Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt?

Dirt is not part of a balanced diet.
Dirt is not part of a balanced diet. / Michael Phillips/Moment via Getty Images

Having a dog means asking a lot of questions your dog will never be able to answer. Why do they lick glass? Why do they tilt their heads? And why do they seem to love eating dirt?

Speaking with the American Kennel Club, veterinarian Dr. Laurie S. Coger, DVM, said that munching on soil can be indicative of a dog’s emotional state. A pet that’s stressed or bored may indulge in pica, or the ingestion of non-edible materials. If it’s dirt, then they’re indulging in geophagia.

A dog may also turn to a dirt buffet to try and alleviate some kind of health ailment, like anemia (a low blood cell count), an upset stomach, or some kind of nutritional deficiency. (Gastrointestinal problems are more likely to lead to eating grass, however.)

Despite their reputation for having cast-iron stomachs, you really, really don’t want your dog snacking on dirt. If they eat too much, they can develop an impaction in their intestines that could require surgery to resolve. Dirt is also home to pesticides, toxins, rocks, and other things that could seriously injure an animal.

“I would add that any new, unnatural behavior, such as dirt eating, should be acted upon quickly,” Dr. Coger said. “Both because of possible serious underlying causes and before it becomes a habit. Dogs will learn from other dogs in the house, and who wants a houseful of dirt eaters?”

If you catch your dog scarfing down a dirt meal, take them to a vet to check for any irregularities. If the problem persists, try to keep them busy and active so they’re less inclined to devour the backyard. Some dogs may have a preferred dining spot, which you can close off. If you catch them in the act, you can discourage the behavior by telling them “no” or “please stop eating dirt.” With any luck, they’ll go back to licking glass instead.

[h/t American Kennel Club]

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