Do you sometimes ask yourself why dogs do some crazy things? Like eating poop, eating used tampons, scouring during garbage cans, eating grass, and of course eating dirt?
Well, while all these quirky behaviors can be quite upsetting, there are concerning reasons why they do it. So, why does your dog eat dirt, and is there a way you can help stop the habit?
Why does my dog eat dirt?
Dogs eat dirt for a number of reasons, including behavioral and health-related issues. Your dog could be eating dirt due to nutrient deficiencies, underlying health issues, behavioral problems, or because they find dirt tasty. Dogs can eat dirt for one or a combination of these reasons.
Now that you understand why your dog loves to eat dirt, let’s have a look at each of these reasons for a better understanding.
1. Nutrient Deficiency
Your dog could be eating dirt as a way to compensate for nutrient deficiencies in its diet. If your dog is not getting enough minerals, vitamins, and good probiotic bacteria from its diet, it will look for alternative sources, dirt being one of them.
Nutrient deficiencies often arise as a result of pet owners feeding their dogs poorly-made, low-quality home diets in place of high-quality commercial dog foods. Most home-made, cooked dog foods are devoid of essential micronutrients, and dogs will have to resort to eating dirt to get what they’re missing.
It’s important to note that dogs can still suffer from nutrient deficiency issues even when being fed commercial dog foods. Not all nutrients listed as part of the ingredients of commercial dog foods are available to dogs. Sometimes the dog’s body cannot absorb enough nutrients from the food and eventually suffer from nutrient deficiency.
2. Underlying Health Issues
An underlying health issue can also be the reason your dog is eating dirt. Medical conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Hypothyroidism, Endocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth can manifest in dogs eating dirt.
Inflammation in the bowel can cause bleeding or ulcerations along the bowel, which could lead to anemia. Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome is also characterized by a decreased absorption of B vitamins, which could explain why dogs would eat dirt to solve a nutrient deficiency problem.
Thyroid hormone helps stimulate the production of red blood cells by the bone marrow. However, a dog suffering from hypothyroidism or a decreased production of thyroid hormone will suffer from anemia because the bone marrow is not getting stimulated to produce enough red blood cells. Anemia can also be a result of bleeding tumors, intestinal parasites, gastrointestinal ulcers, and chronic kidney disease.
One or a combination of these health issues can cause decreased absorption of nutrients, which could force the dog to eat dirt to bridge the nutritional gap. It’s recommended to take your dog for routine blood checks to make sure no chronic health issue goes unnoticed.
3. Behavioral Issues
Just like humans display strange habits when they are bored or stressed, including overeating, hair twirling, and knuckle cracking, dogs also have strange habits when they are in stressful situations or bored. Dogs love to go out, play and run around, but getting stuck in one place for long periods of time can be boring if not stressful.
As you wonder why your dog eats dirt all the time, find out if they are stressed or bored. Are they lacking enough playtime or exercise? Do they stay in the kennel most of the time and afforded little proper social interactions? Do they stay home alone for long periods of time? All these issues can make a dog stressed and bored.
Apart from stress and boredom being among the reasons why dogs eat dirt, a compulsive disorder can make dogs eat dirt repeatedly. According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, who practices at Veterinary Behavior at Illinois, dogs do suffer from compulsive disorders (not obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) because obsession cannot be confirmed in dogs).
Dr. Ballantyne notes that compulsive disorders can have a medical or behavioral basis. For example;
- Many dogs that excessively lick themselves may have an underlying dermatologic or orthopedic condition.
- Dogs that constantly lick the base of their tails or spin in circles may have anal sacculitis (inflammation of the anal glands).
- Fly snapping, i.e. when a dog looks in the air and makes a grabbing motion with its mouths as though it is catching an imaginary fly can be a sign of gastrointestinal pain or seizure symptom.
Dirt eating can also be a compulsive disorder. If you suspect your dog is suffering from a compulsive disorder, consult an animal behaviorist or a holistic vet as quickly as possible.
4. Dogs Find Dirt Appealing
According to dog behaviorist Russel Hartstein, CEO of Fun Paw Care, dogs are carrion animals, which means they like pungent, vile-smelling things. Dogs naturally love to scavenge and forage, and they find dirt to have an interesting smell & taste and is good to chew on.
If your dog is not experiencing any nutritional deficiencies or underlying health issues but they can’t stop eating dirt, it could be that they are fascinated by how dirt smells and tastes. This might not sound appealing to you, but it’s a totally different story to your fluffy friend.
5. Stomach Upset
Another reason dogs eat dirt is when suffering from a stomach upset. Some types of clay help soothe digestive problems, get rid of intestinal parasites, and detoxify the body. If a dog is eating dirt due to a stomach upset, it could be doing so to get whatever is in the digestive tract out either by pushing it through or throwing up.
Dirt also acts as a mild abrasive that scrubs the inside of the intestines and can stimulate intestinal contractions to help move material through the digestive tract quickly. However, you should consult your vet if persistent stomach upset is the reason your dog is eating dirt.
How to tell if your dog has been eating dirt
If your pet’s mouth, face, head, tongue, and nose are full of dirt, it could be a clear sign your dog has been eating dirt. The dog’s stool can also help you know if they’ve been eating dirt. You will notice color changes and parts of the stool will be made of inedible, indigestible things.
How to stop your dog from eating dirt
Some of the things you can do to stop your dog from eating dirt include:
1. Leash training
Put your dog on the leash and train them to look upright whenever you’re taking a walk. If you notice your dog is sniffing around and trying to eat dirt, distract them with a cue and reinforce the new behavior with a treat. Make sure the reward is more appealing than the temptation to eat dirt.
2. Do not let them roam around unsupervised
If you’re going to release your dog from its leash and let them roam around in the yard, it’s better if you keep an eye on them to know what they are doing. Leaving them unsupervised could tempt them into eating dirt out of boredom. You should provide them interactive toys to play with or restrict them with a crate if you cannot be there to watch them.
3. Make sure they get a balanced diet
You should also ensure your dog is getting all the nutrients it needs from its food. As noted above, nutritional deficiencies happen to be one of the reasons dogs eat dirt. It’s ideal to use high-quality commercial dog foods, including raw dog food for them to get all the nutrients they need.
P.S: If your dog is still eating dirt despite the training and treats, it would be best to consult your vet. They will check and test your dog to make sure there are no health or nutritional issues reinforcing the behavior.
We now believe you understand the reasons why your dog eats dirt. It could be a behavioral thing or an underlying medical condition could be the reason. You should also train your dog to stop eating dirt, but if they continue eating dirt even after training and when on a leash, seeing a vet for checkups is the best thing to do.
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