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Why do Dogs Eat Dirt and How to Stop it

Updated on November 18, 2011

Discourage dirt eating as much as possible

Stop your dog from eating dirt
Stop your dog from eating dirt | Source

Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt

There may be several reasons why dogs eat dirt and observing the dog's behavior often can provide some helpful clues. For instance, when a dog starts digging a hole, dog owners often think the dog is eating dirt, when what the dog is actually trying to consume is grass roots or some sort of food item that was burrowed underground for some time. A dog's sense of smell is very potent, and dogs may therefore detect buried food particles quite easily. Just think about how dogs bury their bones and effortlessly find them with extreme accuracy several days or even weeks later.

If you notice though that your dog is actually eating dirt and this is a behavior you have witnessed several times, it is something worth mentioning to your veterinarian. Dogs indeed may engage in dirt eating at times due to lack of important vitamins and minerals not currently found in their diet. If this is the case, upgrading to a higher quality dog food may solve the problem. Discuss with your veterinarian about this possibility and look for a dog food that is complete and adequate for your dog's breed, activity level, weight and age.

At other times, the dirt eating can be attributed to gastro-intestinal upset. At times, dogs get upset tummies and their instinct is to try to induce themselves to vomit in order to feel better. Often this translates into grass eating, but when grass cannot be found, dogs have no problems eating dirt. In this case, the dirt eating behavior is an isolated event, but if your dog is prone to gastro-intestinal problems, you may see this behavior more often.

Finally, dirt eating may be a symptom of a condition known as ''pica''. Pica occurs when dogs ingest objects that are not typically part of its diet. Typically, dogs affected by this disorder are tempted to ingest grass, feces, or other items such as rocks. This may stem from behavioral disorders, but can also be due to malabsorptive diseases, endocrine problems, or an iron deficiency, explains veterinarian Bari Spielman in an article for PetPlace.

Dangers of Eating Dirt

While eating dirt can appear like an innocent activity, there are some health implications to keep in mind. One of the most common problems derived from ingesting dirt (and this applies to humans as well) is the fact that dirt often contains parasite eggs. Such eggs or larvae are invisible to the naked eye, but they are there waiting for a host to ingest them so they can thrive and continue to reproduce once they have matured. Roundworm, whipworm, and hookworms, are some examples of parasites that can be transmitted by eating dirt.

There are also toxins in dirt. If you are using adding fertilizers or insecticides to your dirt, these chemicals can be poisonous to your dog. Some mulches can also be particularly dangerous to dogs, such as cocoa mulch, which contains theobromine, the same substance found in chocolate which can cause serious toxic effects in dogs.

Another risk is if the dog, along with the dirt, ingests rocks or other non-food items that may cause intestinal blockage. Intestinal blockages are not solved on their own and prompt veterinary treatment is required to remove any problems through surgery. This can turn out to be quite an expensive procedure. Dirt may also contain sharp objects such as glass or pointy sticks that may cause injury as they pass through the dog's intestinal tract.

As seen, there are several risks in allowing dogs to eat dirt, and this is a reason why dog owners should discourage such a habit. If your dog is an avid dirt eater, read on for some helpful tips on how to stop dogs from eating dirt .

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How to Stop Dogs from Eating Dirt

So now that you know why dogs may engage in dirt eating and the potential health implications associated with such practice, your next step should be to find some helpful tips on how to stop dogs from digging and eating dirt in the first place. There is ultimately one way to accomplish this: limit your dog's unsupervised exposure to dirt. However, this is often easier said than done. The following are some hepful tips to curb, and hopefully extinguish dirt digging and dirt eating.

  • Start with a vet check up. It does not hurt to consult with your vet to discuss any potential health issues that may be causing dirt eating. With health issues out of the way, you can then focus on solving this behavioral issue.
  • Have stools checked. While you are at the vet's office, take along a stool sample. Dirt eating as mentioned before may cause parasitism.
  • Make dirt eating unpleasant. Dogs learn through associations so if you shake a can of coins the moment your dog digs or engages in dirt eating, your dog may no longer see such activities as appealing.
  • Supervise your dog. Most dogs are opportunistic, they may learn that when you are not around, nothing happens if they eat dirt. To prevent such sneaky behaviors, try to always be out in the yard with your dog.
  • Provide appealing alternatives. If your yard is full of great things to do, there is a higher chance dirt may no longer look interesting. Stuff up a Kong and leave it around, add toys, or engage your dog in a game of fetch.
  • Tire out your dog. A tired dog is a good dog and will likely feel less motivated to look for ways to keep itself entertained.
  • If your dog digs before eating the dirt, try to bury chicken wire or a balloon in his favorite digging spots and provide a safer alternative.

As seen, there are several ways to put a stop to digging and dirt eating behaviors. The main rule of thumb is to make dirt eating no longer appealing by offering much more appealing distractions that will cause your dog to make wise choices.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


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    • smcopywrite profile image


      8 years ago from all over the web

      absolutely wonderful hub. full of great information for any dog owner. thanks for sharing.voted up

    • kat11 profile image


      8 years ago from Illinois

      I did not know that thanks for the insight. Although my dog doesn't dig I have had ones in the past that did. Great Hub

      Voted up


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