Why do dogs eat soil?

Why does my dog eat soil infographic

For us humans, the concept of dogs eating dirt is not something we can relate to. No doubt, the first time you saw your dog eating mud or soil came as a shock. So is it normal for dogs to eat soil? And can eating soil make your dog sick?

The common reasons why dogs eat soil

When dogs eat things that aren’t food, items with no nutritional value, it’s known as ‘pica’. This behaviour occurs in humans too. When it comes to dogs eating soil, this can be driven by several nutritional, behavioural or medical reasons.

Nutritional: when something is lacking in your dog’s diet

Dogs’ instincts come from their ancestors who lived in the wild. Wolves would eat soil to supplement their diet, making up for missing nutrients, like calcium, magnesium, sodium or potassium. Also, your dog could be eating soil or mud because they’re underfed or hungry. It’s very important to ensure your dog is eating a complete, high-quality dog food, which will ensure they’re getting everything they need.

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Behavioural: your dog is eating soil because they’re feeling curious

As puppies grow, it’s normal for them to be curious and to wonder what soil tastes like. Dogs eating soil and mud is all part of growing up. However, if the habit persists as they get older, it may indicate that something else is afoot.

Medical: your dog may have underlying health issues

Sometimes dogs eat soil because they have an upset tummy or even certain types of parasites. If your dog is eating dirt all of a sudden, or if it’s becoming obsessive, speak to your vet to rule out any potential health concerns.

Here are some of the common health issues that may make your dog want to eat soil:

Anaemia or a nutritional imbalance

Anaemia is when your dog has a low red blood cell count. This can be brought on by blood loss from cancer or stomach ulcers, or from a nutritional imbalance. Your dog may turn to eating soil to try and boost their nutritional deficiencies.

Upset tummy or indigestion

If your dog has diarrhoea or an upset stomach, they may eat soil to try and soothe their digestive system. Dogs also eat grass for the same reason, and in the process, they may end up eating some soil with it.

Is it normal for dogs to eat soil?

This depends on the reasons why your dog is eating soil, and how often they’re doing it.

Puppies are curious, and eating soil can be a normal part of their development. You don’t need to worry, as long as it’s not excessive or causing them distress.

However, if your dog is older, and eating soil is becoming a habit, it’s important to intervene. Identify the reasons behind the behaviour. Has their appetite or mood changed recently? Are their stools looking normal? Take note, so you’re prepared should you need to visit your vet.

Can my dog get sick from eating soil?

While it is a common behaviour, it’s not a good idea for your dog to be eating soil or mud. There are potential side effects, including eating parasites or pesticides, ingesting something which may cause an intestinal blockage or they may even damage their teeth while munching on sticks or stones.

How do I stop my dog eating soil?

Look at your dog’s diet and nutrition

Is your dog getting everything they need? Is their dog food a high-quality, trusted brand that is appropriate for their breed, size and lifestyle? Ask your vet to recommend any supplements they should be taking, or if it’s worth taking blood tests to ensure they’re getting all the vitamins and minerals they need.

Look at your dog’s environment

Is your dog getting enough mental stimulation? Do they have access to interactive puzzles and toys? Are they getting enough exercise? Is there space for them to destress and relax?

Look into obedience training and distraction techniques

If your dog knows basic obedience commands, like ‘leave it or bring it’’, then it’ll be easier to redirect their attention if you see your dog eating soil. If you teach your puppy to bring things to you, it is easier to reward them in exchange for something undesirable they have picked up. You could give them a chew toy or a treat instead, as a way of distracting your dog from eating soil. If you see your dog eating soil, don’t scold them or make a fuss. Gently distract them and get them with something else.

Keep your dog away from soil and mud

If your dog likes to dig up the backyard and eat soil in the process, consider restricting their access to parts of the garden using barriers or fencing. Give them other things to do instead, like chew toys, treats and puzzles.

Fundamentally, there’s usually a reason behind your dog eating soil - it’s just a matter of doing some digging to get to the bottom of the issue. Then, you can treat the root cause.

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Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

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