Why do dogs eat dirt?

small dog eating dirt

Dogs will literally eat just about anything.

Dirt eating is a fairly common behavior among dogs.

A dog eating non-foods like dirt, grass, sticks, or rocks may be diagnosed by a vet with a condition called pica, which means that your dog is eating non-food items.

If the non-food item they eat is only dirt, they may have something called geophagia. Is your dog eating dirt a weird habit? Should you be concerned?

Here is why your dog may be eating dirt and more information you should know.

Small dog eating dirt

So, why do dogs eat dirt?

Consuming dirt is a relatively common and even normal behavior in dogs, especially in puppies or adolescent dogs exploring the world around them.

Dogs will follow their nose, which often leads to digging, sniffing, or nibbling and consuming their discoveries.

If your dog is repeatedly eating dirt or other signs of an illness appear alongside it, it may be dealing with a medical condition that needs attention immediately.

Reasons why your dog might be eating dirt

Dogs eat dirt for multiple reasons. Dog’s dirt-eating could be nothing to worry about, but in some cases, it is something that you should be concerned about.

Here are a few different reasons why your dog is dirt-eating.

Dirt smells and Tastes nice to them

Dogs experience the world through their nostrils; sometimes, they just find a patch of dirt that smells and tastes good.

The soil could contain leftovers from picnics, parties, people eating lunch a few days ago, or the scent of a dog they want to interact with. On the other hand, the dirt might just be appetizing to them at that moment.

This behavior is expected in young pups that are playful and curious, just like when children play in the mud, which means this behavior usually fades over time.

Your dog may have nutritional deficiencies

Some dogs eat dirt because they find it tasty when their diet lacks the nutrition their bodies need.

Some pet owners say dry dog food lacks vital vitamins and minerals dogs need to be happy and healthy. However, your dog may just find the brand you’re feeding them is plain and boring, or it might be causing them stomach issues.

It is also possible that pet parents are not feeding their dogs enough at mealtime. Your dog’s food and diet are vital to its healthy being.

If any of these are the reason, your dog might always find himself hungry, and a patch of dirt might seem like a tasty, quick snack.

In severe cases, nutritional deficiencies can occur because of underlying medical conditions. If you are worried that something is wrong with your dog, schedule a check-up with a veterinary nutritionist to select a new diet that may be more suited and appealing to your dog. For example, your vet may recommend adding mineral supplements or vitamins to your dog’s daily diet.

Bored canine boxer looking out a window

Your dog is bored

A dog that needs more mental and physical stimulation will find other things to do to pass the time.

Which may include digging up your yard, chewing on the ground, or taking bites of anything interesting to them. Sometimes a dog eats dirt because they are bored.

All dogs require enrichment, regardless of breed, age, or health status. Make sure your dog is doing activities that engage both its mind and body.

Also, make sure you never leave your dog outdoors unsupervised; this will give them time to seek out things to do that you prefer they would not.

Your dog is feeling stressed

Just like us humans, dogs experience stress as well.

When an animal is trying to cope with a situation and does not know what to do, it may resort to displacement behaviors. Displacement behaviors can manifest in many ways, like sniffing, self-grooming, scratching, stretching, shaking off when not wet, or eating things not meant to be in the regular canine diet, like dogs dirt-eating. Not all displacement behaviors signify fear or stress, so do not jump to conclusions immediately.

Eating dirt is most likely anxiety if a dog shows other signs of stress in other aspects of life, but if your dog is chill in different situations, it is most likely not anxiety based.

If you think your dog has severe anxiety or appears in distress, make an appointment with your veterinarian asap.

Or read our article on ‘How Can I Calm My Anxious Dog’ https://caspersoil.com/how-can-i-calm-my-anxious-dogs/

Yellow lab dog laying on its side as veterinarian uses stethoscope

Other medical conditions causing your dog to excessively eat dirt

There are multiple underlying health issues in dogs that consume dirt regularly or in large quantities.

Some of them are serious, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Anemia
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Pica (in rare cases)

All of these can become serious conditions that need treatment. Call your veterinarian if your dog’s dirt-eating comes on suddenly and intensifies or is accompanied by other physical or behavioral symptoms such as excessive thirst, urination, diarrhea, vomiting, eating other non-food items, or seizures.

Is eating dirt an eating disorder?

When dogs or humans consistently eat something that is not considered food or has no nutritional value, it signifies a disorder called “pica”. Pica defined as an eating disorder involving eating items that are typically not considered food and do not contain significant nutritional value.

Pica can be triggered by an emotional response to anxiety or stress. For example, a dog with separation anxiety might eat dirt, destroy a room or chew toys to shreds when left alone.

Dogs may eat anything from dirt to couch stuffing. Pica in dogs may turn deadly if they swallow toxic food, disrupt the normal digestive processes, or if whatever they consumed is lodged in their digestive tract.

Your dog’s diet and dirt-eating

Some dogs eat dirt because their diet is lacking in specific nutrients. As a result, many pet parents feed their dogs home-cooked meals.

Many make food for their dogs at home because they are concerned about the quality of commercial dog foods. However, homemade dog foods may not provide all the nutrients a canine needs to stay healthy.

While homemade dog food can benefit your dog’s health, you must ensure it is balanced. If you are making your dog’s food at home, you should seek advice from your veterinary nutritionist about the right ingredients to avoid nutritional deficiency. Dogs eat dirt to make up for what they lack in their usual food, and the solution is simply to change your dog’s diet.

You may not need to entirely change their food. Instead, make small changes to their diet like adding a probiotic supplement to their regular meal, can cause significant changes to digestive problems.

Before making a significant change in your dog’s food, speak to a veterinary professional who will be able to give recommendations regarding what nutrients your dog needs in their diet and to make sure your dog is getting proper nutrition.

Jack Russell dogs head held by two hands

Anemia in dogs

If your dog eats dirt all the time, it could have a medical condition like anemia. Anemic dogs have a decreased ability to absorb iron and B vitamins because they lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen properly throughout their bodies. They eat dirt for the same reason dogs with poor diets eat dirt: They are craving those essential vitamins and nutrients they lack.

Intestinal parasites, such as hookworms or severe blood loss from an injury or flea infestation, can also cause anemia. Your vet will perform blood tests to confirm whether or not your dog is anemic.

If your dog has a severe case of anemia, a blood transfusion may be required to treat it. Other treatment methods include corticosteroids or antibiotics. Your vet will do some tests and outline a treatment plan specific to your dog’s needs

Dogs eating dirt risks

If you catch your dog eating dirt, make sure you discourage this behavior immediately, as it can be a risk to their health. Here are a few risks:

  • Impacted intestines
  • Choking hazard
  • Consumption of pesticides and other toxins
  • Trauma to teeth, the throat, or the stomach from ingesting rocks or sticks
  • Ingestion of soil-dwelling parasites

Is eating dirt bad for dogs?

Yes, eating dirt can pose a variety of problems for your dog. Eating clumps of mud, dirt or other objects can be a choking hazard. In addition, chewing and consuming hard things, such as rocks or animal bones, can fracture teeth.

What to do if your dog is eating dirt

Occasionally eating small amounts of dirt may not harm your dog but should be discouraged. If your dog regularly eats a lot of dirt or randomly starts eating dirt one day, you should contact your vet.

Take your dog to the vet if they have these symptoms and you are concerned:

  • Eating dirt frequently or suddenly
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Straining poop or irregular bowel movements
  • Pale gums
  • Vomiting multiple times in 24 hours

YOUR VET WILL ASK THE FOLLOWING:

  • What are your dog’s symptoms?
  • Did your dog have any foreign materials?
  • How long has your dog been sick?
  • Is your dog taking any medications?
  • What food is your dog eating?
  • Any vomiting or diarrhea?
  • Is your dog taking heartworm and flea/tick medications regularly?
Big dog with face covered in mud

How to prevent your dog from eating dirt

Proper diet

Feed your dog quality food to receive the proper nutrition they need. Talk to your vet about the correct diet for your dog.

Supervised walks

Leash walk your dogs so they are under supervision at all times. Then, you can see if your dog does anything unusual and immediately remove the object from your dog’s mouth and walk them away.

Parasite Prevention

Keep your dog on heartworm and flea/tick medications to protect them from intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks, and heartworm disease.

Reducing boredom and anxiety

Ensuring your dog has enough exercise and plenty of toys to play with will reduce boredom and anxiety and prevent them from dirt consumption.

If your dog does suffer from anxiety, contact your vet. You might also need to hire a professional trainer or seek help from a veterinary behaviorist to learn how you can ease your dog’s anxiety.

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