If you’ve ever been outside with your dog and noticed that it began eating dirt, you probably wondered why it would do that, and whether or not it’s safe. As pet owners, we’re always careful to watch over our pets and protect them from anything harmful.
Consuming dirt is fairly common for dogs, but what does it mean and how do you stop this behavior? Read on to learn more.
Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt?
Dogs eat dirt owing to several reasons including stress, feeling bored, or simply because they have detected a tempting odor mixed in with it.
There are quite a few other reasons too, all of which are examined here. You’ll also get to find out just how safe the practice is and how you can encourage your pooch to ditch the habit.
Each dog is different and every one of them will have different nutritional needs. There are some diets that are made for dogs but do not contain all of the vital nutrients that a dog needs to be healthy—especially if the food that you feed your dog is not of good quality.
Believe it or not, dirt actually contains a lot of different minerals. Therefore dogs may instinctually eat dirt in order to supplement their lack of nutrients. Dirt contains minerals such as sodium, calcium, and iron.
Dogs can also resort to eating dirt if they are underfed and hungry. To them, the dirt is filling and helps provide some of the minerals they’re lacking.
If your dog’s dirt-eating habits are due to a lack of minerals, try selecting high-quality dog food to replace what they’re eating now. Whichever brand you choose, be sure that it meets the nutritional guidelines set by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA).
- Specifically designed for small breeds
- More calories for active dogs
- The kibble design is small
- Added fatty acids
If your dog is already on a high-quality diet, then eating dirt is probably not due to a lack of minerals, since it would most likely be getting enough from its food. If that’s the case, then it may be more of a behavioral issue rather than a health-related one.
Sometimes dogs can get bored if they don’t get enough exercise or have enough mental stimulation—especially dog breeds that are high-energy. Make sure that your dog is getting plenty of exercise often.
Dogs are also known to suffer from separation anxiety. This can cause them to do things like eating dirt because of the stress that they’re under when their owners are away.
Anxiety in dogs can develop at any age and for varying reasons. If you suspect that your dog is dealing with an anxiety issue, be sure to mention it to your vet and they’ll be able to get your dog the help that it needs.
Sometimes dirt-eating behaviors in dogs can be tied to a medical condition. There are a few different ones that could be the cause of this issue and we’ll go over some of them here, but it’s always best to consult your vet to be sure of what exactly is going on with your dog’s health.
The first medical condition is anemia. Yes, dogs can be anemic too, just like humans. Anemia is a condition in which there is a low red blood cell count. The condition can stem from a few things in dogs like hookworms, ticks, fleas, cancer, immune-mediated diseases, or bleeding disorders.
It’s pretty common for hookworms to be an issue for puppies since they can contract the parasite from their mother’s milk while nursing, however, dogs at any age can develop them.
To keep your dog protected, it’s best to use a good quality dewormer—especially if they’ve been eating dirt, as they can contract them from there too. Hookworm larvae may be present in the soil and can be ingested by your dogs by eating the grass or dirt.
Hookworms can also be contracted by physical contact with the soil. They are tiny, live worms that can burrow into your dog’s skin when he’s been in contact with dirt or soil where they were present.
Sometimes humans can bring in worm eggs accidentally on their shoes. If you’ve walked on areas that were contaminated with roundworm eggs, whipworm eggs, or hookworm larvae, you could be unknowingly bringing them into your home via your shoes and exposing them to your dog.
Dogs can even inhale hookworm larvae or eggs by simply sniffing dirt, so it’s best to use preventative measures regularly. Even if your dog doesn’t eat the parasitic eggs themselves, it may pick them up from other animals that it does eat. For example, if your dog does any hunting or scavenging, they may pick up worms from diseased animals such as rabbits, rats, birds, and insects like cockroaches and earthworms that consumed the eggs themselves.
These eggs do not mature into adult worms and instead remain in a hibernating form until consumed. Once a dog has eaten the eggs, they “wake up” and begin maturing into adult worms.
Keep an eye on your dog when you’re out and about and don’t allow it to sniff or eat dirt if possible. You’ll also want to make sure that your dog isn’t doing any hunting or scavenging for wild animals that could be carrying the eggs.
Another medical reason could be gastritis or inflammation of the stomach. When dogs have an upset stomach, they may eat dirt or grass in order to help them vomit and relieve the discomfort.
Is Eating Dirt Bad For Dogs?
Yes. Eating dirt presents many dangers to your dog and you should try to stop the behavior whenever you see it. As we mentioned above, dirt contains all kinds of harmful things that could hurt your dog.
The trace minerals that may be found in it do not outweigh the risk of ingesting worms, parasites, or their eggs. Dirt may also be treated with pesticides which pose an incredible risk to your dog’s health if consumed.
Eating dirt or clumps of mud can also be a choking hazard if your dog swallows any rocks or pebbles in the dirt. Chewing the rocks can also cause damage to your dog’s teeth and gums.
If too much dirt is consumed, your dog may experience a gastrointestinal obstruction. This is where dirt, rocks, sticks, or other foreign objects get stuck in the dog’s esophagus, stomach, or intestines.
When this happens, surgery is often needed in order to remove the blockage. Some symptoms to look out for include coughing, gagging, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, or lethargy.
If you think that your dog is experiencing a blockage, get them to the animal hospital immediately. Timing is crucial, as the veterinarian can help induce vomiting so that the obstruction can be cleared.
You’ll want to get your dog to the vet within an hour of ingestion since a dog’s stomach will usually empty within two hours.
- This food is formulated for dogs with skin and/or food sensitivities
- This is a hydrolyzed protein diet
- The protein is broken down into tiny particles that don't trigger your dog's immune system as a potential allergen
- Includes omega-3 fatty acids to help with arthritis and chronic kidney disease and promote brain and eye development
How Do I Prevent My Dog From Eating Dirt?
One of the best ways to ensure that your dog doesn’t eat dirt is to make sure that it is already consuming a healthy diet and getting all of the proper nutrients it needs.
Having good quality dog food will lessen the chances of your dog being deficient in certain minerals that may cause it to consume dirt.
It is recommended that most dogs eat twice a day. A dog that’s under 10 pounds should eat 3-4 small meals per day. If you are only feeding your dog once per day and you notice it is eating dirt while outside, this could be due to hunger.
You can also go on supervised walks with your dog so that you can stop it if you notice it eating dirt. Leaving a dog outside for too long unsupervised could give it an opportunity to eat dirt—especially if it feels stressed or anxious.
How Do You Treat Pica in Dogs?
The development of unusual eating habits, such as rocks, is called pica, which is defined as persistent chewing or consumption of non-nutritional substances that provide no physical benefit to the animal. This not only may indicate that your pet is lacking in nutritional needs but that they may be bored or afraid of being punished, which can lead to more serious problems. To prevent pica, or treat it if your dog is already exhibiting this behavior, you can try the following methods:
- Eliminate access to objects that your dog may eat
- Make sure your pet is getting plenty of exercise and mental stimulation
- When you walk your dog, distract him from eating objects or poop with treats and praise
- To prevent boredom, consider environmental stimulants or enrichment, such as food puzzles, and games
This issue isn’t something that can be corrected immediately and you will most likely have to continue monitoring your dog as well as being proactive with training methods. If it does not improve, you should consider talking to your vet about other preventative methods.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © mis1il/Shutterstock.com
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