Dirt eating is a problem behavior in dogs. When dogs spend time eating soil or other types of earth, it's called geophagy. While it's normal for dogs to get dirt in their mouths as they roll around in the grass or mud, if you see them eating dirt, try to figure out what's up. Dogs who eat dirt on a regular basis could have an underlying issue you need to address.
1. Your Dog Might Have a Nutrient Deficiency
So why do dogs eat dirt? Well, like humans and other omnivores, they have a taste for meat, but also need to get some of their nutrients from plants. If you consider their wild ancestors for a moment, you may be thinking, "Wolves didn't go around eating dirt, grass, and plants." and you're right.
Wolves didn't wander around grazing on grass and eating dirt all day. However, they did consume prey animals that had these components in their stomachs. Some of these nutrients may be lacking in commercial dog foods, so a dog may eat dirt as a supplement or as an alternative source of nutrition if they don't like what they're given at mealtime.
If your dog has a nutrient deficiency, this could result in them eating odd things to try to fill the nutritional gaps in their diet. Your dog will also be more likely to eat soil if they have access to an area where there is fertilizer or some other substance that contains phosphorus, as this can make dirt irresistible. Additional signs of nutritional deficiency include weight loss, hair loss, dry skin and coat, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues.
How to address the problem: Figure out if your dog's diet is missing something. Check with your veterinarian or a canine nutrition specialist to find out what might be missing. Some experts may recommend a raw diet in cases like these, so you are able to control what goes into their diet and rotate foods to fill in any deficiencies that may be present.
2. A Medical Cause Might Be Behind It
The most common medical cause of dogs eating dirt is gastrointestinal disease. Dogs that have inflammatory bowel disease, commonly referred to as IBD, may eat soil as a way to self-medicate their symptoms. In other words, they may be eat dirt in an attempt to relieve abdominal pain and discomfort.
Other signs of bowel disease in dogs include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain and distention
- Excessive gas and flatulence
Additionally, some dogs also eat soil because they have problems with their teeth or gums that cause them pain when chewing on food or treats. In these cases, eating soil can give them temporary relief from this discomfort, but only until their teeth or gums worsen again. You may also find your dog chewing on rocks or other hard objects to relieve their tooth or gum pain in these circumstances.
How to address the problem: If your dog has a medical issue causing gastrointestinal upset, and this is behind your dog's dirt-eating behavior, you need to visit the vet with your pet to find out how to treat your dog's condition. You can try reducing the amount you feed your dog, or changing their diet, but you should only do these things under the guidance of a veterinarian.
3. Your Dog Could Be Bored
Dogs can get bored, just like humans do. Dogs are very intelligent animals and love to use their minds in creative ways. If your dog is bored, they will find something to do, even if it is seemingly destructive behavior such as eating dirt. According to the ASPCA, boredom is one of the most common reasons for unwanted chewing in dogs; other causes include separation anxiety and aggression problems.
How to address the problem: You can help prevent your dog from eating dirt by providing them with plenty of toys and chewable items. Exercise your dog every day for at least 30 minutes. Take them out for a walk or play fetch with them. If you can't get outside, throw an old tennis ball in the house and let your dog chase it around for about 20 minutes. This will help release some of their pent up energy. However, if your dog continues to eat dirt despite having mental and physical exercise, you may need professional help from a trainer or behaviorist specializing in canine behavior issues.
4. Your Dog Might be Stressed
Dogs who have separation anxiety may overeat or eat things that are not food in order to deal with it. In this case, it's more likely that eating dirt is related to stress rather than boredom.
How to address the problem: If you can't avoid leaving your dog alone during the day while you're at work or school, consider getting an interactive toy that keeps them occupied while you're gone. You can also ask a friend or neighbor to check in on your pup to give them some mid-day stimulation. Break up their routine and give them some extra stimulation, and see if that helps reduce their dirt-eating behavior.
Why You Should Stop Your Dog
Eating dirt isn't necessarily harmful to your dog, but there are a few circumstances when it could be hazardous to their health:
- Dirt may contain parasites or bacteria that could make your dog sick.
- Dirt can upset your dog's digestive system if they eat too much at one time or regularly eats small amounts over time.
- If your dog eats too much dirt, they might become constipated from eating so many indigestible materials.
- Dirt can become impacted in your dog's digestive system, resulting in surgery.
- Fertilizer in dirt can contain dangerous toxins that could cause organ failure.
Extra Tidbits to Know
To help you understand why your dog eats dirt and aid in your journey to eliminate the behavior, take a look at the following list of facts and tips:
- It's very common in puppies. Young pups often eat dirt when they're young, but this behavior typically goes away as they get older. If your dog continues to eat dirt, it could be a sign of a medical issue or a habitual behavior.
- Dogs like to explore with their mouths. If you have recently moved into a new home, your dog may be trying out the new scents they aren't familiar with yet.
- Check your soil. It's possible a particular smell or taste is attracting your dog. Most of the time, this isn't an issue, but if there are dangerous chemicals in the soil - such as antifreeze, or engine coolant - that your dog likes the taste of, you need to clean up as soon as possible. If you suspect your dog ingested something dangerous, call Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435.
Get Help from a Professional
It may be time to seek expert assistance if you've tried everything to stop your dog from eating dirt, but nothing appears to be working. Get in touch with your vet and let them know what the issue is and how long it has been going on. It may also be useful if you can estimate how much dirt your dog eats. Once your vet has ruled out any underlying medical issues, it's time to speak with a dog trainer or canine behaviorist. If you think your dog's diet is lacking certain nutrients, you may even want to get in touch with a canine nutritionist.