Dogs love to eat weird things! There’s garbage, sticks, grass, and let’s not forget about other dogs’ poop (yucky!). And if all these things aren’t weird enough, some dogs also like to eat dirt!
But, why do dogs eat dirt? Dogs may eat dirt for different reasons. Eating dirt can be caused by boredom or anxiety, or there could be leftover food mixed in with the dirt. But, it can also be a sign of a medical issue or dietary deficiencies. If your dog starts eating large amounts of dirt book an appointment with your vet.
As with everything else your dog does, there is a reason for their dirt-eating habit, and this isn’t something you want to ignore! Let’s check out all possibilities and what you can do to stop this behavior.
Different Reasons Why Dogs Eat Dirt
Eating dirt is a relatively common behavior seen mostly in puppies and adolescent dogs who like to explore and dig up buried treasures they sometimes eat, alongside dirt. However, if your dog is eating large amounts of dirt continuously you should be concerned!
Here’s why your dog might feel the need to consume large quantities of dirt:
In some cases, dogs with anemia may develop a liking for dirt. An anemic dog or dog with anemia has a low red blood cell count or hemoglobin levels.
Nutritional or hormonal imbalance is one of many potential causes of anemia in dogs. Other common causes are injury, flea and tick infestation, and Cushing’s disease (source).
The theory is that dogs with anemia instinctively start eating dirt as a way to restore the lack of nutrients that are causing this condition. It’s suspected that their bodies are trying to get more iron, as a response to the anemia.
The only way to surely diagnose anemia is through blood work analysis. If you suspect that your dog’s dirt-eating is caused by anemia schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
2. Nutritional Imbalance or Deficiencies
Your dog’s dirt-eating habit can be caused by a nutritional imbalance or mineral deficiencies. If your dog’s diet isn’t complete and balanced they won’t receive all the essential nutrients necessary for good health.
Low-quality pet food and unbalanced home diets are the usual culprits. Nutritional imbalances are rare in healthy dogs, so call your veterinarian and book an appointment. Make sure to discuss your dog’s nutritional needs with your vet and ask what dog food you should be feeding your dog.
3. Upset Stomach
Some dogs may start eating dirt in an attempt to soothe an upset stomach. In fact, some types of clay are used to detoxify the digestive system and help eliminate parasites, toxins, fluids, and gases from the digestive tract (source).
It well may be that your dog is instinctively trying to detoxify its tummy by eating dirt.
While tummy aches can be the reason why your pooch is munching dirt, dogs are more likely to eat grass in these instances. It’s also possible that in the attempt to get to the grass your pooch accidentally added some dirt in the mix.
A dog that lacks physical and mental stimulation may take on bizarre habits just to pass the time. Puppies and adolescent dogs, in particular, may start eating dirt out of pure boredom.
Regardless of their age, size, and breed, all dogs require regular exercise and environmental enrichments to stay physically and mentally stimulated.
Like people, dogs can experience stress and anxiety. When your dog is feeling stressed out, anxious, or afraid, they may seek an outlet for those feelings.
Eating dirt, excessive scratching, and excessive self-grooming maybe your dog’s way of coping with feelings of stress and anxiety. Having said that, eating dirt is more likely to be stress-related or anxiety-based if your dog is already showing signs of anxiety in other aspects of its life.
Dogs that are generally chilled and relaxed in most situations are less likely to start eating dirt when stressed out or anxious.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Dirt?
If a health issue or nutritional deficiency is the reason why your dog is consuming dirt, treating the condition or transitioning your dog to high-quality dog food should stop this behavior. But, if eating dirt has become a compulsion, here are a few things to try:
1. Keep Your Dog Exercised
An under-exercised and bored dog can develop all sorts of behavioral problems, including eating dirt. Make sure to exercise and play with your dog every day to help them release pent-up energy and prevent them from eating dirt out of boredom.
2. Control the Environment
Has your pooch been eating soil from your flower pots, or digging up and gobbling down dirt from a small area in your yard? If the dirt isn’t there, your dog can’t eat it!
Remove all indoor potted plants out of your dog’s reach and consider using a tarp to cover the soil in your yard to dissuade your dog from digging up and eating dirt.
3. Use Toys to Redirect Dirt Eating Habits
Make sure to have a variety of safe and durable dog chew toys at hand to provide distraction whenever your dog starts eating dirt. Use a verbal command or a loud noise to distract your pooch and then give them a toy to redirect their attention from eating dirt.
4. Seek Professional Help
If none of these suggestions work, and your pooch has been cleared by your vet, consider seeking professional help. Look up certified dog trainers or behavioral specialists to help your dog break this habit.
While eating dirt is a fairly common behavior among dogs, you shouldn’t let it continue! Dogs may eat dirt for a number of reasons, including underlying health problems that require proper treatment.
However, if your dog is eating dirt for any other reason, you can help them kick this dirty little habit with a bit of work and effort on your part.