You feed your dog a complete and balanced diet, provide him the occasional treat, and yet, your dog is attracted to eating dirt, so now you're wondering why do dogs eat dirt?
No, it's not like your dog has taken a likening to gardening and it's quite unlikely that he is starving (as long as you feed him regularly of course!) and therefore is eating anything that comes his way.
Actually, countless dogs engage in this odd dining habit which many dog owners find repulsive. Well, here's the answer to your question as to why dogs eat dirt. No, actually, there are several answers, because dogs eat dirt for a variety of reasons!
A Matter of Exploration
If your dog is question is a puppy, your pup's dirt eating behavior may be just normal, exploration behavior.
Just like human toddlers, puppies explore the world with their mouths, and yes, that includes tasting dirt! Most puppies sooner than later, learn that dirt isn't really that tasty, unless you dropped something yummy on top of it of course!
Therefore, this is often just a phase puppies go through and most will grow out of it fairly quickly.
Sure, you may occasionally stumble on the occasional pup who becomes a bit fixated on eating dirt, but in most cases, this happens because there is nothing more interesting going on- which brings us to another common reason dogs eat dirt.
A Matter of Boredom
Idle Paws are a Devil's Workshop! If your puppy or dog seems to be excessively attracted to dirt, there are chances that your dog simply doesn't have anything better to do.
Unlike us, dogs don't kill time by chatting on Facebook or playing a game of Sudoku. Instead, they keep themselves entertained with what is provided to them.
If a dog is secluded to a yard, and there is nothing better to do, the dog may engage in digging and eating dirt just to keep himself entertained.
Dogs need exercise and mental stimulation and failure to provide those things can lead to destructive or even harmful behaviors.
If your dog is in the yard all day with nothing better to do, make sure he has access to fun toys and engage him in fun games (and even some training!) And don't forget about exercise to keep his body and mind happy and off the dirt.
If your dog is left home all day and is bored and under-stimulated, there may be chances that the dirt-eating behavior may be a way to garner your attention.
Fact is, dogs love positive attention under the form or pats, pets and praise, but some dogs appreciate the negative type too as it's better than no attention at all.
Parents are likely aware of this behavior, the child who starts misbehaving when mommy is on the phone or the child who will keep doing things despite being scolded.
In the same way, some dogs may bark, chew, dig or eat dirt, just to to get their owner's attention even if it entails attention of the negative type.
Heck, vets have also stories of dogs limping or scratching just for getting attention! Dogs who lack attention quickly seem to learn what behaviors get their owners to interact with them even if it's under the form of scolding or giving them a stern look.
An Anxiety Based Problem
Sometimes, dirt eating in dogs may stem from too much stress or anxiety. Sure, dog's don't need to balance their check books at the end of the month, and they do not go through the stress of divorces, but changes in their lives may cause anxiety to raise its ugly head.
“It’s like going to the refrigerator and eating food when you’re not hungry but, rather, feeling bored or stressed," explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil.
A Medical Problem
Before assuming your dog is eating dirt just because he's exploring, bored or in need of attention, it may be worthy mentioning the behavior to the vet, especially if it's a new behavior or one that seems to be particularly persistent. In some cases, eating dirt may stem from a medical problem. Need some examples?
A Case of Low Red Blood Cells
A dog with a sudden, strong attraction to eating dirt may be suffering from canine anemia, a condition where dogs suffer from dropping red blood cell counts.
In an anemic dog, eating dirt may be the dog's attempt to getting iron, explains veterinarian Dr. Dan. Anemia can be diagnosed by having the dog's red blood cell levels tested through a simple blood test.
Anemia can occur secondary to eating rat poison, tick-borne diseases, and certain types of infections.
An Underling Digestive Issue
In some cases, a dog who suddenly tries to eat dirt and grass frantically at once may be suffering from some digestive issue.
Nausea as seen in dogs suffering with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or that has developed secondarily in dogs with kidney issues, may be an explanation for eating dirt, explains veterinarian Dr. Deb.
If your dog is eating grass frantically or ingesting dirt, it's therefore not a bad idea to consult with your vet and possibly have some bloodwork done.
Presence of a Brain Mass
Sometimes, odd dog behaviors that start out of the blue for no rhyme nor reason, may be triggered by the presence of a brain mass.
This may be more common in older dogs, and other than the dirt eating behavior, you may notice as well other unusual behaviors. Masses on the brain tend to be rather slow growing, further points out Dr. Deb.
Can Eating Dirt be Caused by a Nutritional Problem?
When dogs start eating things like rocks or dirt dog owners often come to me concerned that their dog has a nutritional deficiency, says board-certified Tufts veterinary nutritionist Dr. Cailin Heinze.
However, eating non-food items has never been clearly linked to a nutritional deficiency in dogs, she explains in an article for the newsletter "Your Dog" by Tufts University.
Indeed, most dogs Dr. Heinz sees who engage in dirt-eating behaviors are dogs who are generally fed balanced diets that ones that you shouldn't have any concerns about.
To further prove her point she claims: "I’ve never been able to say that when we fed a dog x nutrient, the eating of non-food items went away.”
Is Eating Dirt Bad for Dogs?
Eating just a bit of dirt is generally not harmful, (of course in moderation!), but in some cases it can turn out to be.
For instance, if your dog ingests dirt where other dogs may have defecated, your dog may ingest parasites eggs (such as from round worms, hookworms, whipworms) or protozoan oocysts that can cause your dog to develop worms or disease.
Also, if the dirt in question is potting soil or dirt treated with fertilizers, this can be problematic if ingested in large quantities. Many top soils contain additional minerals that when ingested can cause severe stomach and intestinal distress, points out veterinarian Dr. Andy.
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs have their own good reasons for eating dirt. The next question is how to stop them. Here are a few general tips.
- See your vet to exclude medical or nutritional problems.
- Provide more exercise and mental stimulation. Invest in some interactive toys, organize brain games, feed kibble in food puzzles, organize sniffing adventures and of course, train and socialize your dog if he's a social butterfly.
- Keep your dog on leash whenever you take him outside.
- Keep bags of dirt and potted plants out of reach both indoors and out.
- Train your dog the "leave it and drop it" cue. This will cause your dog to become responsive to you the moment he starts eating dirt or when he has managed to carry a piece of dirt in his mouth.
- For severe cases, fit your dog with a basket muzzle when he needs to be taken outside.