Is Variegated Ribbon Grass Poisonous to Dogs?

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Keep your dogs safe in the yard and become familiar with your plants.
Keep your dogs safe in the yard and become familiar with your plants. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Dogs seem drawn to the taste or texture of variegated ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea var. picta "Picta") although dogs haven’t been forthcoming about the exact attraction. While attractive, this ornamental perennial is frequently listed as invasive. Variegated ribbon grass misbehaves in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9 much to the dismay of gardeners and delight of dogs. There are no known references of toxicity for dogs.

Why Dogs Eat Grass

Numerous theories attempt to explain grass-eating behaviors in dogs. This could result from a need to vomit or purge something undesirable from their digestive systems, it could indicate a nutritional deficiency or it could simply be a result of boredom or preference for the flavor. If you’re concerned about this compulsive behavior, the best advice is to consult Fido’s veterinarian and position this plant safely beyond your dog’s reach.

When To Be Concerned

Lawns in public locations treated with herbicides and pesticides introduce these poisons to your pets. Dogs ingest the chemicals while eating grass and later when grooming their paws. Variegated ribbon grass is frequently used in parks due to its low-maintenance growth habit. In parks it’s exposed to pesticides drifting over the leaves from lawn applications. Avoid walking your dog near public gardens containing this ribbon grass to prevent them from sneaking a snack.

Variegated Ribbon Grass

Grown for its hardiness and appearance, this grass adapts well to most gardens. It tolerates full sun and partial shade, growing tallest in partial shade with moist soils but surprisingly well in heavy clay soils. It spreads through underground rhizomes, including under edging, easily sneaking into neighboring lawns. The rhizomes form dense root mats, and removal always leaves behind small root sections that will continue to grow.

Your Dog and Neighbors

If you don’t want Fido eating this, don’t plant it. If you want this variegated ornamental, prevent it from spreading by creating a secure barrier. Plant this in a sunken, large plastic pot with drain holes. Choking on the lengthy grass blades is a risk for all dogs, and experienced gardeners recommend selecting less-aggressive grasses to avoid potential pet-related problems and risking alienating your neighbors. Variegated ribbon grass will wander freely into their gardens.

Phalaris Arundinacea

Reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea L.), a related plant and a widespread native grass found growing throughout most of the United States, is managed as forage for livestock and alleged to have alkaloid toxicity concerns. The United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation agency recommends reed canarygrass as livestock forage, and the University of Minnesota claims the reputation for alkaloid toxicity is unjust. Dogs have no reported toxicity issues with either grass.

Reed canarygrass, related to ribbon grass, is livestock forage.
Reed canarygrass, related to ribbon grass, is livestock forage. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

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