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Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt? The Dirty Truth About Pica in Dogs

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Does your dog ever go out in nature, sniff around, and then suddenly decide to make a meal out of the soil? Dogs do some pretty weird stuff sometimes, but there’s usually a concrete reason why they exhibit many seemingly odd behaviors like eating dirt.

So why do dogs eat dirt? Is this a random behavior they have developed? If you see your dog snacking on dirt, take a look at how much dirt they’re eating and how often to figure out whether this is just a phase or there’s an underlying health issue at hand.

If you’ve seen your dog eat dirt once or twice but haven’t seen them make a habit of it, you don’t have much to worry about. They’re probably just being curious. But if it seems like your dog is eating dirt all the time, you might have a problem.

This article will explain what dirt eating means for your dog’s health, why they picked up the messy habit, and how dog parents can help their canine kick the habit and stick with dog food.

Pica: The #1 Culprit Behind Dirt Eating

Why do dogs eat dirt: A dog looks at the ground

If dogs have a condition called “pica,” they will eat dirt like it’s dog food. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, pica is “an eating disorder that involves eating items that are not typically thought of as food and that do not contain significant nutritional value, such as hair, dirt, and paint chips.”

In other words, if your dog is eating anything that’s not considered edible, they might have pica. Pica can be an emotionally driven condition caused by overwhelming feelings of boredom, anxiety, or stress.

A dog who’s afraid of being alone and has separation anxiety, for example, might compulsively eat dirt, destroy a room, or tear their chew toys to shreds when left at home with nothing to do.

Pica in dogs can take a turn for the worse if they swallow an item that is toxic to dogs, is too large and gets lodged in their digestive tract, or is disruptive to the normal digestive process. Some dogs with pica might not eat dirt, though.

Dr. Kelly Black, faculty coordinator of veterinary technology at Cedar Valley College, told PetMD that dogs with pica often eat items that carry the scent of their owner. “Things like socks, underwear, and pantyhose seem to be more frequent than others,” she said. “Towels and washcloths are also very common, as well as parts of dog beds if they have one.”

Is your dog’s pica only directed at dirt? Keep reading to learn how to help your dog start making dietary and behavioral changes. If not, your pup could do a lot of unwanted landscaping in your yard.

What Dirt Eating Says About Your Dog’s Diet

Why do dogs eat dirt: A dog in the woods

Why do dogs eat dirt? One common reason is because Fido isn’t getting a balanced diet. When dogs miss out on specific nutrients in their diet, they seek them out by eating non-food items like dirt.

If a dog gets only homemade meals rather than an AAFCO-certified balanced dog food, or if they get a low-quality dog food, then the pup suffering from pica is likely lacking in the balanced-diet department.

Some dog owners choose to make their own dog food because it’s more affordable, or because they don’t trust commercial dog food and prefer to know everything that’s going into their furry companion’s meals. The problem with some homemade dog food, however, is that it can have trace vitamin or mineral deficiencies that hinder a dog’s overall digestive system.

While a homemade diet, if done right, can be good for your dog, the food needs to have the right balance of ingredients that contain the proper vitamins and minerals Fido needs. If you go the homemade route, make an appointment with your vet or a veterinary nutritionist to discuss the right ingredients.

Also consider adding in health supplements to avoid a nutritional deficiency. Your dog is likely eating all that dirt to make up for whatever core nutrients are lacking in their regular food. The solution? Change your dog’s diet.

If this sounds like a major hassle, don’t worry. You might not have to change your dog’s food entirely. Sometimes a minor alteration like including a daily probiotic supplement or chew in addition to their regular food can work wonders for a vitamin deficiency or digestive problem.

Remember that dogs’ gastrointestinal tracts are pretty sensitive and can be easily upset, especially when they eat things that aren’t typical food items. Probiotic dog treats and supplements promote healthy digestion and intestinal health to keep your dog regular and prevent an upset stomach.

Before jumping into a major change in your pup’s meals, reach out to your veterinarian.  A vet will be able to point you in the right direction to learn about what nutrients, and how much, need to be included in your dog’s daily food intake.

Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt? Is It a Behavioral Problem?

Why do dogs eat dirt: A dirty dog carries a stick

If your dog is getting balanced nutrition, and you’re still asking yourself, “why does my dog eat dirt? Instead of a diet issue, are they just trying to be playfully mischievous?” If you’ve ruled out medical or dietary reasons for your dog’s dirt-eating habits, then you might have a behavioral issue on your hands.

Have you ever heard a pet owner use the phrase, “A tired dog is a happy dog“? Well, when a dog has excess energy because they’re not getting enough exercise or playtime, they tend to get naughty.

Behavioral issues typically stem from boredom. Energetic dogs suffering from boredom get into trouble. In order to avoid the headaches that come with behavioral issues, you need to make sure they’re getting enough exercise and enrichment throughout the day.

In addition to making sure they’re getting enough physical exercise, one of the best ways to combat bad behavior is by using positive reinforcement training. If your dog begins to eat dirt, distract them immediately by making a loud noise like clapping your hands or try giving a verbal command that asks for a different behavior. (Never use punishment. Punishment can lead to them fearing you instead of learning the correct behavior. Punishment is not a long-term solution to the problem.)

Follow this command with lots and lots of praise when they stop eating and start staying away from the dirt. As soon as you get their attention, give them a treat or a toy. Make that toy or pet food seem as exciting as possible so they completely forget about the dirt.

If these methods do not work and your dog still won’t stop eating dirt, block off the soil-rich areas of your yard by installing barriers around them. Consider seeking the help of an animal behaviorist, DVM, or trainer to find the right solution.

How to Curb Your Dog’s Dirt Eating

Dirt-eating can wreak havoc on a dog’s body. Whether your dog has a dietary deficiency, a medical problem like pica, or a behavioral issue related to this habit, it’s important that you get it checked out.

Remember to ensure your dog is getting a sufficient amount of mental stimulation and physical exercise. This will help you and your dog avoid behavioral problems that arise out of boredom like eating dirt.

In addition, reevaluate your dog’s diet. Take a look at what nutrients and minerals they require and see if they’re getting what they need. Moving forward, get in touch with a veterinarian. Your vet is the best point of contact to determine what’s right for your dog’s diet and health.