You may have observed your dog eating (or attempting to eat) some incredibly strange things as a pet owner. But have you ever caught your dog munching on pure dirt?
Dr. Laurie S. Coger, DVM, a holistic veterinarian, adds that “dirt eating is a form of what is known as “pica,” or the consumption of nonfood items. Numerous factors contribute to it, including dietary, behavioral, and physical factors. In addition to stress and boredom, eating anything and everything is a risk factor for obesity.
You shouldn’t ignore your dog’s persistent dirt-eating behavior because it can indicate a more serious problem, such as:
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- nutritional deficits or imbalances, particularly with regard to minerals
- unhealthy food
- uneasy stomach
- disruption of the digestive system
Dogs are more prone to seek for grass in these situations, according to Dr. Coger, even though stomach and gastrointestinal problems may be to blame for your dog’s interest in dirt. “It’s time to visit the vet, she advises, if [the dirt eating] occurs frequently, is intense or manic in nature, or involves considerable amounts of consumption. “Another indication that a vet visit is necessary would be changes in stool. In order to identify the cause, blood tests to check for underlying abnormalities may be beneficial.
The Dangers of Dirt
As you may anticipate, allowing your dog to continuously eat dirt carries some risks. The primary one is intestinal impaction if your dog eats a lot at once. Injuries frequently require surgery.” Dr. Coger adds that if enough dirt was consumed, the pesticides, fertilizers, or other poisons present in the dirt may accumulate to dangerous levels. “Dental deterioration or wear may be a problem as well, depending on the filth. For instance, if the dirt contains rocks, it may harm your dog’s teeth and obstruct the esophagus or any other part of the digestive tract. The lining of your dog’s mouth, throat, gut, or stomach could be pierced by sharp objects. Additionally, your dog can absorb a parasite along with the dirt, which could result in a variety of other health problems.
Dr. Coger believes that any new, unusual behavior—like eating dirt—should be addressed right away.
Before it develops into a habit, as well as because there may be serious underlying problems. Canines will pick up housekeeping skills from other dogs, and who wants a house full of slobs?
Preventing Dirt Eating in Dogs
Consult your veterinarian about your dog’s diet to see if any modifications need to be made if you’re concerned that your dog’s tendency to eat dirt is the result of a nutritional imbalance. Make sure your dog gets enough mental and physical exercise to prevent dirt eating, which results from boredom, on the behavior front. If all else fails, restricting access to preferred dirt-eating sites might be necessary, according to Dr. Coger. Never dismiss dirt eating because it can be an indication of something greater.
Will my dog suffer if it eats dirt?
Your dog may experience a variety of issues if they eat dirt. According to Keefe, consuming significant amounts could result in a life-threatening gastrointestinal impaction or obstruction that might necessitate emergency surgery.
Dirt could also contain harmful substances that could hurt your dog. Small rocks may chip your dog’s teeth, pesticides or fertilizers may be harmful, and in extreme circumstances, choking or intestinal blockage may result. They risked having their lips, throat, or intestines punctured by pointed sticks. Additionally, there is a chance that contaminated soil will cause your pet to consume intestinal parasite eggs or other contagious organisms.
What does a dog wanting to eat grass mean?
Veterinarians will inform you that they respond to this inquiry throughout the day, every day, indicating that many dogs consume grass. Pica, the term for eating “odd non-food objects like grass, is technically used to describe a diet low in vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients. But why do dogs eat grass when they should not be nutritionally inadequate on well-balanced commercial diets?
Is eating grass a physical need?
One typical belief is that dogs eat grass to settle their stomachs. Some dogs eat grass quickly and then throw up shortly after. The chicken vs. egg conundrum is as follows: Does a dog consume grass in order to vomit and calm an upset stomach, or does he get sick after eating grass and vomit as a result? It seems improbable that dogs use grass as a kind of self-medication because studies reveal that less than 25% of dogs vomit after eating it. Actually, only 10% of dogs exhibit symptoms of disease before consuming grass. The majority of grass-eating dogs, in conclusion, do not become ill beforehand, and they do not vomit afterward.
The majority of grass-eating dogs, in conclusion, do not become ill beforehand or vomit afterward.
However, grazing could also satisfy another intestinal need. Dogs must consume roughage, and grass is an excellent source of fiber. The ability of the dog to digest food and discharge feces is impacted by the presence of roughage, therefore grass may actually improve these biological processes.
Attention: If your turf-eating dog exhibits symptoms of stomach pain, he might be suffering from a medical condition like pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or gastric reflux. To rule out major medical concerns and receive the proper care, consult your veterinarian.
Is eating grass a psychological need?
A dog’s day is centered on his owners’ activities; he observes them leaving and waits impatiently for them to come back. While most dogs enjoy being outside, others become restless when left alone and require entertainment. Filling the time by nibbling on grass that is easily available.
When dogs feel neglected, they may engage in inappropriate behaviors like eating grass to gain their owners’ attention. In addition, just like anxious people chew their fingernails as a coping tactic, anxious dogs consume grass. It is frequently observed that as owner contact time declines, grass-eating behavior in dogs tends to increase, whether they are bored, lonely, or nervous.
What can owners do to stop these dogs from grazing? A new toy or an old garment with the owner’s fragrance on it may offer some solace to worried canines. A dog will benefit from mental stimulation and boredom relief from a puzzle toy that contains food and presents a challenge. More frequent walks and vigorous playtime are beneficial for more energetic dogs. Doggie day care could be an excellent choice for dogs that crave canine interaction.
Is eating grass instinct?
The ancestors of your dog did not consume kibble that was enclosed in bags. In the wild, dogs balanced their meals by consuming the entire prey they had taken down, including the meat, bones, internal organs, and stomach contents. When the prey’s stomach included plants and grass that met the dog’s need for fiber, eating the entire animal provided a well balanced diet.
Dogs in the wild eat whatever that helps them meet their fundamental nutritional needs; they are not fully carnivorous (only eat meat), nor are they exactly omnivorous (eat both meat and plants). The analysis of feces samples reveals that 11–47% of wolves consume grass. Although dogs in the modern era do not need to hunt for food, this does not mean that they have lost their innate desire to scavenge. Some dogs will eat grass as a reflection of their lineage and the need to be scavengers, even though they adore their commercial dog food.
The behavior issue of these dogs eating grass may not even be a problem at all. If regular parasite prevention is given and infrequent grazing sessions do not make your dog ill, you should not be concerned (intestinal parasites may also be consumed with grass). In actuality, behavior modification may conflict with innate inclinations and be more detrimental than helpful.
Do they like grass?
Despite the many well-considered arguments for why dogs eat grass, we cannot ignore the most straightforward one: they simply enjoy it. Dogs might merely appreciate the flavor and feel of grass in their mouths. In fact, a lot of canines are grass connoisseurs who favor eating freshly sprung grass in the spring.
How do I stop my dog from eating grass?
Whatever the reason may be, grass is not the healthiest snack for your dog. Even though the grass itself might not be dangerous to your dog, the herbicides and insecticides put on it might be. The grass may also be contaminated with intestinal parasites like hookworms or roundworms from other dogs’ feces when your dog picks it up from the ground. How therefore may the grazing be stopped?
Additionally, when eating grass that has been plucked from the ground, your dog could consume intestinal parasites like hookworms or roundworms that have contaminated the grass with dog feces.
Dogs that respond to food rewards could be taught to cease eating the grass in favor of a better option. That means you must carry rewards with you when you walk your dog and stay with him when he uses the restroom. Every time the dog slouches to munch on the grass, divert his attention by telling him to walk in a different direction or by giving him a verbal warning, followed by a treat when he obeys.
The same technique as described above can be used to educate affection-driven dogs by simply switching out the treats for petting and positive verbal reinforcement. Dogs that respond to vocal orders may only need to be told to “heel” in order to divert their focus from the grassy nibble.
How can I stop my dog from consuming dirt and grass?
Make sure your dog is receiving enough activity if you think they are chewing the grass because they are bored. Participate them in enjoyable activities. To keep them occupied, try throwing a Frisbee, engaging in another participatory activity, or getting them a durable chew toy.
If your dog exhibits pica behavior because of a nutritional deficiency, switching to a better dog food, particularly one with high fiber content, may help solve the issue.
Although the majority of experts concur that grazing isn’t dangerous in and of itself, it’s important to remember that some pesticides and herbicides used on lawns can be highly poisonous, especially if consumed. Furthermore, certain common home and garden plants are poisonous, which could cause issues if your dog eats them along with the grass. Check the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center website, which maintains a list of poisonous and non-toxic plants, to make sure the plants in and around the area where your dog is eating grass aren’t harmful.
What should you do if your dog consumes dirt?
Although it’s unlikely that eating a little dirt here and there will hurt your dog, it should nonetheless be avoided. You should contact your veterinarian right away if you notice that your dog is eating a lot of dirt or eating dirt for the first time all of a sudden.
The vet can perform diagnostic procedures to identify the underlying reason and the best course of action.
If your dog exhibits any of the following signs, take them to the vet:
vomiting several times in a 24-hour period, especially if it happens right after consuming food or liquids
The following information will be required by your vet:
How recently, if ever, did your dog consume any foreign objects (such as dirt, rocks, poisons, etc.)?
Does your dog frequently provide heartworm and flea/tick prevention? Has prevention fallen short in any way?
To figure out why your dog keeps ingesting dirt or foreign items, your veterinarian may need to perform a number of diagnostic procedures, including:
baseline electrolyte panel, chemical panel, and blood cell count (CBC) to check for anemia, liver illness, and potential causes of gastritis.
urine analysis to look for urate crystals (a possible sign of a portosystemic shunt)
Bile acid test to evaluate liver health and aid with portosystemic shunt diagnosis
gastrointestinal obstruction, cancer, thicker intestinal wall (which could be a sign of a food allergy or inflammatory bowel illness), cancer, and portosystemic shunt can all be found with abdominal ultrasonography.
Endoscopy, colonoscopy, and gastrointestinal tract biopsies to check for malignancy, infection, or inflammation
How do I handle my pets’ pica?
A pet who has pica will eat things that are not food, like toys, rocks, grass, and sticks. Kitty litter, twine, dental floss, and clothing are among the things cats are more prone to eat.
The issue with pica is that the foods consumed may seriously obstruct the digestive system. These objects may either become entangled in the delicate intestine or be unable to pass, leading to a serious sickness and subsequent endoscopy or emergency surgery.
The following symptoms could indicate a GI blockage in your pet:
- bending over to pass a stool
- reduced appetite
What Causes Pica in Pets?
The majority of pet cases of pica are behavioral in nature. However, it’s crucial to rule out any illnesses like undernourishment, liver disease, anemia, and parasites. We can begin to consider causes and prevention if we are aware that your pet is consuming non-food objects for behavioral reasons.
The following behavioral causes of pica are typical:
- learned conduct
- worry or tension
- aversion to punishment (in the case of stool eating, eliminating the evidence of an accident in the house may help the dog avoid being punished)
Pica frequently does not go away on its own. Regardless of how it began or the reasons for it, it is frequently a compulsive activity.
Treatment and Prevention of Pica
The following steps can be followed to assist avoid pica and manage the behavioral issue if there is no underlying medical illness.
- Ensure that your pet receives adequate mental and physical stimulation. For advice, let us know your dog’s breed, age, and lifestyle. Hunting and sporting breeds need far more exercise than the average dog, which needs at least 60 minutes of exercise every day.
- If you spend a lot of time away from home, think about using environmental enrichment techniques like food puzzles, games, and a dog walker to prevent boredom.
- Cut off access to anything that your dog might eat.
- If your dog likes to eat things from the yard, think about training her to wear a basket muzzle. A muzzled dog should never be left unsupervised.
- While on a leash walk, use food and praise to divert your dog from ingesting foreign things or poop. Teach him to say, “Leave it.”
- Consider using cayenne pepper or a spray of bitter apples to cover the items.
- Give your pet a lot of safe chew toys and other items to play with that they can’t swallow.
- Consider getting your pet connected with a veterinarian behaviorist who can assist you in identifying the cause of their behavior if they continue to consume foreign objects.
The majority of the time, pica treatment and prevention will be ongoing initiatives. A follow-up appointment may be required. Preventative measures, however, are unquestionably superior to life-threatening conditions and urgent surgery (and rehabilitation) to remove foreign objects from your pet’s digestive system.