass?

Dog laying on grassWhy do some dogs not only like to lie on the grass, but also eat it?

Everyone seems to have a theory about why dogs sometimes eat grass, but nobody really knows for certain. Some people think dogs eat grass to get more fiber in their diet.  But since modern commercial diets contain enough fiber, that theory has been dismissed by many.

Another theory is that dogs eat grass to induce vomiting when they’ve eaten something bad. This is because people observe their dogs vomiting after eating grass. However not all dogs vomit after eating grass.

Andrea N. Johnston, DVM, DACVIM, a clinical instructor in internal medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine says that even specialists like her don’t really know. Maybe dogs just like it.

In general, it’s considered that eating a little grass isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it really doesn’t provide much roughage or nutrients.

One caution on grass consumption:  fertilizers and chemicals that may be on the lawn. Another concern is parasites that could be in the dirt and grass.

If you want your dog to have more greens, Dr. Johnston recommends simply feeding them some fresh or cooked vegetables.

Just remember that every dog is different and if your dog is frequently eating grass and vomiting, it wouldn’t hurt to ask your vet about it to make sure he or she doesn’t have some underlying medical condition.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Does my dog need vitamins?

October 31, 2012 · Posted in Dog Food/Nutrition, Doggie Healthcare, Service Dogs · Comment 

You may take supplements even though you eat well, so does that mean your dog should take vitamins and minerals also?

Canine nutrition is an evolving field but today’s high-quality dog foods generally make nutritional supplements unnecessary.  So says the DogWatch newsletter from Cornell University.  They asked Kathryn Michel, DVM, professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania about the topic.  Her advice?

Some dogs may require certain nutrients under certain conditions that are not provided in a commercial diet.  For example, a dog with joint pain and arthritis might benefit from glucosamine and chondroitin, but this may not help all dogs.

Other supplements can pose a risk. Dr. Michel warns that people should not give their dogs the same supplements they take in the same doses.  Fat soluble vitamins in particular, such as A, D, E, and K, are stored in the body and can become excessive. Too much calcium can also be dangerous.

Giving your dog a general vitamin-mineral supplement designed for dogs is not necessarily harmful, but not all the experts are convinced they will necessarily help your dog.  Some say more studies are needed and that your dog may not be harmed by them, but you might be spending money unnecessarily.

Vitamin deficiencies are uncommon in the U.S. these days since dog food companies have formulated blends that will take care of “typical” dogs.  But if your dog is a working dog, very athletic, or a puppy, they may have special requirements.

Things to look out for in balancing your dog’s diet can include too many treats or a homemade diet which may not be giving your dog the nutrition he or she needs. If your dog is lethargic, weak, or has a coat which isn’t healthy looking, make sure to consult with your veterinarian to rule out nutritional deficiencies.

I give Whistle a vitamin E every day.  What do you give your dog?


Vitamin image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Paws With A Cause New Target Weight Policy

January 4, 2011 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Dog Food/Nutrition · 2 Comments 

To my chagrin, I am facing 2011 with an all too familiar New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Mind you, this is the same New Year’s resolution that I have proclaimed every year since I became a wheelchair user at age six. As a sedentary individual with a love for food, weight is always an ongoing issue for me.

As the old year ended this weekend and I pondered my New Year’s resolutions, I received a large brown envelope in the mail from my service dog provider agency, Paws With A Cause.

You can imagine my surprise when I perused the official correspondence from PAWS declaring that Whistle must be within HIS target weight or it could jeopardize his recertification process. PAWS requires each service dog team to renew its public access certification every 18-24 months throughout the working life of an assistance dog. Although during each recertification process, I have to report Whistle’s weight, this is the first time that PAWS has declared a target weight policy. This new policy states:

The health, well-being and longevity of your Assistance Dog are dependent on keeping your dog within its target weight. Even a slight increase in weight can dramatically impact the working life of your Assistance Dog! PAWS and your veterinarian will help you monitor this for the lifetime of your dog. Certification and recertification will include verification that your dog is within their approved weight range.

Certification/recertification will be delayed if your dog is 15-20% above its target weight. Certification along with your dog’s harnesses and ID card will be removed if your dog is 20% or more over their target weight.

Whistle’s target weight is 68 pounds. 15% over would be 78 pounds and 20% would be 82 pounds. Yikes, I guess this means that Whistle has a date with the scale at our vet’s office and he will be joining me with a New Year’s weight loss resolution of his own!

I know weight is a serious issue for all beings, including humans and canines. However, this is the first time, as far as I know, that my service dog agency has declared weight management as a policy much less instituted consequences for noncompliance with this policy.

If your dog is more than 15% over its target weight, please seek veterinary counsel in determining a safe weight reduction plan. Monthly weigh-ins must be initialed by a staff member at your veterinary hospital, and the veterinary staff should scan and email or fax this form to PAWS.

Whistle is definitely not the sleek 2-year-old golden/lab that arrived almost 4 years ago. He will be six years old on April 1, 2011 and I have noticed he is not as spry as he was a year ago. He has also gained a few pounds over the years. This new policy will definitely motivate me to be more cognizant of his weight which in turn, will hopefully help me to be more cognizant of my own weight loss issues. Whistle and I both have some serious work to do to reach and maintain our target weight goals in 2011!

Dog Treats and Service Dogs

January 20, 2010 · Posted in Dog Food/Nutrition, Doggie Healthcare, Training · Comment 
dog treats

I have to say that I was so strict with my first dog, Ramona, regarding treats. The agency that trained her really frowned upon treats and instructed me that she needed to work for me based on praise rather than treats. It made sense because they argued that if her working was dependent on treats and let’s say, for example, that I had fallen out of my wheelchair and was not able to reach any treats and I needed her to get the phone. What would I do?

Therefore, I gave Ramona very few treats. When Morgan came along, he was trained by another agency with a different philosophy about treats. They felt treats could and should be used as a reward when appropriate. Morgan loved the treats but he was not as much of a “chow hound” as I lovingly referred to Ramona. She was a complete maniac for treats; but Morgan, although he loved them, was not as possessed and obsessed by the thought of a treat.

So, here I am with service dog number three, Whistle, still debating about how to effectively use treats. I keep pondering how often and exactly when should I reward him with a treat? Whistle loves treats more than Morgan, but he is not quite as obsessed with treats as Ramona.

Another big issue for Ramona and treats was her weight. Whenever I would give her treats, she had an almost immediate and noticeable weight gain.

Whistle, on the other hand, is very lean and muscular. I monitor his weight closely and although I have been giving him regular treats, he has maintained a healthy weight. However, the dilemma continues. How often should I give my service dog treats and when? I adore all of my service dogs and I want to be good to them, but is giving them treats being good to them or am I negatively impacting their overall nutrition? And second, what kinds of treats should I be giving them? Organic, meat, veggies, fruit, etc.?

I was trained to give Ramona minimal treats for a variety of reasons and I always felt guilty after she was gone for not lavishing more treats on her. As a result, I have been much more lenient with Morgan and even more so with Whistle. My philosophy is, if it doesn’t interfere with their work performance or their health, then it should be okay.

What do you think? How do you dispense treats and what kinds of treats do you give your service dog?

Should I be feeding my service dog organic dog food?

July 9, 2009 · Posted in Dog Food/Nutrition, Service Dogs · 6 Comments 

organic dog food

Throughout the years, I have continually strived to give my service dogs the best possible care that I can provide for them both physically and financially. As I hear more and more about the importance of eating a healthy diet, I have tried to share that philosophy with my service dogs. I know we are buying more and more products at the grocery store that are labeled as “organic”. But are dog foods really organic or is it just another marketing ploy?

From what I can gather, organic means no artificial preservatives, flavorings or fillers. Should I be buying “organic” dog food for my service dog, Whistle? I have heard that there are lots of benefits of feeding him an organic diet such as: it is more natural and contains less additives thus providing him with a higher quality of food that can work to reduce skin ailments and allergies, the food should be able to help him maintain a healthier weight, and organic food should ultimately help him live and work longer. But, is that true? When it comes to “organic” food, which foods are the best? Which ones are the highest quality and the most economical? Are they 100% organic or partially organic?

When I think of organic, I typically see dollar signs. Most organic foods are significantly higher in price than non-organic foods. And, when shopping for organic dog food, I have had the same experience. The foods are higher priced and usually must be purchased from a specialty dog store. That is changing and chain stores are stocking organic foods as the demand for “organic” dog foods increases from consumers.

Whistle is my third service dog and he has been eating a traditional type dog food since his birth. As I see the brand that he eats on the grocery store shelf, I question its contents. Should I be feeding him a higher quality “organic” dog food? And, if so, which one? And what does “organic” really mean? Does it mean raw-food?

I actually tried a raw-food diet on my second service dog, Morgan. He loved the fresh meat and eggs and other natural vegetables; however; he began developing severe gas which turned into serious intestinal and allergy issues. He was on the raw diet for about a year and I don’t know if the raw diet played into his particular medical situation but I do know that there were some drawbacks from feeding my service dog a raw diet.

It was difficult to travel and maintain his raw diet plus the cost of the raw food was taxing on my household budget. I was forced to discontinue the raw diet because of the escalation of Morgan’s debilitating allergies. Now, he can only eat an expensive, prescription rabbit and potato dry food that must be ordered through an online vet pharmacy with a prescription. I even tried giving him the rabbit and potato wet food and he reacted very negatively to it. I immediately had to go back to the rabbit and potato dry food diet only.

Whistle, on the other hand, is a healthy four year old. He’s been on a traditional dog food his entire life. I feel like I should be feeding him a higher quality food but I just don’t know where to turn. The market is inundated with different brands of dog foods at multiple dog specialty stores in town. As a long time dog handler, I am overwhelmed with the choices and perplexed at which brand is really the best for Whistle’s long-term health.

I asked my vet what he would recommend and he didn’t have any clear recommendations. He seemed to be as overwhelmed by that question as I have been. So, every time I purchase a bag of Whistle’s traditional dog food, I get a small bag with the hope that I will discover the perfectly formulated organic dog food thus transitioning him to a new food that will carry him long into a healthy retirement. I bought another small bag of his traditional dog food yesterday with the same hope of finding that perfect dog food before he consumes this latest bag. I will let you know if he finishes the bag or if I finally find an organic replacement.