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How to Get a Dog to Stop Eating Dirt

Dogs eat dirt for a lot of reasons, some very minor and some more severe. If your dog only occasionally eats dirt, it is probably nothing to worry about. He may be trying to eat a bit of buried food, and the dirt is just in his way! If your dog eats dirt frequently, however, it could be a sign of a problem. You will need to watch your dog closely to determine when he is eating dirt and try to figure out why. Only then can you take effective steps to remedy the problem.[1]

Part One of Two:
Determining Why Your Dog is Eating Dirt
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  1. 1
    Learn some of the reasons that dogs eat dirt. Eating dirt is a form of pica, or eating things that aren't food. In some cases, pica is caused by a mineral deficiency in your dog's diet or a parasite infestation. In other cases, however, eating dirt may simply be a sign of boredom. This is especially true in puppies and young dogs.[2] A dog may also eat dirt to alleviate intestinal distress caused by eating something he shouldn't have.
  2. 2
    Think about when the dirt-eating started. Were there any recent changes in the dog's diet, level of activity, or environment? Does the dog show any other unusual symptoms or behaviors that might help explain the problem? If you have multiple dogs, are they all eating dirt?
    • If your dog eats an unusual quantity of dirt, keep a close eye on him in case he did eat something he should not have and is experiencing signs of poisoning.
    • If multiple dogs in a household are all eating dirt, it could be a sign of a deficiency in their diet.
    • If multiple dogs are all eating dirt from the same location, however, it could be that there is something delicious in that dirt.
  3. 3
    Check your dog's gums. Eating dirt may be a sign of anemia caused by dietary deficiencies or parasites. If the dog's gums are pale or jaundiced (yellow in color) take him to the vet right away for further diagnosis and treatment.[3]
  4. 4
    Think about your dog's diet. Most commercial dog foods contain enough vitamins and minerals to keep a dog healthy, but some brands contain less minerals than others. Check the label of your dog food and compare it to other brands to make sure it has similar amounts of minerals like iron and calcium. If your dog eats a raw or home-cooked diet, he may not be getting the nutrients he needs. Talk to your vet about mineral supplements in that case.[4]
    • A dog may also eat dirt because he is hungry. If you have cut back on your dog's food because he is overweight, consider a lower-calorie food that keeps him feeling full instead of less of his normal food.
  5. 5
    Talk to your vet. If you can't figure out the cause of your dog's dirt-eating, or suspect it may be a sign of a more serious problem, bring the dog in for a check-up. During an exam, the vet can check the dog's overall health, order lab work to rule out deficiencies and diseases, and look for signs of parasites.
    • Some veterinarians may be willing to offer advice over the phone. You can try calling your vet first to talk about the behavior and get some suggestions of things to try.
    • Check out the dog's feces. If he has diarrhea or produces a greasy stool it might be he isn't digesting his food properly. This can lead to an nutritional imbalance and the dog eats dirt in an attempt to remedy this. This being the case, a vet consultation is essential since the problem needs investigating and a solution found.
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Part Two of Two:
Preventing Your Dog From Eating Dirt
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  1. 1
    Entertain your dog. Increase the amount of attention you give your dog, and give him a selection of new and interesting toys to play with. If possible, take your dog on extra walks. A busy, tired dog is less likely to try to entertain himself by eating dirt.[5]
  2. 2
    Try changing your dog's food. If you suspect that your dog food contains insufficient minerals, try a different brand. There are many kinds of dog food available. If you can afford them, premium brands tend to offer better, more easily-digestible ingredients. Be sure to look for a food that addresses any special needs your dog might have (age, size, activity level, medical issues). When in doubt, call your vet for a recommendation.
  3. 3
    Deworm your dog. Intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms can absorb nutrients your dog needs and cause anemia and intestinal distress, both of which can lead to dirt-eating. Visible worms in your dog's feces are a definite sign he is infected, but other symptoms include diarrhea, low appetite, loss of energy, etc. If you suspect worms, you can get dewormer tablets at your local pet store, or from your veterinarian.
    • Some breeds of dogs (especially Australian shepherds and collies) are sensitive to the ingredients in some dewormers, so it's a good idea to check with your vet first.[6]
  4. 4
    If your dog only eats dirt in specific areas, avoid those places. This is most likely a sign that your dog is interested in eating something in the dirt, and not the dirt itself. But if the behavior bothers you, keep him away from that patch the dirt.
  5. 5
    Supervise your dog when he is outside. Walk your dog on a leash, and keep an eye on him while he is in the yard. Discourage your dog verbally when you see him start to eat dirt. Try to distract him or redirect him, and give him praise when he leaves the dirt alone.
    • If your dog only eats dirt from a specific are of your yard, you can try treating the area with a taste deterrent like cayenne pepper, hot sauce, or a bitter apple spray (available at pet stores). [7]
  6. 6
    Keep potted houseplants out of reach. If your dog eats the dirt from houseplants, remove them from reach, if possible. You can also try spraying them with a taste deterrent.[8]
    • If you see your dog approach the plants, tell him firmly to "sit." When he does, reward him with a small treat to reinforce the positive behavior.
  7. 7
    Use a spray bottle to train your dog not to eat dirt. Carry a spray bottle filled with cool, clean water when you go on walks, and keep it nearby when your dog is in the yard. When you see your dog begin to eat dirt, approach him and scold him with a firm "No!" Wait one second, and then spray him in the face with a spray bottle.[9]
    • Never use hot water, or add anything to the water that could hurt the dog or sting his eyes.
    • Never use a spray bottle on a dog that might bite you.
  8. 8
    Try a remote punishment device to train your dog. These devices are triggered remotely so the dog does not associate the punishment with you personally. Popular choices include an air horn, or a citronella collar that can be activated to release an unpleasant smell when remotely triggered.[10]
    • Many dog owners are against using punishments of this nature, whereas others think it is justified if the behavior they are trying to stop could be harmful to the dog. Use your best judgement and do what's right for you and your dog.
  9. 9
    Keep your dog indoors. If you are unable to supervise your dog when he is outside and can't get him to stop eating dirt, you may need to keep him indoors while you are away. Make sure to keep all houseplants out of reach, or he may still find a way to get his dirt fix indoors.
  10. 10
    Consider anxiety medication for your dog. If your dog won't stop eating dirt and exhibits other signs of anxiety, first try adding more entertainment and removing any stressors from his life that you can. If this is not possible or does not help, talk to your vet about the possibility that he needs an anxiety medication.[11]
  11. 11
    Consult with a dog trainer or behavior specialist. If your vet finds nothing physically wrong with your dog, and none of these at-home remedies are successful, an experienced trainer or animal behavior specialist may be able to help. Ask your vet for a recommendation, or call your local pet store. You can also do a web search for "animal behavior" or "dog training" in your area.
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Community Q&A

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  • How can make my dog bark?
    Answered by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS
    • If the dog is a youngster, then be patient. Puppies sometimes don't 'find' their bark until they are several months old. If the dog is an adult, then try getting a friend to knock on the door, or a similar action, which should trigger barking. Have some treats handy, and when the dog gives their first, quiet tentative "Woof" give the dog lots of praise and a treat. This will gradually teach the dog that barking is OK and help them find their voice.
    Thanks! 2 2
  • What vegetarian foods can I feed my dog?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Dogs are carnivorous by nature. You can't change that unless you want an unhealthy and unhappy dog.
    Thanks! 24 9
  • I feed my puppy cooked chicken and mince, but all he wants to eat is dirt. What should I do?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Mince and chicken are not good for puppies because it does not give it enough nutrients. Try to give your puppy dog food ( for puppies) with gravy on it to add flavor.
    Thanks! 3 0
  • My dog is eating dirt. What is he lacking?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Eating dirt may be just a habit out of boredom. Give him a chew toy or a marrow bone to keep him occupied.
    Thanks! 2 0
  • How do I stop my dog from eating play sand from his digging pit?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Punish it (but not too stern). If it doesn't eat it, reward it. If he continues, don't let it play in the sand. Always make sure you are feeding the dog enough food and water as well.
    Thanks! 7 4
  • How do I add fiber to a dog's diet?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Mix some pumpkin puree into your pet's food. There are no side effects, and it works like a charm.
    Thanks! 7 7
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Expert Review By:

PE
Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

This version of How to Get a Dog to Stop Eating Dirt was reviewed by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS on August 1, 2017.

23 votes - 96%
Co-authors: 33
Updated:
Views: 377,377

Reader Success Stories

  • SV

    Share V.

    Nov 15, 2017

    "Helped me understand why my 9 month old pup started eating dirt out of my fig tree plant. He was just wormed and only seems to eat dirt when I'm busy on the phone or he wants to chew a branch off. He gets bones every day and with some redirection, it has been better. Thank you."..." more
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  • BB

    Barb Braun

    Feb 23, 2017

    "Learned more to help any pet owner, including myself. My daughter's pet has taken up eating dirt out of nowhere. After reading this article, it is a positive for worms. She is getting medicine to rid them. Your article gives good advice."..." more
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    Angela D.

    Mar 11, 2017

    "My dog mostly eats dirt from the same spot in the yard. It was a relief to read that it's likely due to something she is interested in vs. eating it for parasites or dietary reasons. "..." more
  • QP

    Quenntin Paikea

    Feb 21, 2017

    "My dog has a lump on the inside of his throat. Doesn't seem to be bothering him, so I read your info thinking its a cyst maybe, may have to get a checkup at the vet."..." more
  • A

    Anonymous

    Jul 6, 2017

    "This article helped me pinpoint my dog's eating problem! Thank you to whoever wrote this amazingly helpful information."..." more
  • VD

    Virginia Davis

    Feb 18, 2017

    "Very informative. I will try changing my dogs food to see if she is needing more minerals and vitamins from her food."..." more
  • DM

    Dawn M.

    Oct 6, 2016

    "The article gave me a starting point and things to consider. Easy to read and understand. Thank you."
  • DM

    Debbie Mccown

    Nov 9, 2017

    "My dog keeps eating my houseplant dirt. I will try the suggestions in this post and see what works."
  • TS

    Tomi Steele

    Jul 28, 2016

    "This article gave me some ideas about why my dog may be eating dirt."
  • AM

    Amuzaa Moirangthem

    Jan 12, 2017

    "Thanks for the article! It helped me a lot. "
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