What is a dog lacking when it eats dirt? A Step-by-Step Guide

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As a pet owner, you may have caught your dog eating (or attempting to eat) some pretty weird stuff. But have you ever observed your pet snacking on straight-up dirt?

Holistic veterinarian Dr. Laurie S. Coger, DVM, explains, “Dirt eating is a form of what is termed ‘pica,’ the ingestion of nonfood materials. There are many causes, including nutritional, behavioral, and physical. Stress or boredom can also lead to eating all sorts of things, including dirt.”

If your dog is continually eating dirt, you shouldn’t discount this behavior. It could be a sign of a bigger issue, such as:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Nutritional imbalances or deficiencies, especially in minerals
  • Low-quality food
  • Upset stomach
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Dr. Coger notes that while stomach and gastrointestinal issues could be to blame for your dog’s interest in dirt, canines are more likely to seek out grass in these cases. “If [the dirt eating] is frequent, intense/manic in nature, or large quantities are consumed, then it’s time to go to the vet,” she says. “Changes in stool would be another sign that a vet visit is in order. Bloodwork to look for underlying abnormalities may be helpful in pinpointing a cause.”

    What is a dog lacking when it eats dirt?

    As you may expect, there are risks to letting your dog continually eat dirt. The main risk is impaction of the intestine (hardened stool that gets stuck in the body due to long-term constipation) if your dog eats a lot at once. Impaction often means surgery. “

    The dirt could also contain pesticides, fertilizers, or other toxins that could reach toxic levels if enough dirt was ingested,” Dr. Coger adds. “Depending on the dirt, dental damage or wear could also be a concern.” If the dirt has rocks in it, for example, it could cause damage to your dog’s teeth and cause obstruction in the throat or any point along the digestive tract. Sharp sticks could puncture the linings of your dog’s mouth, throat, intestine, or stomach. It’s also possible that your dog could ingest a parasite along with the dirt, which can cause a range of additional health issues.

    “I would add that any new, unnatural behavior, such as dirt eating, should be acted upon quickly,” Dr. Coger says, “both because of possible serious underlying causes and before it becomes a habit. Dogs will learn from other dogs in the house, and who wants a houseful of dirt eaters?”

    What is a dog lacking when it eats dirt?

    If you’re worried that your dog’s dirt eating is due to a nutritional imbalance, you should consult your veterinarian about your canine companion’s diet and whether changes need to be made. On the behavior side, make sure your dog is getting enough physical and mental exercise to curb dirt eating that stems from boredom. If all else fails, “denying access to favorite dirt-eating areas may be required,” Dr. Coger says. Remember, dirt eating may be a sign of something bigger, so you should never ignore it.

    Find food that fits your pet’s needs

    Dogs will eat all sorts of things, but eating dirt might be one that gives you cause for concern. However, eating dirt is a fairly common behavior among dogs. When pooches eat non-food items, whether dirt, grass, rocks, sticks or garbage, they may be diagnosed with a condition called pica, which just means that your dog is eating non-food items. If the only non-food item they eat is dirt, then they might have what is referred to as geophagia, according to Wag! But is your dogs dirt eating just a strange habit or should you be concerned?

    Heres why your dog might feel compelled to chow down on dirt and why you should take the behavior seriously.

    Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt? Possible Explanations

    Dogs eat dirt for a number of reasons. The desire for munching on soil might be boredom or stress, or it could simply be because they smelled something tasty mixed in the mud. But it could also signal an underlying health problem or a lack of proper nutrition, says the American Kennel Club(AKC). Compulsive geophagia might be a sign that your pooch has one of the following issues.

    Anemia in dogs is a condition marked by low blood cell count or hemoglobin levels. According to CertaPet, anemia can be caused by a nutritional imbalance. An anemic dog may instinctively turn to eating dirt in an attempt to restore any deficiencies causing this condition. The only way to reliably diagnose anemia is through blood work tests.

    Even without anemia, a nutritional imbalance alone could spur your pooch to gobble dirt. Eating dirt can be a sign that your dog isnt getting enough of the essential minerals they need for good health. Or, a hormonal issue could be preventing your dog from absorbing the minerals and nutrients in their food. Nutritional imbalances are very rare in healthy dogs, so make sure to talk to your veterinarian about choosing the best dog food for your pup.

    Dogs might also turn to eating dirt in an attempt to soothe an upset stomach or rumbling bowels. However, if your dog is having tummy issues, theyre more likely to eat grass, says the AKC. Its possible that in a dogs zeal to wolf down the grass, some dirt might get added to the mix.

    Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt (and how to stop them!)

    Dogs are very busy. Despite the limited number of hours in the day, dogs make time to jump on the furniture, have their stomachs rubbed by doting owners, investigate other dogs, mark their territories everywhere that they go, and offer their owner a toy—just to rip it frantically away. Usually, we can accept the reasons behind our puppies’ weird behaviors, no questions asked. After all, we’re suckers for a good tail-wag. However, there are some doggy habits that are especially hard to understand—like when our dogs finish digging their holes and begin shoveling dirt into their mouths. In these moments, were left asking, “why do dogs eat dirt?!”