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dog parent must-knows

Why do dogs eat dirt, and when should you worry?

Dogs eat dirt for a variety of reasons, and most of them aren’t cause for alarm — but what’s in the dirt could be!

Updated August 24, 2021

Created By

Jared Wilder,

📷 by Patrick Hendry

The essentials

  • Geophagia is common — Many dogs will eat dirt from time to time.
  • It can be harmful — When dogs eat dirt, they could consume parasites, chemicals, or sharp objects.
  • Watch for patterns and habits — If your dog eats dirt more than once or twice, plan to take them to the vet for evaluation.

Two important terms: Geophagia and pica

When you research or talk to other pet parents about your dog eating dirt, two disorders will probably come up — pica and geophagia. It’s important to understand the meaning of both.

Pica is a disorder where a dog eats non-food items such as rocks, grass, or dirt. If a dog is only compulsively consuming dirt or soil, it’s known as geophagia. Both of these disorders can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, behavioral issues, or medical conditions. 

👉  If this behavior is new or unusual for your dog, it’s important to consult with your vet immediately. 

Why do dogs eat dirt in the first place?

Important to establish whether your dog’s dirt-eating is behavioral or being caused by an underlying medical condition. 

Behavioral causes

  • Boredom. Dogs that aren’t getting enough exercise may eat dirt simply because they’re bored, just like they might tear up furniture indoors. 
  • Stress. Dogs that experience stress or separation anxiety react in many different ways; one common stress response is eating things like dirt. 
  • Curiosity. This is most often the case with puppies. Just like babies, young puppies are intrigued by many things. Getting a little taste of dirt is one of the quickest ways for a puppy to figure out what it is. Sometimes, there might be something in the dirt that smells good and your dog simply wants to check it out. 

Medical conditions

  • Anemia. Low red blood cell counts lead animals to seek out nutrients in any way they can, including consuming dirt.
  • Diet issues. If your pup is lacking in key vitamins and nutrients, they may instinctively seek those nutrients out by eating dirt. Because soil contains calcium, iron, and other necessary minerals, it’s one of the easiest ways for dogs to get these minerals when they lack a balanced diet.
  • Stomach trouble. Bacteria, viruses, or toxins in your pup’s gut may cause them to eat dirt. Your dog might be feeling sick and eating dirt is an instinctive response to help induce vomiting. 

Is eating dirt bad for your dog?

Eating dirt isn’t healthy for your pup. Not only can dirt cause potential internal blockages, your dog could accidentally digest something hiding in the dirt or lawn, such as: 

  • Intestinal parasites. Hookworms, roundworms, or whipworms.

👉  Make sure your pup is up-to-date on their heartworm and intestinal parasite medications to prevent sickness from parasites in the dirt. 

  • Rocks and twigs. These can cause intestinal and throat blockages that may require surgery.
  • Fertilizer. Most fertilizers are toxic to dogs, be sure to keep your dog off your lawn until it’s safe.  
  • Pesticides. Many pesticides are poisonous to both dogs and the environment. Here’s a list of low-risk bug sprays to consider using.

🚨 If your dog is eating dirt, they also might consume mulch. Cocoa bean mulch is toxic to dogs and can result in increased heart rate, hyperactivity, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.

📷 by Maria Gamez

When should you head to the vet?

If your dog eats dirt once or twice, there’s usually no cause for concern. However, if you notice your pup is frequently consuming large amounts of soil, it’s important to take them to the vet. The following are signs that you need to schedule an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian:

  • If your dog is eating dirt frequently (more than once or twice)
  • If they aren’t eating their food 
  • If they’re having irregular bowel movements 
  • They become lethargic or inactive
  • If they have pale gums (this is commonly seen with anemia)

Your vet will examine your pet and run tests if necessary to find and rule out all of the potential causes. They may also check your dog for any internal injuries or blockages that may have occurred from eating dirt. 

👉  Pay attention to how often and how much dirt your dog is eating. This will help your vet determine if there’s an underlying health issue.

How do I stop my dog from eating dirt?

If your dog’s dirt habit is behavioral or being caused by a lack of proper nutrition, here are a few tips:

Keep them entertained — If your pup is eating dirt because they’re bored, they may need more physical exercise: time on walks, playing with toys, etc. A little bit of mental stimulation (and maybe a few brand new chew toys) for your pup can go a long way! We love this interactive dog puzzle by Outward Hound. 

Keep them separated from the area — Avoidance is a crucial step that you should take. If your dog is compulsively eating dirt, do your best to keep them away from the area until you can get them to the vet for evaluation. This may include using a basket muzzle, fencing off the mulched areas in your yard, or keeping your dog indoors any time they can’t be supervised.

Use training and rewards — Positive reinforcement is an essential and effective tool that you have to keep your dog away from dirt and mulch.

Make sure they’re getting proper nutrition — Nutrient deficiencies are a potential cause of geophagia. Consider talking to your vet about switching your dog to a new, well-balanced diet. Also, consider a canine supplement or vitamin that will make up for any deficiencies in your pup’s diet.

👉 Talk to your vet before changing your dog’s diet or starting them on a new supplement. 

Talk to a vet — If your dog won’t stop eating dirt no matter what you do, head to your vet. They’ll be able to examine your pet and, if necessary, run tests and find out if anything more serious is going on, such as intestinal issues, anemia, or another illness.

Frequently asked questions

How can I tell if my dog has pica disorder?

If you observe your dog compulsively eating other objects besides dirt, pica disorder is a likely cause. Look out for other signs of pica including vomiting, diarrhea, and a lack of energy.

👉  If you observe any of these symptoms or suspect your dog has pica or geophagia, schedule an appointment with your vet. 

When should I stop my dog from eating dirt? 

Whether your curious puppy is exploring their new environment or your dog is simply bored, it’s important to discourage them from eating dirt. If you’re unable to get them to stop eating dirt, it’s important to take them to the vet for a visit. Professional trainers can also help you train your pup not to consume dirt if it’s ruled as a behavioral issue.