Why Does My Dog Eat Dirt?

So gross 😝

dog eating potted plant dirt

It seems like some dogs will eat just about anything — including dirt. But … why?

It turns out dogs will eat dirt due to health or behavioral issues or sometimes even for totally harmless reasons.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Erin Keefe, a veterinarian at Small Door Veterinary, to find out why your dog keeps eating dirt.

Why does my dog eat dirt?

The technical term for eating things that aren’t food, including dirt, is pica, and it can have a lot of different causes.

“Dogs may eat dirt for a number of reasons,” Dr. Keefe told The Dodo. “If they’re repeatedly eating dirt, consuming large quantities or eating it frantically, there could be an underlying issue to blame. Causes may include nutritional issues, behavioral issues or medical issues.”

Here are some reasons why your dog might be eating dirt.

Nutritional issues

Some dogs will eat dirt when their food lacks the vitamins and minerals they need or if they’re not getting enough food.

To ensure your pup’s nutritional needs are fulfilled, make sure you’re feeding him a complete and balanced dog food, and that you feed him the correct amount according to his weight (just follow the instructions on the back of your dog’s food label).

In some cases, medical problems can cause nutritional deficiencies, too.

Talk to your vet to see whether they think nutritional problems might be to blame and if they recommend changes to your dog’s diet or supplements.

Behavioral issues

Behavioral issues, such as stress, boredom or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), can cause your dog to eat dirt, Dr. Keefe said.

Dogs who are bored will find ways to fill their time, and sometimes this includes activities like eating dirt (or grass).

Eating things they shouldn’t is often a sign of stress or OCD in dogs because it can be an outlet for their anxiety.

If your dog is eating dirt as an anxious behavior, he’ll likely have other signs of stress or anxiety too, such as licking, hiding, aggression or other repetitive behaviors.

Medical issues

Some medical problems can cause your dog to eat dirt. According to Dr. Keefe, some of these include:

  • Anemia (lack of iron/low red blood cell count)
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Liver disease
  • Intestinal parasites

If your dog suddenly starts eating dirt out of nowhere, eats a lot, is eating it frantically and/or has other symptoms, you should contact your vet to make sure he doesn’t have an underlying condition.

“Ingestion of a small amount of dirt and a single episode of vomiting may not warrant veterinary care,” Dr. Keefe said. “However, if a dog repeatedly vomits or gags without bringing anything up, has diarrhea, seems in discomfort or is lethargic, they should be examined by a veterinarian immediately.”

It tastes good

Dogs might just like the taste of dirt!

“It is not uncommon for dogs to eat dirt simply because they smell something tasty in the soil,” Dr. Keefe said.

To explore

Dogs learn about the world through their noses and mouths, and your dog might just smell something in the dirt that he wants to learn more about.

Puppies might be especially prone to eating dirt as they’re super curious and just beginning to learn about their surroundings.

“Puppies are very curious and so may be more likely to accidentally ingest dirt as they’re exploring the world,” Dr. Keefe said. “However, if your puppy repeatedly eats dirt, it’s important to have them examined by a vet to rule out any underlying issues and to discourage them from this behavior so that it does not become a habit into adulthood.”

Should I let my dog eat dirt?

If your dog licks some dirt while you’re on a walk every now and then, it shouldn’t be a problem. But you really shouldn’t let your dog eat dirt all the time.

“Eating dirt can pose a number of dangers,” Dr. Keefe said. “Ingesting large quantities of dirt could cause a life-threatening gastrointestinal impaction or blockage, which could require emergency surgery.”

According to Dr. Keefe, there could be objects in the dirt that are harmful to your dog as well, such as:

  • Pesticides or fertilizers
  • Small rocks, which could cause damage to your dog’s teeth, pose a choking hazard or cause an intestinal blockage
  • Sharp sticks, which could puncture his mouth, throat or intestinal tract
  • Parasites

How to stop your dog from eating dirt

If your dog’s eating dirt because he’s anxious or bored, you can help him by keeping him entertained or by giving him a more productive outlet for his anxiety.

“If the issue is determined to be more of a habit or behavioral problem, there are several ways to help combat this,” Dr. Keefe said. “To help prevent boredom, increase the amount of exercise and playtime your dog is getting each day. You can also provide interactive toys, such as food puzzle toys, to provide mental stimulation, especially when they are home alone for longer periods of time.”

The ZippyPaws puzzle toy earned The Dodo’s Paw of Approval, and you can get it from Amazon for $12.99.

“Natural therapies and products can also help with anxiety, including calming aids like pheromone collars (Adaptil) or products like the Anxiety Wrap or ThunderShirts,” Dr. Keefe said. “For severe stress/anxiety issues, you may need to enlist the help of a behavioral specialist who can assist with techniques such as desensitization and counterconditioning.”

You can get the Adaptil calming collar from Amazon for $11.99 and the ThunderShirt from Amazon for $44.95.

Beyond calming aids, you can reduce stress in your dog’s life by giving him his own area, like a comfy bed or crate with his toys, to help him relax, Dr. Keefe said.

Other ways to discourage your dog from eating dirt include:

  • Remove potted plants from your dog’s reach (this is also a good idea to keep him from chewing on plants that are toxic to dogs).
  • Watch your dog when he’s outside to prevent him from eating dirt.
  • Cover up or block off any areas with dirt or soil in your yard so your dog can’t reach them.
  • “Use positive reinforcement (praise, pets and treats) when they sniff dirt but do not eat it,” Dr. Keefe said.
  • Don’t punish your dog for eating dirt. Instead, distract him with toys or a treat when he tries to eat dirt.

So if your dog eats a little bit of dirt, he should be fine. But you shouldn’t let him chow down on your freshly tilled soil all the time — just give him a treat instead. And if you think there’s an underlying issue, contact your vet.

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