why do dogs eat dirt all of a sudden?
Pet Health Questions and Answers

Is It Bad for a Dog to Eat Dirt or Potting Soil from Plants?

There are few things that dogs love more than a good potter around the great outdoors, and that includes your backyard. On paper, that’s an ideal scenario as it means that your dog will get time in nature without needing a trip to the dog park. You’ll be able to provide your dog with exercise and stimulation while relaxing or getting on with some work or domestic tasks.

Naturally, however, nothing is ever that simple. Dogs spending unsupervised time in the yard can take a slightly sinister turn if they start eating dirt from pot plants or lapping at the soil located on your land. Dogs explore their surroundings with their noses and mouths, and that means they’ll taste all kinds of inedible surroundings. Maybe those elements are harmless – but can you be sure?

The truth is, your backyard could be filled with hazards for Fido. If your pet takes to eating dirt and soil, they may be ingesting pesticides, wildlife, and toxic plants, and causing themselves many health complications. If you’re keen to avoid a poorly pooch and many costly trips to the vet, you should stop your dog from eating dirt and potting soil from your garden, or that of anybody else.

This article will take a look at why a dog feels compelled to eat dirt, when you need to worry about this behavior, and what you can do to put a stop to it.

Table of Contents:

Why Does My Dog Eat Dirt?

There are many reasons why a dog may take to eating dirt, even if they have never done so before. Dogs Naturally Magazine covers some of these possible explanations in detail, but in summary, they include:

  • Hunger. Your dog is hungry and looking for something to munch on.
  • Poor diet. Your dog is feeling as though they lack proper nutrition or essential nutrients, and they’re attempting to find them in the dirt.
  • Health problems. It could be that your dog is in pain through an internal or intestinal health issue, and they are looking for something to soothe that discomfort. It could even be intestinal parasites.
  • Smell and taste. All kinds of things end up in the dirt – including your dog’s favorite treats. They may have buried a bone and are attempting to munch on it once more.
  • Natural curiosity. Dogs like to explore their surroundings and experience the world through smell and taste.
  • Boredom. Some dogs act strangely when they’re bored, chasing their tail or chewing the furniture when left alone. Eating dirt is another possible way of a dog passing the time when they lack stimulation.

Another common reason for a dog eating dirt is a health condition known as Pica, which also impacts upon humans. This is not a standard behavior in dogs, so you should be vigilant about keeping an eye out for any symptoms. They’re not tricky to spot; they will revolve around your dog insisting on eating non-edible objects.

What is Pica, and How Does it Manifest in Dogs?

Pica is a mental health condition in which dogs – or people – feel compelled to eat strange foreign objects that are not food. This could include their own poop or that of other animals, but that is considered to be a separate condition of its own called Coprophagy. If you have spotted your dog treating feces as a meal, check out our guide on how to stop your dog from eating poop naturally.

If you notice your dog displaying signs of Pica, make an appointment with a vet. Your pet may do himself or herself some severe damage by eating the wrong thing sooner or later, and if surgery becomes necessary things can be very uncomfortable as well as expensive.

Some of the other symptoms of Pica to keep an eye out for, as per Wag Walking, include:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Loose stools that are tricky to pick up
  • Chronic and constant bad breath (check out our guide to why your dog has bad breath suddenly for more information on this particular symptom)

Remember, Pica is not a cute or amusing character quirk – it’s a very serious and potentially dangerous condition.

What Causes Pica in Dogs?

Pica could be triggered by medical or psychological problems for your dog, but the result will be the same – a desire to eat everything in sight, whether it’s digestible or not.

Some of the psychological sparks for Pica include:

  • Stress, anxiety or depression
  • Boredom or frustration
  • Lack of training (your dog may not know any better)
  • Lack of attention

how to get puppy used to vacuum cleaner

Alternatively, there may be a medical reason why your dog is suffering from Pica. These include:

  • An intestinal blockage that your dog is trying to clear
  • Parasite infestation
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Anemia
  • Iron deficiency
  • Malnutrition
  • IBD
  • A stomach tumor

Please, let us stress one final time – if you suspect that your dog has a Pica problem, get them to a vet. A professional will be able to advise on potential treatments that may involve lifestyle changes or medical or surgical intervention.

My Old Dog is Eating Dirt

Sadly, as dogs grow older, they start to experience problems with both their body and mind. If your older dog has taken to eating dirt and soil seemingly out of the blue, there are two primary potential explanations:

  • Your dog’s aging body is struggling to create particular minerals, and your dog is trying to find them elsewhere.
  • Your dog has canine senility and is growing confusion about what is food and what is not.

With older dogs, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek professional advice if you have any concerns about their behavior. If a senior dog makes himself or herself sick by eating dirt or soil, they may not be able to bounce back as quickly as a younger, healthier canine.

My Dog Keeps Eating Dirt – Should I Call a Vet?

If you don’t think that your dog has Pica and is just engaging in standard, albeit strange, canine behavior then you should use your discretion. A little natural curiosity surrounding dirt is probably no big deal, but if it’s becoming a compulsion, then you should get your dog checked out. Pay attention! They may be trying to tell you something, and eating dirt or soil could make them sick pretty quickly.

The experts at PetMD recommend making an appointment with your vet if you feed your dog a homemade diet, as they may have a nutritional deficiency that they are attempting to rectify. Your vet will be able to run a number of tests that pinpoint this potential insufficiency and advise you accordingly.

Alternatively, as we have previously discussed, your dog may be struggling with the psychological condition of Pica. If this is the case, it’s still worth having your dog looked at. It’s rare, but this issue can sometimes point to problems with your dog’s internal organs.

Why Does My Dog Eat Soil From Pots?

If your dog is eating potting soil, you may understandably be concerned – and annoyed that your pet is destroying the plants that you so lovingly nurtured.

Your dog is probably doing this because they are attracted by the many and varied scents offered by the plant and its soil. The leaves and petals of the plant and flower itself will be intriguing to a canine nose, and if there is any kind of manure or fertilizer in the soil that will capture their imagination too. Fresh dirt can smell like the sweetest perfume to a dog.

How to keep dogs from eating potting soil

To avoid this habit, consider leaving some citrus fruit peels in your potted plant. The smell of lemon or lime will deter a dog from approaching and overpower the aromas found in the plant. It will also do the same for any local cats, who may be tempted to use your plant pot as an outdoor litter tray – creating yet another fascinating smell for your dog to explore in the meantime.

Will Eating Dirt Make My Dog Sick?

Many health concerns could eventually arise as a result of a dog eating dirt. Your dog may be eating all kinds of pesticides such as slug repellent, or swallowing insects, worms and other critters that leave them feeling unwell. Throw in the possibility of allowing an ant, bee or another stinging insect into their mouths, and you have a real recipe for disaster.

All of this adds up to the fact that you need to stop your dog from eating dirt before they do themselves any permanent damage. That doesn’t mean that you need to become the canine fun police – by all means allow your pooch to have a good dig around in the park and sniff out any underground-dwelling animals that are offering a powerful scent. Just keep an eye on them, however, and stop your dog from treating the ground as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Is Perlite Toxic To Dogs?

Luckily, Perlite is not toxic to dogs – so if your dog ate Perlite, there’s nothing to worry about. Although if he ate a whole bag, he might experience digestive problems just like he would from eating a large amount of regular dirt or potting soil.

My Dog Keeps Eating Dirt and Getting Diarrhea

This is usually a sign that your dog has consumed bacteria from the dirt they have been swallowing, causing an intestinal problem. This may be hugely uncomfortable for a canine as it essentially results in their insides turning inside out.

If your dog has diarrhea but is acting normally and eating, it suggests that they are living with a passing problem borne of the fact that they ate dirt. Something within the soil disagrees with your dog’s digestive tract, and their immune system is doing everything it can to purge the unwelcome infiltrator.

why does my dog attack the broom?

If diarrhea only lasts a few hours, keep an eye on your pet and ensure that they are making a full recovery. Also keeping an eye out for any symptoms of dehydration though, as this could be very dangerous for your dog. Follow our advice on what you must do if your dog is dehydrated in such a scenario.

If diarrhea persists beyond 24 hours, make an urgent appointment with your vet – doing the same if they display any other kind of symptoms that suggest they have a more severe illness.

My Dog Ate Dirt and is Throwing Up

Dogs regularly regurgitate something that their body recognizes as unsuitable for nourishment, and throwing up is better than diarrhea. This means that your dog’s digestive system has realized that what your pet has swallowed is entirely inappropriate, and it’s purging it before the item can make it any further into the process.

As with diarrhea, one episode of vomiting isn’t a reason to panic. Reassure your dog (never telling them off for making a mess – that could lead to your pet growing afraid of purging in the future, and swallowing their vomit), and clean up the area.

You should notice that your dog returns to normal almost straight away after vomiting – it’s the canine body equivalent of hitting CTRL, ALT, and DEL on the computer keyboard. If they continue to throw up though, and the symptoms last longer than a few hours, make an appointment with a vet.

My Dog Ate Dirt, and Now They Won’t Eat Their Dinner

OK, first and foremost, don’t panic – your dog hasn’t been influenced by some kind of canine Kardashian and is suddenly following a very bizarre fad diet. The chances are that something they have consumed has left them with a sore throat that makes it difficult to swallow, and thus they’re not keen on attempting to eat again. The same impact could also arise if they throw up.

Try popping a little honey on the end of your finger and encouraging your dog to lick it off. The antiseptic qualities will work wonders for Fido’s throat, and they’ll be back to themselves in no time.

If that fails, however, break out the big guns – offer a little ice cream or frozen yogurt. Most dogs will go crazy for this, but be very vigilant about what you use. It must not contain xylitol, as this ingredient is hugely toxic to dogs, and remember that most dogs are very sensitive to lactose so keep the serving small. There will also be no shortage of sugar in the dish, so consider learning how to brush your dog’s teeth after they have finished.

My Dog Laps at Rainwater in My Yard – is This OK?

Rainwater that collates in a bucket or elsewhere in your yard could be hugely dangerous for your dog and lead to all kinds of chronic health problems for poor Fido.

If you have anything that could collect rainwater in your garden that’s an easy height for a thirst tongue, make sure that you empty it with regularity. Allowing your dog to lap at this rainwater will potentially make them very sick indeed, and it could even turn out to be fatal. The most likely problem is a condition called Giardia.

What is Giardia, and How Will it Impact on My Dog?

As Vet Street explains, Giardia is a parasitic infection that attacks a dog’s intestines after they drink rainwater. It is usually caused by bird feces and other unwholesome elements falling into the water (or the grass), before being ingested by your dog. Unfortunately, the condition is also highly contagious and easily spread from canine to canine, so it needs to be treated quickly.

The common symptoms of Giardia include:

  • Dehydration
  • Sudden and inexplicable weight loss, and inability to gain mass
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Dull, lifeless fur, possibly falling out in patches

If you notice any of these symptoms and are concerned about your dog’s welfare, make an appointment with a vet. Treatment for Giardia will vary depending on the severity of the condition, but its best avoid altogether. This can be achieved by being vigilant about preventing your dog from eating from the floor or lapping at collected rainwater.

How to Stop a Dog Eating Dirt

It’s potentially very bad for a dog to eat dirt or soil from a potted plant. At best the canine in question will escape unscathed in terms of health, but will not experience any kind of nutritional value and may end up with a very unhelpful habit and compulsion that’s hard to break. At worst, they will end up very sick.

Thankfully, any dog can be trained out of this behavior – and you’ll stand a much better chance of preventing your dog from making themselves ill if you start this coaching early. Once a dog has a compulsion in their head, it becomes like an itch that they are unable to scratch, so do whatever it takes to ensure that your dog doesn’t develop a fascination with eating dirt before it’s too late. Such a habit will not end well.

Find Out Why Your Dog is Eating Dirt

The first thing that you’ll need to do is find out why your dog is seemingly so determined to eat dirt. Check for symptoms of Pica, make sure they are getting exercise, and you are offering them sufficient attention, and ensure that they are gaining adequate nutrients from their meals.

my dog loves to be vacuumed

If you have more than one dog and they are all eating dirt, it certainly suggests that a dietary change is in order. If your canine is an only pet, invite a playmate over. If the other dog also makes a beeline for the soil, the chances are there is something that smells universally appealing buried in the soil somewhere.

Preventing Your Dog from Eating Dirt

Here are some methods to potentially stop your dog from eating dirt:

  • No unsupervised play. If your dog is in the yard, head out there with them and issue a, “leave it!” command if they try to eat something inappropriate.
  • Distract with treats. If your dog shows interest in something inedible such as dirt or soil, distract them with a treat. That should be much tastier.
  • Plenty of attention and exercise. Sometimes dogs eat dirt because they want your attention, or they’re bored and frustrated. That is easily rectified!
  • Keep your dog calm. If your dog is eating dirt through anxiety, you’ll need to find out why they are such a nervous Purvis and keep them a little more zen.
  • Parasite treatments. It’s possible that your dog has a worm infestation, and they’re eating dirt to ease the symptoms. Ensure you’re up to date with your treatments.
  • Change diet. Maybe there is a problem with your dog’s diet, and they are seeking nutrition. Try gently transitioning them onto a different food and see if that helps.

If none of this works, you may need to use a more prominent deterrent. You should never use physical force – we hope that goes without saying – but try one of the following two methods of deterring your dog from continuing when they start to eat dirt:

  • Squirting them with a small water pistol (be warned though, some dogs love water and think this is great. Don’t make your dog think you are rewarding them for eating dirt.)
  • Make a loud noise, such as blowing a horn, to distract your dog when they start eating dirt.

If you follow these tips, you will find that your dog will stop munching on dirt, saving them a lot of potential health problems and you a whole lot of money on vet bills.

Dogs eating dirt from soil or potted plants is a very natural part of a canine’s curiosity, much like human babies, and toddlers go through phases of eating dirt and worms. Much like with human babies, however, dogs should not be encouraged to continue with this behavior. Coach them out of the habit, and everybody will be happy. Your dog will stay healthy, and your backyard will remain pristine. That’s what we call a win-win.