Diet problems

Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt?

Ameera Mills
By Ameera Mills. Updated: June 20, 2024
Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt?

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Eating dirt is not an abnormal behavior of dogs, but it doesn't mean it is healthy. We need to look at the context. If they munch up a little loose dirt while rummaging in the garden, this could simply be due to curiosity. This is a different behavior to repeatedly eating dirt and provoking serious gastrointestinal disorders. Whether it is due to curiosity or a pathology, there is always a reason why a dog eats inedible matter. In addition to the context of the behavior, we need to look at any behavioral or physical symptoms which may accompany eating dirt.

At AnimalWised, we help you to best assess why my dog is eating dirt? We look at the most common causes for this behavior in dogs and what to do if your dog's health is threatened.

You may also be interested in: Why My Dog Only Eats From My Hands?
  1. Why do dogs eat dirt?
  2. Poor diet
  3. Nutritional deficiencies
  4. Gastrointestinal disease
  5. Boredom and stress
  6. Pica syndrome
  7. Demand for attention
  8. Why does my dog eat sand?
  9. How to stop a dog from eating dirt

Why do dogs eat dirt?

Dogs do not have hands like humans. They use their mouths to explore their environment, something which is very important in the wild. By smelling and even tasting matter in their environment, they can determine the location of prey and assess for dangers. They may pick up some dirt in the process, but they will not usually eat it. It is also possible they eat something with dirt on it, but we only see them eating the dirt.

A dog eating dirt as a form of exploratory behavior is infrequent. They will not eat a lot and they will not continue to do it. When a dog is eating dirt frequently or even developing health problems because of it, then we know there is a problem which needs to be addressed. These problems include:

  • Poor diet
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Boredom and stress
  • Pica syndrome
  • Demand for attention

We look at each of these reasons why a dog is eating dirt in more detail below:

Poor diet

The food we provide a dog must be suitable for the dog's individual needs. Domestic dogs are not obligate carnivores like felines, but they do require a diet based on animal protein. It is possible to provide a dog with a vegetarian diet, but this will need to be supplemented with nutrients which are naturally provided by animal protein.

While there are certain requirements that apply to the canine diet generally, each dog is an individual. They may have specific needs which are determined by their age, health status and other factors. If we do not provide them with the correct diet, they will become nutritionally deficient. In these cases, they may seek other sources to provide what they lack. While dirt may not actually provide them what they need, they may eat it as they feel they have no other choice.

In these cases, we need to assess the dog's dietary needs. Speak to a veterinarian. They may be able to solve the issue or they may make a referral to a canine nutritionist.

Learn more about what makes a healthy diet for dogs in our related guide.

Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt? - Poor diet

Nutritional deficiencies

Dogs that have nutritional deficiencies will look to other sources for the nutrients they lack. This is one of the reasons dogs eat dirt. While it may be inedible, soil contains various nutrients which the dog may be able to sense with their acute olfactory ability.

It is important to know that we may provide our dog a poor diet accidentally. We might give them a comprehensive diet which is suitable for most dogs, but ours has a nutritional deficiency which requires us to amend their diet accordingly. In these cases, the dog may have a health problem which means they need to change the food they eat. This could be eliminating something from it as much as adding something else.

Such health problems include kidney disorders, hormonal syndromes or anemia which result in nutritional issues. In these cases, we will need to speak to a veterinarian. They will first be able to diagnose the problem and prescribe the correct corresponding treatment. This may include managing the problem with a dietary change. Learn about a possible treatment course with our article on diet and care for dogs with anemia.

Gastrointestinal disease

Sometimes the reason a dog eats dirt is because they have a gastrointestinal disorder and don't know how to treat it. By eating the dirt, they may think they are able to relieve the discomfort and pain it causes. They may try to make themselves vomit or remove a blockage. In these cases we may see other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite and others.

This will also require veterinary diagnosis. Once the veterinarian has been able to diagnose the problem, they will be able to administer the correct treatment. For example, a dog may have a blockage which needs to be surgically removed. They may have a parasitical infestation which is causing GI upset and will require deworming agents to kill them.

Going to a veterinarian in these cases is so important. If we try to treat them ourselves with home remedies, we may make the situation worse and delay proper treatment.

Learn about a relatively common gastrointestinal disease that may lead to a dog eating dirt with our article on inflammatory bowel syndrome in dogs.

Boredom and stress

Physical disorders can result in a dog eating dirt to compensate, but so too can psychological problems. If a dog is bored or stressed, they can result to behavioral problems which manifest in various ways. Some dogs may be destructive and eat our shoes. Others may bark too much and others still might start eating dirt.

Various situations can result in this psychological stress. Dogs are creatures of habit so either disturbances to their routine or a lack of established routine altogether may result in the dog eating dirt. Moving home, a new member of the family or even relatively minor changes to their care can manifest in this way. The dog eats dirt because they need to relieve the frustration caused by the stressful situation.

Treatment will require determining the cause. For example, if they start this behavior when you adopt another dog, it is clear they will need some help with socialization. In many cases, it can be difficult to determine the underlying cause. For this reason, we may need the help of an ethologist to assess the dog and their needs.

Learn how to socialize an adult dog with our related guide.

Pica syndrome

When a dog compulsively eats something which is not food, it may be due to a psychological issue. Pica syndrome is somewhat comparable to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in humans. A dog feels compelled to eat something which either provides no benefit or even poses a serious health risk. This is often in the form of blockages occurring in the digestive tract.

Pica syndrome in dogs can be due to the previously mentioned issues. It becomes a compulsive behavior in dogs because these issues have not been treated. It is a chronic condition and it often requires the assistance of a professional ethologist.

Take a look at our article on why a dog licks metal to learn more.

Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt? - Pica syndrome

Demand for attention

The final reason why a dog may eat dirt is because we are not providing the right level of care. Different dogs will have different levels of need for attention. The amount we give one may be too much or too little for another. Similar to boredom or stress, dogs which are insufficiently stimulated on a physical or cognitive level will develop behavioral problems.

In this case, the dog eats first because they know we will respond to it. If we have stopped a dog eating dirt before, it means doing this draws our attention. Even if it is negative attention, a dog that is desperate to be noticed may do anything they can to get through to us. In these cases, we will need to walk them more, spend more time with them and provide more affection in general.

Why does my dog eat sand?

Dogs that live near the ocean or have access to sand may begin to eat it. This can become a serious health problem if not addressed in time. Dogs that eat sand may develop additional problems such as diarrhea, vomiting, weakness and/or excessive thirst. In addition, sand can contain small stones, plastic debris, cigarettes and other dangerous inorganic materials.

The reasons that can trigger this behavior are the same which lead a dog to eat dirt. Due to the high levels of pollution at the beach, sand can often be worse. It is also a harder substance and can result in more serious gastrointestinal issues. It will need to be stopped immediately.

Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt? - Why does my dog eat sand?

How to stop a dog from eating dirt

The first thing you need to do is visit your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. A veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate management guidelines and medication according to the root cause of this behavior. In general, we can provide some tips to help you avoid your dog eating dirt to ensure that your pup is living both a happy and healthy life:

  • Preventive medicine: in addition to visiting your veterinarian regularly, do not forget to follow your dog’s regular vaccination and deworming schedule. For more, read about the importance of deworming animals.
  • A daily routine: dogs like routine. Try to offer food, exercise and attention at the same time.
  • Balanced diet: offering your dog a high quality balanced diet will guarantee its nutritional needs are met. Make sure the proportions of your dog’s food are correct. In the case of changing your pup’s diet, remember that this should be done gradually, over the period of one or two weeks.
  • Prevent your dog from accessing dirt: keep pots away from the ground and make sure to supervise your dog when outside.
  • Do not punish your dog: avoid scolding your dog when they eat dirt. As we’ve already mentioned, demand for attention is one of the main causes of this pica behavior in dogs. Make sure to only use positive reinforcement and play with your dog regularly. Discover the importance of positive reinforcement in dogs here.

Is your dog eating dirt and throwing up? In this case, there’s a possibility your dog has ingested an unsafe and toxic substance. In serious cases, you will see your dog become lethargic, stop moving and eventually go into shock. Even in lesser cases, it can threaten your dog's well-being. You will need to consult your vet as soon as possible as they can stabilize them and provide any necessary treatment, including surgery.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt?, we recommend you visit our Diet problems category.

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Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt?