Dogs will eat dirt (also known as pica) for a number of reasons, and they aren’t all that bad (although they do all suggest the dog isn’t quite happy). Here are the 4 main reasons that your dog will eat dirt:
Obviously, dogs are animals. Before domestication they were quite able to survive by themselves, and simply survived by just following their instincts, which are a result of many years of selective evolution One of these these instincts is to eat dirt when they are lacking certain minerals. This may seem odd, but the soil is full of minerals, and so actually makes quite good sense – good old evolution. There are problems with eating soil though (see below) so you need to address this problem.
What to do: Compare the nutritional profile of the dog food you are using with other (more premium) brands. Perhaps the one you are feeding them isn’t quite up to scratch. Research the specific nutritional needs of your specific dog. A Jack Russell, for example, will have different nutrition requirements to a German Shepard. It may be worth talking to a vet about it if you aren’t sure.
Yes, various parasites make for some strange behaviour in animals. They can turn ants into zombies, cause rats to stop being scared of cats, cause fish to reveal themselves to predatory birds, and yes, they can cause dogs to eat dirt. The reason for all this odd behaviour is usually to help the parasite progress through infancy through maturity and help reinfect the animal. Long story short, eating the dog could have eaten something on the floor which had a parasite, and the parasite is causing the continued behaviour.
What to do: When was the last time you had your dog wormed? The most common parasite which causes dogs to eat dirt is the hookworm, so its a good idea to treat the dog for worms, and see if it stops the behaviour.
Why a dog eats dirt because its kidneys are not working properly is beyond me. Perhaps it is linked to the nutrition, or the possibility of a parasite. In any case, dogs have been known to eat dirt when they have a serious disease, such as a liver, kidney or CNS disease.
What to do: Look out for other signs of illness. Is the dog being sick, not eating food, acting out of the ordinary (aside from dirt eating). If the dog is otherwise quite happy and healthy, it may not be this cause, but it to be on the safe side, it might be a good idea to take it to the vet.
Yes, dogs, like humans can suffer from behavioural problems. Dogs can suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders which can manifest themselves as over grooming or eating dirt. They can also suffer from depression, and can even suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the same way humans can. Dogs can even get bored, and in the same way a bored child will play with electricity sockets and eat worms when they are bored, dogs will eat dirt.
What to do: With obsessive-compulsive disorder, you can try and train it out of them. Go on walk with the dog on a lead to prevent them from eating dirt, and if they do eat dirt have a water sprayer handle to gently spray their face with cold water (you don’t want to hurt them, just teach them).
If the cause is depression, the vet may prescribe anti-depressants, but this isn’t a great way to go. You could always try and cheer your dog up!
If its boredom, then simply pay the dog more attention, get it a new toy and go form more walks.
This is a good question, it could provide nutrition, but sadly, it can also cause infection, damage teeth, and if they swallow something nasty, they could have digestive issues. I’ve heard some horrible stories about dogs eating plastic bags, or even just bubble gum. So yes, generally speaking it is bad for dogs to eat dirt. It is a sign that there is a problem, which could be as simple as needing a new brand of food for them, but could equally be something more serious.
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Dogs might eat dirt because they are under nourished, have a parasite infection, suffer from a disease, or have behavioural problems. It is worth trying to identify the exact cause, because it could be an indication of serious illness.