Puppies do a lot of adorable things but sometimes they do very strange things too – like eat dirt. So, why do they do it?
Puppies eat dirt because they have behavioral issues, or they are stressed or bored. Some puppies eat dirt because they have vitamin or mineral deficiencies, or an underlying health problem. Other puppies just like the way dirt tastes.
Some puppies might see dirt as a tasty treat, but eating dirt is not always a good thing!
This article will explore all the reasons puppies have for eating dirt. We’ll look at what might happen if your puppy eats dirt, and how to stop your puppy from eating dirt once and for all.
Why do puppies eat dirt?
Puppies that spend a lot of time eating dirt have a condition known as pica (click here to find out how to tell if your puppy has pica).
There are many causes of pica, but here are the top 6 reasons why your puppy might be eating dirt:
Dirt tastes good
Sometimes dirt just tastes good, especially if food, grease, or other tasty treats have fallen on the ground. If you have an outdoor grilling area, the dirt beneath it could be delicious.
Puppies may also sniff, lick, and eat dirt that other animals have walked on to follow the trail. Or your puppy might be trying to remember where they hid a bone.
Did you know? Dirt goes into a dog’s mouth and gets transferred to their water bowl, which is one of the reasons why bees love dogs’ water bowls so much!
The puppy is teething
When they are little, puppies go through a stage where they want to chew on and bite everything they can find. This is completely normal and is one of the ways that a puppy explores and learns about the world around them – everything is still new to them at this early age.
It’s also how a puppy deals with teething.
A puppy can’t pull out annoying loose teeth. And new teeth breaking out of the gums can be pretty painful and frustrating for a pup. Biting on things and chewing on hard sand is one way that puppies try to help their old teeth fall out and their new teeth come out.
Most puppies grow out of this biting stage by the time they’re 7 months old.
The puppy is bored
Bored puppies get into all kinds of mischief. The most common type of mischief when a puppy is bored involves chewing on things.
Bored dogs will often chew your shoes, plants, cables, furniture, or even their own feet. Sometimes, they’ll even eat dirt.
The puppy is stress eating
Stressed-out puppies and bored puppies can behave similarly.
A stressed dog is more likely to exhibit what are known as displacement behaviors. These are behaviors that don’t seem to fit with a particular situation.
For example, if your puppy is stressed about a new person or animal moving into the house, they might react by eating dirt. It doesn’t make sense and is a bizarre reaction, but this is displaced behavior – an abnormal reaction to what seems to be an unrelated situation or experience.
The puppy is low in vitamins or minerals
Puppies that are low in certain vitamins or minerals, especially vitamin B or iron, will often eat dirt because they feel like they’re getting something they need from the soil.
The puppy has a health problem
There are many health-related reasons why puppies eat dirt, like an upset stomach.
Some of these are a one-time problem that has nothing to do with serious health issues. Other problems, such as anemia or malnourishment, have deeper causes and need professional help.
– Anemia in puppies
Anemia is probably one of the most common health-related reasons why puppies eat dirt. When a puppy has low iron and red blood cell counts, the puppy tries to fix the shortages by getting these things from the ground.
There are a few things that can cause anemia, including:
- Bleeding tumors
- Internal injuries
- Parasites (ticks, fleas, etc. – click here to find out where your puppy can pick up fleas)
- Poisoning / toxins
- Autoimmune diseases
- Kidney / liver disease
- Poor nutrition
If your puppy eats dirt often, it might be time to visit your veterinarian for advice. If your puppy has anemia, your veterinarian might need to run tests to find out what’s causing this.
– Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) happens when your puppy has long-lasting inflammation in the intestines. This could be from parasites (usually worms) or because your pup is allergic to something in their diet.
Dogs with IBD are often very low in vitamin B and eat dirt to try to get this vitamin from the ground.
– Upset stomach
Another common cause of dirt-eating is a simple one: your pup has an upset stomach.
If a puppy eats something that doesn’t agree with them, which is very likely to happen with puppies, they may eat dirt and grass to try to force themselves to throw up, so their stomach can calm down.
If your puppy isn’t a habitual dirt eater and you just see them do it now and then, this is likely the reason, especially if they throw up soon after.
– Underweight / malnourished
Underweight and/or malnourished dogs have some of the same problems as dogs with anemia or IBD: they’re missing the nutrition they need to be fully healthy.
A puppy that is severely malnourished and on the verge of starvation may just be eating dirt out of hunger.
Can a puppy get sick from eating dirt?
A puppy can get very sick from eating dirt, especially if they do it often and in different places. Just because puppies eating dirt is common doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous or unhealthy. Some problems that might happen are that the puppy could:
- Eat parasites living in the dirt and get very sick
- Swallow poisons or toxins in the soil
- Block or damage their intestines
- Get a very sore stomach because the soil upsets the digestive tract
- Damage their teeth, throat, or other organs by picking up rocks, glass, or other dangerous items from the ground
If your puppy eats dirt once in a while, it’s normal and they’ll probably not have any problems. But it only takes one piece of glass or one sharp pebble to do serious damage – so the more dirt your puppy eats and from public areas, the more chance your puppy is going to get sick.
It’s best to put a stop to dirt-eating if at all possible.
How to stop your puppy from eating dirt
The best way to keep your puppy from eating dirt is to keep an eye on them and train them to leave things alone.
Here’s a video from Zak George, showing us how to train a dog to leave everything alone, everywhere:
If your dog is mainly an indoor dog, take them out when you have time to watch what they’re doing.
If you see your puppy eating dirt, distract or implement your training until they stop.
Keep your dog on a leash so they can’t run off and sneakily eat some dirt when you can’t see them. If your puppy is really bad and keeps finding dirt to eat, think about getting a basket muzzle like this one on Amazon for long walks.
When dogs spend a lot of time outside by themselves, stopping them from eating dirt is harder. There are still things you can do if you can figure out why your dog is eating so much dirt.
Once you know why your dog can’t stop eating dirt, here are some steps you can take to stop it:
For distracted or stressed puppies
If your puppy’s dirt-eating seems to be a behavioral issue, try to keep their stress level to a minimum. A steady, stable routine can help with this.
If you’re introducing a new person or animal into your pup’s life, do it slowly, giving your puppy time to get comfortable with the new addition.
Make sure your puppy gets enough rest and peaceful sleep, without being disturbed.
Give your dog lots of entertainment and physical activity. When dogs have enough things to do, they’re less likely to eat dirt. And a dog that’s exhausted from exercise is too tired to get up to too much mischief.
Get your puppy toys to chew on and explore, like this AWOOF Pet Snuffle Mat (Amazon link). This is an interactive dog toy where you can hide your puppy’s favorite treats in the “grass,” and they’ll have tons of fun digging and searching to find their food. The XiaZ Retractable Interactive Dog Toy is another great option if you have a large-breed dog.
For sick or malnourished puppies
If you think your puppy’s dirt-eating is because of malnutrition or sickness, take them to a veterinarian to find out what’s going on. It could be something as simple as a vitamin deficiency, food allergy, or changing your puppy’s diet too fast that results in an upset stomach.
Once your furry friend is healthy again, the dirt-eating should stop being a problem.
Reduce your puppy’s access to dirt
If your pup eats dirt every chance they get, it’s a good idea to limit their access to dirt altogether.
Keep indoor potted plants out of reach, and try to find areas outside where there’s no loose soil to munch on.
Also be sure to watch your puppy outside, to stop them from eating dirt.
Your puppy should grow out of this behavior by 6 months of age.
It’s fairly common for puppies to eat dirt, especially younger puppies that are teething and want to chew on everything in sight.
Watch your dog closely while they’re outside, and distract them with toys or a loud command whenever they start eating dirt.
Give your dog plenty of healthy distractions, and make sure they eat a balanced diet.
If dirt-eating becomes a habit, you may need to see a veterinarian to find out if there are any bigger health issues that need to be addressed.