Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt?
If you share your life and home with a dog, you’ve no doubt walked in on them chowing down on some pretty odd stuff. But have you ever noticed your dog eat dirt?
Just as humans can have pica, a condition where nonfood items are habitually ingested, our canine pals can sometimes exhibit the same behavior. Why do dogs do this and should you be worried if your dog is eating dirt? Keep reading to find out!
Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt?
There are a variety of reasons why a dog may be eating dirt:
One of the biggest reasons dogs eat dirt is because they are not getting the proper nutrients from their diet. Not all dog food is of high quality, and if you are feeding your pup a low-quality kibble, they may not be getting all of the minerals they need.
Some people cook their dog’s food, which essentially means they are preparing human food for dogs. They mean well, but they are not taking into account that dogs have specific nutritional needs that are different from humans.
And finally, some dogs are underfed and so they eat dirt and other objects because they are hungry.
If you have human kids, you’ve probably caught them doing things that made you want to pull your hair out. When you asked them why they were coloring all over the walls or throwing eggs onto the roof, there’s a good chance they said, “We were bored.”
When your canine kids don’t get enough exercise or interaction with you, they can also become very bored. Some dogs eat dirt because it’s “something to do.”
There are also dogs with separation anxiety that may eat dirt when their humans are gone from the house and they are feeling stressed.
There are several medical issues that may cause your dog to eat dirt:
Anemia is a medical condition that develops with a low red blood cell count. In dogs, anemia has a variety of causes such as hookworms, a flea infestation, cancer, tick disease and bleeding disorders.
Portosystemic (Liver) Shunt
Shunts are a rare congenital disease (from birth) in which an abnormal blood vessel is created to bypass your dog’s liver. When the liver does not receive enough blood, it cannot function properly.
Gastritis (Inflammation of the Stomach)
When a dog has an upset stomach they will often eat grass to try and make themselves vomit. If grass is not readily available, they may instead eat dirt.
Is Eating Dirt Bad for Dogs?
While eating dirt may seem like a harmless activity, it can actually be a big problem. Here are some reasons why eating dirt can be dangerous for your dog:
When dogs eat nonfood items like dirt, rocks and sticks, these foreign bodies can become lodged in their esophagus, stomach, or intestines. This is called a gastrointestinal (GI) obstruction. Surgery is often needed to treat an obstruction.
Symptoms of a GI obstruction include:
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased appetite
- Vomiting up food or water within minutes of eating or drinking
As a general rule, should you ever catch your dog eating a foreign object, you will want to get them to your vet or an emergency vet clinic ASAP. This will allow the vet to induce vomiting in your dog, prevent a possible obstruction.
Eating dirt also means your dog may be exposed to harmful toxins such as pesticides and fertilizers. If you see your dog eating dirt or grass from a lawn that you believe has been treated with pesticides or fertilizer, it is highly recommended that you call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 or ASPCA Poison Control at 888-426-4435 immediately. They will be able to tell you whether your dog may need immediate medical care.
And finally, if your dog eats dirt, they are more likely to ingest soil-dwelling parasites such as Capilliaria, Giardia, Hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. They may also wind up ingesting fleas, which can then transmit a parasite called tapeworms.
What to Do If Your Dog Is Eating Dirt
Eating a little bit of dirt every once in a while will likely not be harmful to your dog, but you will still want to discourage them from doing it. You will want to speak with your vet to ensure your dog is getting the proper nutrition. You’ll also want to be sure your dog is not bored. Be sure to take them on at least one walk per day to keep them active and engaged. If you believe your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, you’ll want to speak with your vet to decide what the right treatment plan will be. You may also want to work with a dog behaviorist to learn ways you can ease your dog’s anxiety.
If your dog is not eating a little bit of dirt but seems to have an obsession with eating dirt or they have suddenly started this behavior, you will definitely want to bring them in to the vet to see what the underlying cause may be.
So why do dogs eat dirt? For a variety of reasons. It could be that they are bored, that they are not getting enough to eat or are not getting the right nutrition, or there could be an underlying medical condition like anemia that is causing the behavior.
While a little dirt every once in a while won’t likely hurt them, you want to do your best to prevent the behavior by ensuring they are getting the right diet and nutrition, exercising them, and alleviating any anxiety they may have. And if you do these things and your dog is still eating a fair amount of dirt, get them into your vet to discover any underlying medical conditions.
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- Petmd: https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/what-causes-pica-dogs
- WebMD Pet Blog: https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/dog-nutrition
- VCA Animal Hospitals: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/portosystemic-shunt-in-dogs
- The American Kennel Club: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/bowel-obstruction-in-dogs/