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Why Is My Dog Eating Dirt? Expert Explains

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why is my dog eating dirt

Let’s face it; dog’s do a lot of weird things. One minute, they are chasing a ball, and the next, you may be wondering,  “why is my dog eating dirt?”. Of course, our pups are famous for eating things they shouldn’t.  Vets report removing objects like pins or needles, kids toys, pacifiers, or socks from a dog’s belly all the time. But if your dog is eating soil, sand, or compost, it’s worth taking note, because both the reasons for this behavior, and the risks, are a bit different than when ingesting other non-food items. 

As a canine behaviorist that regularly works with rescue dogs and fosters, I have most commonly seen this dirt eating  in dogs that  were thin and emaciated, or in a dog that was extremely sick and simply wasn’t eating enough real food to sustain themselves. The biggest problem with dogs eating muck is that it is a potentially deadly habit. Not only can the ground they ingest form an impaction in the gut, but it can also contain deadly pathogens like parvovirus.

Since our canine companions communicate what is happening in their bodies through actions, it is crucial to understand why they act the way they do to ensure we respond appropriately. In the text below, with the aid of Dr. Katherine Houpt in her work on eating and drinking problem behaviors in dogs, we have compiled all you need to know concerning your dog gobbling grime and what to do about it. So, let us jump right in.

In general, I see soil eating very rarely in dogs, and when I do see it, it is usually in a dog that is either extremely underweight or malnourished because of some kind of disease. Some breeds may be a bit more prone to eat, like Labradors, who have a deleted gene that makes them feel hungry all the time. And chowing on dirt can be a way to fill an empty belly. 

Of course, puppies explore with their mouths, especially when teething, and probably take a bite out of your new garden bed at least once. But you need to be on the lookout for this behavior, since the ground can carry deadly pathogens, including viruses.

Dog behavior in general is diverse and can be influenced by various factors, including genetics, environment, training, and health. Understanding common dog behaviors is essential for building a strong and positive relationship with your canine companion.

So let’s take a deeper look at why your dog may be swallowing soil.

7 Common Reasons Dogs Eat Dirt

You’re not alone if you’ve ever caught your hound gnawing on the ground or taking a bite out of a newly composted garden bed. Many hounds have this habit, and there are a few common reasons why they do it.

1. Mineral Deficiencies

Canines who are lacking in certain minerals, such as iron, may turn to munching grime as a way to supplement their diet. Nutritional deficiencies are rare in dogs, but it can happen that something is interfering with their ability to get enough minerals in their body. 

This could be due to an underlying illness or internal parasites. It can also happen when a dog is not getting a properly balanced diet. So unlike when dogs eat other non-food items, soil-eating is specifically associated with a mineral deficiency. 

2. Boredom or Anxiety

Dogs left alone for long periods or don’t get enough exercise and mental stimulation may turn to unwanted habits like digging holes and swallowing the soil to relieve boredom. 

Make sure your hound is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation. Consider providing them with puzzle toys or interactive games to keep them entertained.

3. Health Issues

As rare as this is, pups may eat dirt due to specific health issues. For example, puppies with gastrointestinal problems may eat all kinds of things to soothe their stomachs or force vomiting. Usually dogs may suddenly start eating grass, but it can extend to other organic matter.  Other health problems, like diabetes, can make a dog hungry all the time, leading them to eat anything they can. So, always have your dog checked out by a vet when you notice this kind of issue.

Recently, I got a call about a dog with congestive heart failure who started eating mouthfuls of dirt all of a sudden. In general, the dog (an Anatolian Shepherd called Pip) had almost completely stopped eating real food and could only be enticed to eat little bits of meat and rice. Because he was extremely malnourished, he likely developed the impulse to eat dirt, as his body craved nutrients and minerals he simply wasn’t getting anymore.

4. Pica & Indiscriminate Eating

Pica is a condition where pups eat non-food items like soil rocks, or even feces. This behavior is often seen in puppies and can result from teething or exploration. However, if the behavior continues into adulthood, it could indicate an underlying behavioral issue. Pica may be genetic, and it is also considered an anxiety disorder.

So if your dog is eating the ground and other non-food items, and they have no underlying health problem, it can be a compulsive habit. This can be quite serious as it could lead to gut obstructions or worse. Since this can be a compulsive disorder, dogs with this problem need the help of both a dog behaviorist and possibly a vet for medication.

Indiscriminate devouring is another behavior where dogs eat anything and everything they come across. This behavior is often seen in canines not getting enough nutrients from their diet. Dogs fed low-quality food or not getting enough food may eat scum or other non-food items to fulfill their nutritional needs.

It’s important to note that pica and indiscriminate consumption can harm a doggos health. Swallowing smut can lead to intestinal blockages while munching rocks can cause dental damage or even choking. If you notice your puppy ingesting soil or other non-food items, it’s vital to take action. 

5. Starvation or past starvation

Doggies can eat earth or soil because they are starving or have experienced past starvation. The soil can contain small amounts of nutrients that help alleviate hunger or it may just be a way to fill their bellies.

I saw this most recently when rescuing an emaciated dog on the brink of death. Little Uzzi spent the first few weeks recovering, eating anything he could find, including taking mouthfuls out of my garden bed. This was simply a habit he had formed to fill his stomach with something. When placed on a diet to fatten up, he naturally stopped doing this and is perfectly healthy now in his new home.

However, some dogs who have starved or gone hungry in the past may continue to eat anything they can, including dirt, out of habit. This can mean limiting their access to non-food items and even keeping a muzzle on them when they go outside to break the habit.

6. Enticing Scent

Canines are intrigued by attractive fragrances, especially when they come from something edible. Hounds have a much more powerful sense of smell than humans, so they may be able to detect scents we cannot.

For example, they may be able to smell the remains of a dead animal or even the scent of a plant buried in the mud. Pups may also be attracted to the smell of organic compost added to the soil.This is especially true if that compost comes from manure.

While these substances may harm pups, they may not realize this and may still be tempted to chow on muck. If you use chemicals in your garden, keep your best friend away from the area until the chemicals dissipate.

7. Compulsive Disorders

Compulsive disorders are mental health conditions that can cause pups to engage in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors that serve no apparent purpose. These behaviors include spinning, tail-chasing, and sometimes chewing non-food items like the soil.

Compulsive disorders in hounds are thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some breeds are more prone to compulsive disorders than others, and canines that have experienced significant stress or trauma in their lives may be more likely to develop these conditions.

If you suspect that your pup’s dross-chewing behavior may be related to a compulsive disorder, it’s essential to consult with your veterinarian. They may recommend behavioral therapy or medication to help manage your dog’s symptoms.

It’s also essential to ensure that your hound has plenty of opportunities for exercise and mental stimulation. Exercising and providing your pup with plenty of toys, puzzles, and other interactive activities can help reduce stress and anxiety, which may help prevent compulsive behaviors from developing in the first place.

Potential Risks of Dirt Eating For Dogs

When we notice our pup ingesting earth, it’s natural to wonder if it harms their health. While stain munching isn’t necessarily dangerous, there are some potential risks to be aware of.

Viruses & Pathogens

The main reason you don’t want your dog mouthing on muck is that the earth contains pathogens. Not only bacteria, but also extremely deadly viruses like parvo can live in the earth or ground for between one and nine years!. So when puppies eat anything from the ground, it could be deadly.


Dirt can contain various parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms, which can infect your hounds’ digestive system. A study by the science direct suggests that roundworms are the most prevalent parasite in the soil. These parasites can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.

In severe cases, they can even lead to anemia or death. It’s essential to keep your dog’s parasite prevention up to date and deworm them regularly to reduce the risk of infection.

Toxic Substances

Waste can also contain toxic substances, such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, which can harm your pup’s health. Ingesting these chemicals can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and even death.

It’s crucial to use these substances wisely, keep your canine companion away from areas treated with them, and ensure that your yard and garden are free of harmful chemicals.

Dental & Gut Problems

Devouring dirt can also lead to dental problems for your best friend. The earth can contain small rocks, sticks, and other debris that can cause tooth fractures, gum irritation, and tooth loss. The dirt can also form an impaction in the gut that may need surgery.

If your hound is chewing filth, it’s essential to have their teeth cleaned and checked by a veterinarian to ensure they are healthy and free of any dental issues.

How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Dirt

Provide Balanced Diet

Ensure your doggo gets a balanced diet that includes all the necessary nutrients. You can consult your vet or a qualified animal nutritionist to determine the best diet for your dog.

Engage in Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is essential for maintaining your dogs ‘ physical and mental health. Hounds that are bored or lack stimulation may resort to unwanted behaviors to entertain themselves. Ensure your canine gets enough exercise and playtime to stay active and engaged.

Supervise Outdoor Activities & Control their Environment

When your dog is outdoors, keep a close eye on them to prevent them from ingesting dust. Use a leash  and muzzle outdoors, if necessary, and redirect their attention to toys or other activities. This can help break the habit. You may also need to block or manage their access to areas of dirt and soil (or compost), to prevent them from ingesting anything they shouldn’t.

Offer Safe Alternatives

Provide appropriate toys or treats to satisfy your canine friend’s urge to chew. It can divert their attention away from munching filth.

Training and Commands

Train your hound with commands such as “leave it” or “drop it.” Consistent training can help you control your pup’s behavior and prevent them from consuming inappropriate items.

Check for Environmental Factors

Assess your doggo’s environment for any factors that might encourage the behavior. Ensure there are no toxic substances, such as fertilizers or chemicals, in the areas where your dog has access.

Use Taste Deterrents

Consider using taste deterrents on their favorite spot they love consuming from, or other surfaces your mutt is trying to ingest. These products have a bitter taste that dogs generally find unpleasant, discouraging them from repeating the behavior.

Regular Vet Check-ups

Regular vet check-ups are crucial for identifying underlying health issues causing your hound to eat waste. Your vet can conduct a thorough examination and run tests to determine if there are any underlying health issues. They can provide medication or other treatments to help resolve the problem.

These tips can help prevent your canine friends from devouring waste and ensure they stay healthy and happy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can dogs get sick from eating dirt?

Hounds can get sick from eating smudges, mainly if the ground contains harmful toxins or parasites. Ingesting large amounts of mud can lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Why do dogs eat dirt, and what can I do about it?

Pups may consume mud for various reasons, including boredom, anxiety, or a nutritional deficiency. Providing your pup with plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and a balanced diet can help reduce their desire to devour scum.

Is it harmful for dogs to eat dirt?

Ingesting small amounts of ooze is generally not harmful to hounds. However, eating large quantities of waste can lead to digestive issues and may expose them to harmful bacteria.

What can I give my dog instead of dirt to chew on?

Providing your canine friend with safe and appropriate chew toys, such as rubber or bones, can help satisfy their urge to chew. You can also offer your doggo raw vegetables, such as carrots or broccoli, as a healthy and safe alternativ-e-archive to filth.

How can I stop my dog from eating dirt?

Training and redirecting your pup’s behavior can help stop them from consuming grime. Providing them with plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and a balanced diet can also help reduce their desire to eat smudges.

Are there any health concerns with dogs eating dirt?

Eating large amounts of grime can lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Ingesting mud that contains harmful toxins or bacteria can also lead to more severe health concerns. The ground can also contain deadly viruses like parvo for years after being contaminated.


The common reasons hounds ingest dirt include nutrient deficiencies, boredom, anxiety, and curiosity. It is important to note that eating dirt can be harmful to a dog’s health, as it can lead to intestinal blockages, infections, and other health issues.

If you notice that your pup is eating dirt, it is crucial to take action to prevent the behavior. It may include providing your canine with a balanced diet, increasing exercise and mental stimulation, and addressing any underlying anxiety or behavioral issues.

If the behavior persists or you notice any signs of illness or discomfort in your canine, you must seek veterinary care immediately. With proper care and attention, you can help ensure your hound stays healthy and happy for years.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.