It can be frustrating, can’t it? You spend a fortune on high-quality dog food and buy the latest doggy treats.
Yet your dog prefers to get his teeth stuck into mud, tree roots and bark.
Although we may view dirt as something unpleasant, our dogs do not share our view. As adults, mud is usually something that gets washed off our hands as soon as possible. For children and dogs, however, mud can be fascinating, exciting and very tasty.
Despite many owners concern about their dog’s desire to munch on mud. Our canine friends aren’t the only species to do it.
In fact, studies have shown that over two hundred species of animals, including deer, elephants, parrots, rabbits and humans enjoy a side order of soil.
The ingestion of dirt or Geophagia to give it its proper name is well documented in humans. With records dating back as far as 460 B.C.
While mud or clay consumption isn’t uncommon in dogs. There is debate as to why they do it. Why do dogs eat mud? We’ve dug up dirt on the latest theories!
Supplementing a deficient diet
One of the most popular theories is that our dogs eat mud because their regular diets are lacking essential minerals that are necessary for good health.
Minerals such as calcium, sodium and iron can be found in the earth along with probiotic bacteria. And it has been long thought that our dogs eat soil to supplement themselves.
Essentially, the theory is that our dogs self-medicate. In order to provide themselves with extra support as their needs change through stress, age or health issues.
Many owners report that their dogs search for specific types of mud. Or only dig in certain soil types which seem to support this view.
However, research published in 2011 by Sera L. Young of Cornell University questions this theory. What’s more, the study argues that eating dirt rather than increasing the amount of minerals in our dog’s diet can instead hamper the absorption of food. What’s more, in severe cases result in a nutrient deficiency.
So if this is the case why do dogs eat mud?
The dirt detox
A theory that is gaining in popularity is that eating dirt acts as a detoxification process. As clay has the ability to bind toxins and remove them from the body. It has been used for hundreds of years for its soothing properties.
Not only is clay used in many beauty treatments, but it is also employed in pharmaceuticals to help reduce nausea and ease diarrhoea.
So could our dogs be harnessing the power of dirt to get rid of toxins in their bodies? It certainly is possible and supports owner’s beliefs that their dogs seek out specific types of mud to ingest.
If your dog is choosy about the soil they eat and only eats it infrequently or in moderation. It could well be that they are eating it as a defence to combat toxins.
But what if your dog is serious about soil cuisine and is munching their way through your garden?
Most owners don’t like to think of their dogs as having a behavioural issue. But if your dog regularly and indiscriminately eats mud there could be a problem.
Of course, some problems are easy to solve and if your dog is eating dirt because they are bored or frustrated it’s easy to solve.
While it’s not always easy to tell why a dog does something. There are questions that you can ask yourself that can help you work out how likely it is that your dog suffers from boredom.
- Does your dog spend a lot of time outside?
- Do they seem to have an excess of energy?
- Are they left alone for extended periods of time?
- Do they get enough play time or mental stimulation during the day?
- Are they walked regularly?
If the answer to any of all of these questions is yes. Consider changing your dog’s routine and provide some enrichment for them during the day.
Something as simple as a stuffed Kong while you are out may be enough to stop your dog from eating mud.
Of course, some behaviours are not so innocent. So what if your dog continues to eat dirt even when it’s all of its needs is met?
Habit or obsessive behaviour
If your dog obsessively eats dirt and can’t be distracted with toys or food, it could be that the act has become a compulsion.
Compulsive behaviours are self-rewarding. Which means that your dog is getting something worthwhile from continuing to do it.
If you think that your dog falls into this category. It’s worth consulting your vet or a behaviourist who can help modify your dog’s behaviour.
While obsessive behaviour is a cause for concern on the other end of the scale is the dog that occasionally eats dirt for no apparent reason. Why would your dog start sampling soil when it hasn’t before?
Our dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell. Just because we can’t see a reason why our dog is eating a patch of dirt doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.
Scents can get trapped beneath the earth, and our dogs will dig to get a better sniff. Unfortunately, these smells may be attached to items that your dog stills find edible even if you do not.
If you notice your dog digging away the top layer of earth to get to something underneath check what it is. Often small bones and dropped food items get shallowly buried in the soil but can easily be found by your dog, uncovered and eaten.
Dogs are opportunistic eaters. Even if they have a full belly if they discover a tasty morsel somewhere within their reach, they are more than likely to eat it.
The dangers of eating dirt
Despite its long history, dirt eating does carry some risks. The earth can carry both toxins and parasites that can affect the health of your dog.
Common parasites include hookworms, roundworms and whipworms. While toxins vary depending on the location of the dirt.
Since most cultivated land will carry pesticides, fertilisers or herbicides care is also needed in natural environments.
Sharp stones, bark or other non-food items can also be ingested along with the dirt and can cause problems for your dog.
Although it’s rare for a dog to have a major issue with an occasional dirt dinner, it’s always advisable to keep an eye on them.
Why do dogs eat mud?
Well, we’ve dug up the most common theories to date. The good news is that for the most part sampling soil is nothing to be concerned about.
The health risks are minimal. And your dog is in good company with over two hundred other species partaking in a soil snack from time to time.
If it’s true that eating dirt is an adaptive behaviour. That our dogs and other animals eat it to combat toxins, then occasional mud-munching is OK.
However, if you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour or they have suddenly started eating dirt do consult your vet.