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Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt? 6 Common Reasons For This Behavior

Elizabeth Gray

No matter how much money we spend buying our dogs the tastiest, best quality food we can afford, they never quite seem to lose their tendency to snack on the most disgusting things they can find. Whether they’re scavenging from the litter box or ingesting a dead bird you came across on your daily walk, dogs will just eat the darndest things sometimes.

If you’ve started noticing your dog eating dirt, you might wonder if there’s a reason for this behavior or if your dog’s just being weird. Well, it turns out your dog’s behavior might have a purpose or could even be a sign of serious medical problems. Here are 6 common reasons why dogs eat dirt, as well as some tips on how to stop them.

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6 Reasons Dogs Eat Dirt:

1. The Dirt Smells Or Tastes Good

Is your dog eating dirt under your backyard grill? Have you recently mixed manure fertilizer into your garden? Do your kids routinely drop food on the ground in your yard? If so, your dog might be eating dirt because it smells or tastes delicious to them. This kind of dirt-eating usually happens occasionally and probably isn’t a sign of a deeper problem.


2. Your Dog Is Hungry Or Lacking Nutrition

Your dog could be eating dirt because they aren’t getting enough to eat or the food they do eat is missing essential vitamins or minerals. In some cases, your dog may be eating the right diet but could be suffering a health problem keeping them from properly absorbing all the nutrition they need from it.


3. Your Dog Is Bored

Bored dogs can develop numerous destructive behaviors including chewing, digging holes in the yard, or even eating dirt. Some breeds of dogs just don’t handle being left alone very well. Your dog could also be bored because you start working long hours, the kids go back to school, or they aren’t getting enough physical and mental stimulation every day.


4. Your Dog Is Stressed

Like boredom, stress can also cause your dog to act out in different ways, including eating dirt. Some dogs are adaptable and unflappable and seem to handle whatever life changes roll their way. Others are more sensitive and may react dramatically to any little alteration in their daily routine. If your dog starts eating dirt suddenly, consider whether stress might be the reason.


5. Your Dog Has Stomach Trouble

Some dogs may eat dirt to help soothe an upset stomach or digestive issues. Most of us are more familiar with dogs eating grass when they have tummy trouble, but some dogs may eat dirt instead. Your dog also might swallow some dirt as they tear up and eat grass to help their bellies feel better.


6. Your Dog Has a Medical Problem

One serious medical problem that can lead to your dog eating dirt is anemia or low red blood cells. Vets speculate that anemic dogs may eat dirt in an attempt to increase their iron intake.

Pica is a condition where dogs obsessively eat various non-food items, including dirt. This condition can be behavioral or a sign of some other disease, such as intestinal or liver disorders.

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The Dangers of Eating Dirt

Occasional dirt consumption probably won’t hurt your dog but if your dog starts consuming large amounts of dirt they could end up getting an intestinal blockage.

If your dog eats potting soil or the soil in your garden, they could consume toxic substances such as fertilizers.

Dogs can also get worms or intestinal parasites from eating infected dirt.

Eating dirt sometimes also means eating sticks and rocks which can damage your dog’s teeth or become stuck in their throat or intestines.

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How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Dirt

Jack Russell Terrier German Shepherd playing_Best dog photo_shutterstock
Image Credit: Best dog Photo, Shutterstock

Stopping your dog from eating dirt requires figuring out why it’s happening and then taking the appropriate steps to correct the problem.

Rule Out a Medical or Nutritional Problem

The first thing you should do if your dog is eating a lot of dirt is to see your veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical concern. Anemia or some of the other diseases causing pica require lab tests and other diagnostics to confirm. Once a health problem is diagnosed, your vet can talk to you about how to treat it.

If your dog is eating dirt because of a nutritional deficiency, your veterinarian can help with that as well. In many cases, the dog in question is being fed a homemade diet that isn’t nutritionally balanced. Many owners prefer to feed homemade food to their dogs, but it’s important to work with a veterinarian to ensure the diet meets all your pet’s nutritional needs.

Make Sure Your Dog Gets Enough Exercise and Attention

If your dog is eating dirt out of stress or boredom, step up your efforts to spend time with them. Make sure your dog gets regular exercise and mental stimulation in the form of toys or training sessions. Enlist a friend or pet sitter to spend time with your dog during the day if you are away from home for long hours.

Try to figure out what has changed in your or your dog’s life that could be leading to stress. Whether it’s a new baby, a new pet, or moving houses, stress is often unavoidable but there are ways to help your dog deal with it. Give your dog plenty of attention and ask your veterinarian about medications or soothing pheromones that might help your dog calm down.

Cut Off Access to The Dirt

Keep your dog from eating dirt by making it hard for your dog to find dirt to eat. Place indoor plants up high or locked away from your dog. Fence your garden or flower beds outside. When taking walks, make sure your dog is always leashed so you can ensure they aren’t sneaking dirt snacks.

Get Professional Help

If you’ve tried everything to keep your dog from eating dirt, it might be time to consult a professional. Your veterinarian can help you find a trainer or dog behaviorist who can work with you and your dog to break the dirt-eating behavior.

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Conclusion

In most cases, your dog eating dirt isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Again, dogs just have strange tastes sometimes and it’s often nothing more than that. At the same time, sometimes dirt-eating is a sign of a behavioral or medical problem. You know your dog best and if you’re worried about them for any reason, including eating dirt, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.


Featured Image Credit: Kim Christensen, Shutterstock

Elizabeth Gray

Elizabeth Gray is a lifelong lover of all creatures great and small. She got her first cat at 5 years old and at 14, she started working for her local veterinarian. Elizabeth spent more than 20 years working as a veterinary nurse before stepping away to become a stay-at-home parent to her daughter. Now, she is excited to share her hard-earned knowledge (literally--she has scars) with our readers. Elizabeth lives in Iowa with her family, including her two fur kids, Linnard, a husky mix and Algernon, the worldʻs most patient cat. When not writing, she enjoys reading, watching all sports but especially soccer, and spending time outdoors with her family.