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 the mud, tree roots, and bark.
Although we may view dirt as something unpleasant, our dogs do not agree. 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 but why do dogs eat mud?
Dogs eat dirt because…
Despite many owners’ concern about their dog’s desire to eat dirt. 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.
Eating 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 about why they do it. There are a number of reasons from medical to behavioral, here are our top choices.
One of the most popular theories is that our dogs eat dirt because our modern dog’s diet lacks essential nutrients that are necessary for good health. Minerals such as calcium, sodium, and iron can be found in the earth along with probiotic bacteria. So it has been long thought that a dog eats dirt to supplement themselves.
Essentially, the theory is that our dogs self-medicate and that eating dirt provides them with extra nutrition 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 seems 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 dirt eating rather than increasing the number of minerals in our dog’s diet can instead hamper the absorption of food. What’s more, in severe cases results in nutrient deficiencies.
So if this is the case, why do dogs eat dirt?
The dirt detox
A theory that is gaining in popularity is that eating dirt acts as a detoxification process as clay in the earth 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, calm an upset stomach and ease diarrhea. So could our dog’s dirt-eating be harnessing the power of clay to get rid of toxins in their bodies? It certainly is possible and supports the 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 eat it infrequently or in moderation. It could well be a sign that they are eating it as a defense to combat toxins.
But what if your dog is serious about soil cuisine and is munching its way through your garden?
Most owners don’t like to think of their dogs as having behavioral issues. 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 fix. 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 playtime or mental stimulation during the day?
- Are they walked regularly?
Suppose the answer to any 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 eating dirt.
Of course, some behaviors are not so innocent. So what if your dog continues to eat dirt even when all of its needs are met?
Habit or obsessive behavior
If your dog obsessively eats dirt and can’t be distracted by toys or food, it could be a sign that it has become a habit or compulsion.
Compulsive behaviors are self-rewarding, which means that your dog is getting something worthwhile from continuing to do it. Suppose you think that your dog falls into this category, it could be a disorder called pica. Call your veterinarian who can rule out an underlying medical issue or a behaviorist who could help you with training to modify your dog’s behavior.
While obsessive behavior 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 a dog eats dirt it doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. Scents can get trapped beneath the earth, and our dogs 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. In contrast, toxins vary depending on the location of the dirt.
Since most cultivated land will carry pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides, care is also needed in natural environments as dirt could carry toxic substances.
Your dog might also ingest sharp stones, bark, or other non-food items along with the dirt that can cause problems for your dog. Although it’s rare for a dog to eat dirt and have a major issue it’s always advisable to make sure your dog is safe.
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.
Your dog is in good company with over two hundred other species partaking in a soil snack from time to time. Suppose it’s true that eating dirt is an adaptive behavior. That our dogs and other animals eat it to combat toxins or nutritional imbalances then there’s no reason to stop your dog from eating the occasional dirt snack.
However, if you have any concerns about your dog’s behavior or they have suddenly started eating dirt, do consult your vet.