If you are the proud owner of a canine companion, you have more than likely caught your dog eating dirt at one time or another. In fact, dogs have a funny habit of eating all kinds of unsavory items. From rocks to toilet water, dogs have an insatiable need to test new things by way of the mouth. But, why do they do this? You buy them such fancy organic dog food! Why on earth would they choose dirt over designer kibble? Well, worry not! In this article, we are going to answer the perilous question, “why do dogs eat dirt?”
Pica In Dogs
Before we get into the dirty details, let’s go over the general term for when dogs eat bad and/or strange things. “Pica” is known as the condition when dogs crave non-food items. There is no limit to the range of odd things veterinarians have found in dogs. Fish hooks, rubber duckies, batteries, hockey pucks, and coins are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In one curious case, a Golden Retriever swallowed a large outdoor Christmas light bulb. Crazier still, these items were found completely intact. Meaning, these dogs swallowed these items whole.
Clearly, pica can cause dogs to crave a number of odd, or downright dangerous items. Furthermore, a common response to pica cravings causes dogs to eat socks, underwear, towels, and the like. In that case, dogs are attracted to the scent of their owner. One veterinarian even found over 40 socks in a Great Dane’s stomach.
Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt?
Now you know, if your dog is eating dirt, they are in good company. Pica is a condition most dog owners deal with at some point or another. So what actually fuels these strange cravings? Why is your dog so adamant about eating dirt? Well, there are a number of factors that could answer that very question.
Boredom or Acting Out
While this varies based on breed, most dog’s require high levels of physical activity. Often times, if your dog is stuck inside all day and is only getting out for potty breaks, they may use eating dirt as a form of rebellion. Furthermore, your dog may simply be bored. Think about it in terms of your own experiences. It is highly common for people to eat simply out of boredom. Dogs are no different.
If you notice your dog eating dirt regularly, make an effort to get more playtime in. Go on long walks, have them run around the park, or take a doggie socialization class. Just like people, dogs need physical and mental stimulation.
Smells Like Leftovers
Dogs have incredibly keen senses of smell. They identify their owners, choose where to mark their territory, and naturally, decide what to eat based on scent. In terms of dirt, there can be a major party of smells on the ground. Sometimes, dogs will sniff around and find discarded or dropped food left in the grass. This is especially common in public parks, or even on sidewalks.
While you cannot control the environment of the great outdoors, you can be aware of your own exterior spaces. For example, if you have a backyard with a grill or cooking space. Be careful when cooking outside, because your dog will undoubtedly smell any oils or dropped food around or under your grill. Be especially careful about this while the grill is still hot. You don’t want your dog eating dirt and getting burned in the process.
Interestingly enough, eating dirt may be your dogs attempt to self-soothe stomach pains. If they have eaten dirt before, they have more than likely vomited as a result. Your dog likely remembers this response and may eat dirt to try and purge unsavory tummy aches. Dogs truly are smarter than we give them credit for.
Dirt acts as a sort of “internal scrub” that helps clean out the intestines. The result is a messy one, producing vomit or diarrhea. However, dirt can be an effective way purge unsettled tummies. Therefore, if you suspect your dog is eating dirt in response to residual stomach issues, consult your vet immediately.
Sadly, a number of mainstream dog foods do not contain the appropriate balance of nutrients a dog really needs. Many brands pad their ingredients with fillers like grains, corn, and other complex carbohydrates. While carbs provide us humans with energy, dogs get all of their energy from protein. Therefore, if and when dogs turn to dirt and soil for eating, they are likely trying to fill a nutritional void in their diets.
If you suspect this may be the root of your dog’s dirt-eating desire, talk to your vet today about how you can improve your dog’s nutritional balance.
Balanced Canine Nutrition
Speaking of balanced diets, what are the essential elements of canine nutrition? In short, dogs need six primary elements in their diets.
- Protein – As previously mentioned protein is essential for energy production. Good protein sources are lean meats, fish, eggs, lentils, and beans.
- Water – An essential part of every body, water is responsible for distributing nutrients, flushing waste, regulating body temperature, maintaining healthy hydration levels.
- Healthy Fats – Essential fatty acids like Omega 3’s are a great source of healthy fats. They protect organs and encourage a healthy nervous system.
- Vitamins – Various vitamins provide different benefits. Whether from vitamin-rich plant sources or dog-friendly supplements, vitamins are an essential element to a canine diet.
- Minerals – Elements like iron, zinc, and calcium provide essential body function. Strong and healthy bones and immune systems are a product of minerals.
- Carbohydrates – While carbs are not vital to a canine diet, certain carb sources provide the added benefit of vitamins and antioxidants. Sweet potatoes are a popular and healthy choice for dog food.
Consult your vet on the best balance of nutrients for your dog’s unique needs. There are a number of healthy pre-made options, DIY recipes, or you may even consider a raw dog food diet.
Sign of Bigger Health Issues
Finally, dogs may be eating dirt in response to a deeper health concern. Similar to the aforementioned need to supplement nutrients, dogs suffering certain diseases or parasites may turn to dirt to aid their ailing bodies. Eating dirt, and other pica-related incidents may be influenced by:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells)
- Neurological disease
- Intestinal parasites (roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, etc)
- Increased hunger
- Thyroid disease
- Vitamin deficiency
Please do not mistake the one-off instance of your dog eating dirt to mean they have a traumatic brain disorder. More than likely, the issue at hand is much smaller. However, repeated and regular instances of pica may be a symptom of a larger issue. If your dog is regularly eating dirt or other foreign objects, consult your vet immediately.
Diagnosing Pica in Dogs
As a reminder, pica is the condition resulting in dogs craving non-food items, like dirt. There is not a specific test to confirm pica in dogs, instead, pica is confirmed by the behavior itself. However, if pica is the result of an underlying condition, your vet can run the appropriate tests to determine what the issue really is.
As a devoted pet owner, you should always be aware of your dog’s general temperament. That way, when and if there is a sudden change in their behavior, you will be able to notice. Dog’s have big personalities and when and if they alter their habits, it could be a sign something isn’t right.
Treating Pica in Dogs
In order to treat any issue, you have to know the cause of it. If your dogs odd eating habits are a result of an underlying health issue, your treatment plan will be adjusted accordingly. Once your vet determines what medical ailment is at hand, they can easily provide an effective treatment plan.
On the other hand, if your dog is eating dirt because they are bored, acting out, or anxious, you simply need to satisfy those needs. Be sure your dog is getting enough attention both physically and emotionally. It is essential to give your dog appropriate daily exercise and playtime. Furthermore, you want to be sure you are not leaving your dog for too long and encouraging separation anxiety.
Preventing Pica in Dogs
As always, prevention is the most effective form of treatment. If you find your dog likes chewing on your socks, make a point to keep them off of the floor or other easy to reach places. You should always “puppy proof” your house before you have any dog in your home. Remove any and all small items from sight to remove any and all temptation.
On the other hand, you obviously cannot remove the dirt from the ground outside. So when you go on walks or play outside, be sure to keep a constant eye on your dog. If and when they begin to chew at the grass or dirt, clap loudly or say “no!”. Eventually, they will learn to associate eating dirt as a bad thing.
Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt: The Bottom Line
Whether leftover BBQ is lingering around the grill or your dog is lacking essential nutrients, sometimes dogs eat dirt. As a devoted dog owner, there are a number of previously mentioned ways you can prevent this from happening. At the end of the day, a balanced diet, essential exercise, and constant emotional love will help your dog have a long, happy, and healthy life.