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Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt?

Picture of a dog outside

It’s certainly not uncommon for a dog parent to see their precious Fido nibbling on the weirdest things. But when that happens with dirt, one might ask themselves if something is wrong. In most cases, this is a sign that the dog is suffering from something called pica, but we’ll discuss more on this condition below. 

In this post, we’ll look at the common causes of this type of behavior and how you can eliminate and prevent it.

So, why do dogs eat dirt?

There are three main causes of this behavior. Some of them are nutritional, meaning that the dog isn’t getting the right nutrients from the food that he/she eats. There are also behavioral causes, but there are also physical ones. 

Physical causes are represented by things such as a disorder inside the dog’s digestive system. If your dog has been experiencing gastrointestinal distress for a while, he/she might try to solve these issues by eating grass and accidentally, even some dirt. But if the dirt-eating behavior happens often and in large quantities, you should definitely take your pooch to the vet.

As for behavioral causes, most dogs begin eating dirt when they feel bored or anxious. For example, if you have recently added another canine friend to your household and you haven’t allowed your older dog to get used to the situation gradually, he or she might feel stressed, anxious, or ignored. 

Some dogs can start to eat dirt regularly when they go through phases where they can’t get outdoors often or for long enough. Others can do the same when they’re suffering from a medical issue, and they’re taken to the vet every day for a couple of weeks. In any case, stress is the most common behavioral cause. 

Nutritional deficiencies

Even if you are a responsible pet parent and you always make sure that your dog is getting plenty of food, you might not realize that he/she might be suffering from a nutritional deficiency.

Most of the commercial pet food currently available is made with fillers and bad ingredients, so that means that your dog can end up with a mineral or vitamin deficiency even if you’re technically feeding him/her the right things. 

Eating dirt can be a pica disorder that lasts for a longer time if you don’t begin to supplement your dog’s diet with the right nutrients. But how can you know which ones you should add?

Well, there’s no way of answering this question unless you take your dog to the vet and have them take a blood test. Generally, pica disorders show up when our canine friends aren’t getting the right nutrients to feed their bones. This means that feeding your dog a raw diet for a while can be a solution. 

Fortunately, if the dietary cause is at the root of the behavior, your dog has a really good chance of losing any interest in dirt whatsoever in less than a couple of weeks. 

Chronic health problems

A blood test can not only reveal just what nutrients your dog’s body is lacking in, but it can also give the vet a pointer as to what else might be happening. A dog that wants to eat dirt can have medical conditions such as hypothyroidism or inflammatory bowel disease.

Bowel inflammation can easily lead to anemia due to ulcerations or bleeding along the bowel. Besides, in this disease, dogs have a hard time absorbing B vitamins. 

As for hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone stimulates the production of red blood cells by the dog’s bone marrow. If the thyroid hormone quantity is not enough, the bone marrow is less stimulated to produce red blood cells, and a lower number of them can lead to anemia. 

Other conditions that can be linked to this behavior are ulcers, chronic kidney disease, parasites, and tumors. Hemangiosarcomas are widely known for causing anemia as these tumors bleed. External parasites such as ticks and fleas can cause anemia, but so can some internal parasites, which effectively attach to the dog’s intestinal lining and feed on blood. 

What can you do if your dog eats dirt?

First of all, if this happens just once, you don’t have to ask yourself too many questions or be alarmed. Sometimes, the dirt can be covered in grease or other things that your pooch could find appealing.

But if it happens often, you should consider a dietary change. Processed pet food isn’t the right kind of diet that you should feed to a dog that’s eating dirt. Try a raw diet for a while or try adding healthy supplements to your dog’s diet — such as omega 3s, probiotics, and a harmless vitamin and mineral supplement. 

While adding bones to your dog’s diet might be a solution since they’re rich in minerals and the marrow has healthy fat for our canine buddies, they are also hard to digest. Besides, if your dog has a pre-existing gastrointestinal condition, you’re only going to make it worse by feeding him/her bones. 

What you can do, however, since bones are so nutrient-rich, is to use a grinder or a food processor to get them as fine as possible. The fragments are what’s dangerous in them — otherwise, we don’t recommend against them. Even bone broth is a good option if you’re still wary about the bones themselves. 

Can dirt be dangerous?

Yes. Dirt can contain a variety of toxic substances from pesticides to fertilizers, but it can also contain feces from other dogs or other animal species. The likelihood of your dog ingesting a parasite along with the ingested dirt is very high. Naturally, de-worming your canine companion once every three to six months is one way of preventing parasitoses. 

Prevention

Since there are two major components (besides the physical one) of this behavior, you should make sure that your dog gets all the right nutrients from pet food and also ensure that he or she isn’t getting bored or anxious. 

The best way of going about things is to have a talk with your vet about what you should feed your dog. As for the rest, you ought to make sure that your friend is getting plenty of exercise and play as that would significantly lower the chance of your pet getting bored. 

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