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Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt? Reasons, Dangers, Treatment, and Prevention

Understanding the reasons and dangers of dirt ingestion will help pet parents make more informed decisions and protect their pup’s overall health and wellness.  

Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt? Reasons, Dangers, Treatment, and Prevention

Understanding the reasons and dangers of dirt ingestion will help pet parents make more informed decisions and protect their pup’s overall health and wellness.  

By: Dr. Juli, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

Dogs explore the world with their nose, paws, and mouth. It’s not uncommon for your pup to taste-test or lick various non-edible things in their environment to determine if they are tasty or to further understand something new. However, dogs with pica or ingesting non-food objects may be suffering from an underlying health or behavioral problem.

Some dogs may target specific non-food items like soil, dirt, or mud — an eating disorder referred to as geophagia. While ingesting a small amount of dirt may not be cause for concern, dogs with geophagia are at risk for various medical problems, some of which can be deadly.

Understanding the reasons and dangers of dirt ingestion will help pet parents make more informed decisions and protect their pup’s overall health and wellness.  

Dog eating ball of dirt

Nutritional Reasons Dogs Eat Dirt

A common misconception when feeding dogs is that the more expensive the food, the higher the quality. However, price and exclusivity do not equal complete and balanced dog nutrition. With endless dog food options, it can be challenging for dog owners to know which food is the best for their four-legged companion. Feeding your dog the wrong food can have dire consequences for their health, including vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

In some cases, eating dirt may be the first clue that your pup is suffering from a nutritional deficiency, including sodium, iron, or calcium, which may be present in soil. Excess dirt ingestion may also indicate hunger from underfeeding or feeding nutrient-deficient food. Ensuring your pet’s food is AAFCO-approved for their breed and life stage will prevent them from suffering health problems due to a lack of proper vitamins and minerals. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) also provides guidelines for selecting the best dog food. Your family veterinarian can also guide you in choosing a complete and balanced diet

Medical Reasons for Dirt-Eating in Dogs

Eating dirt may also be the first clue that your dog is suffering from underlying medical issues. Medical reasons for dirt ingestion may include:


Dogs with anemia do not produce enough red blood cells, which are required to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. Low red blood cell counts can lead to various health consequences, including decreased absorption of iron and B vitamins, resulting in nutritional deficiencies. Some dogs with anemia may seek out dirt to help compensate for these deficiencies.

Anemia can occur from various sources, including intestinal parasite infections, bleeding disorders, and immune-mediated disorders. Signs include pale gums and lethargy.

Liver Shunt

This condition is caused by abnormal vessels that prevent blood from circulating through the liver, which removes harmful substances from the blood before it circulates throughout the body. Affected dogs often have stunted growth, weight loss, and behavior changes, which may include pica or dirt ingestion

Gastrointestinal Problems

Like in humans, gastrointestinal (GI) distress, an upset stomach, or inflammation can cause nausea and pain. Some dogs may turn to dirt ingestion to induce vomiting. However, grass is more commonly used by dogs in these cases.  

Hormonal or Metabolic Imbalances

Dogs with other underlying health issues, like hormonal imbalances or metabolic problems, like diabetes, may also exhibit geophagia to replace missing minerals or iron. 

Behavioral Reasons Dogs Eat Dirt

In addition to underlying medical problems, behavioral issues may also be the culprit for your dog’s desire to eat dirt, and these may include:


Like humans, dogs require regular mental and physical exercise to remain healthy from the inside out. Dogs not regularly exercised or challenged with activities that promote brain health, like puzzle toys, may eat dirt to fill these voids.   


Anxious dogs or those who suffer from separation anxiety often exhibit destructive behavior, including eating things they shouldn’t, like dirt. Dogs with anxiety or stress may show other signs, including barking, whining, hiding, or excessive panting when stressed. 

Compulsive Disorder

Similar to excessive licking, some dogs may ingest dirt or other non-food objects when suffering from a compulsive disorder as a means to reduce stress.  

Ensure to observe the frequency, timing, and any environmental changes that may be occurring when your dog is attempting to eat dirt. Your DVM will address potential behavioral issues once medical causes have been ruled out. Consider consulting a board-certified veterinary behaviorist for dogs with severe behavioral problems to learn tools and treatments to prevent this dangerous behavior. 

Dangers of Dirt Ingestion

The occasional lick or bite of dirt is likely not problematic for your dog. But frequent ingestion of dirt, soil, or mud can lead to a variety of health issues, including:

  • Intestinal parasite infestation, including Giardia, hookworms, or roundworms
  • Choking hazards from ingestion of rocks or other objects in the dirt
  • Toxin ingestion, including pesticides or fertilizers
  • GI impaction or blockage, which may require emergency surgery
  • Damage to the GI tract from sharp objects, like rocks or sticks
  • Stomach bloat 

Additionally, signs of dirt ingestion may include: 

  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Distended abdomen
  • Decreased appetite

Native Pet Probiotic Powder

When to Seek Veterinary Care for Your Dog’s Dirt-Eating Habit

Dogs who suddenly or regularly attempt to ingest dirt should receive a veterinary examination to rule out underlying medical or behavioral problems. Your vet will perform a nose-to-tail exam, and blood work may be recommended to rule out underlying causes, like anemia or metabolic disease. Additionally, advanced imaging, like an X-ray or ultrasound, may be required to rule out possible blockages or impactions, which may require surgery. 

How to Prevent Your Dog from Eating Dirt

Preventing your dog from sampling dirt is not always possible, but there are steps you can take to decrease the chances of it becoming a regular occurrence. Feeding your dog a high-quality, veterinary-approved, complete, and balanced diet will help ensure your dog doesn’t suffer nutritional deficiencies and attempt to eat dirt.

Other ways to support your dog’s health and decrease their desire to ingest dirt include:

  • Bringing them for regular veterinary checkups to rule out underlying health problems
  • Giving your dog monthly veterinary-approved parasite prevention medication
  • Providing ample exercise, chew toys, and mental stimulation, like puzzle toys, to prevent boredom
  • Supporting your dog’s whole body wellness and gut health with veterinary-approved supplements like Native Pet The Daily or Native Pet Probiotic Powder 
  • Supervising your dog when they are outside around dirt
  • Keeping indoor potted plants out of paws’ reach

Regular dirt ingestion may be the first clue that your dog suffers from an underlying nutritional, medical, or behavior problem. Dirt ingestion can also result in dangerous blockages that may require emergency veterinary surgery. Regular veterinary care and making sure your dog’s diet meets AAFCO standards will decrease the chances of them attempting to eat dirt and becoming sick.

For more information and tips on your dog’s health, check out the Native Pet blog.

illustration of dog's tail & the dog is digging

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illustration of dog's tail & the dog is digging