In this article we will look at the reasons why dogs eat inedible objects like dirt, stones or trash. We’ll help you understand this dog eating dirt problem. Then, we’ll share some reassurance and helpful tips. We’ll also be pointing you in the direction of some great training ideas and solutions.
Why do dogs eat dirt, stones, and other trash? If you’ve ever felt concerned about your normally well-mannered dog eating dirt, you’re not alone. Some Labradors eat the most astonishing amount of trash. But besides Labs, other dogs also eat dirt, rocks, mud, disgusting dead animals, sticks, leaves and even poop. Puppies in particular often eat stones, leaves and bits of paper. And it is natural to worry about whether this will harm them. Let’s find out now — why DO dogs eat dirt? Why do dogs eat trash? What can you do about your dog eating stones? We’ll begin with the first question.
Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt?
There are a few reasons why you might have a dog eating dirt situation. As we review each of these reasons, think about which of them seem most likely for your doggie. It’s also possible that there might be more than one of these issues with your pet.
One possible reason is that dogs that eat dirt may have a mineral deficiency. In this case, by eating dirt, they’re trying to get nutrients from the soil. There’s no hard evidence to support this theory, but it seems a reasonable one, and it’s certainly worth reviewing the diet of a dog who eats dirt. This is important especially if you are feeding a home cooked diet. Most complete commercial pet foods contain the full range of vitamins and minerals required by your pet.
Swallowing the occasional bit of dirt is unlikely to harm your dog. But, if your Lab is munching on soil on a regular basis, he needs a check up from the vet. There are some illnesses that can cause malnutrition and potentially this kind of abnormal eating pattern. One of such conditions is anemia — a drop in the red blood cells. Dogs with anemia may show any or all of the following signs:
- Pale gums
- Weakness or reduced activity
- Eating dirt
- Weight loss
- Tarry black stools (if they’re anemic from losing blood through a gastrointestinal bleed)
Other illnesses such as liver and gastrointestinal issues may also show up as your dog eating dirt. IMPORTANT: some garden mulches are poisonous to dogs, so never let your dog have access to mulch.
Eating dirt could arise in dogs that are bored, or as an attention-seeking device. Basically, your pup is saying “look at me, I’m eating dirt. I bet you want to stop me doing this!!” Which of course, you do.
If this is your dog’s problem, you may just need to spend a bit more time interacting with him, and giving him a bit more exercise and attention. However, you’ll need to do this when your dog is displaying good behavior.
Do your best in the meantime to avoid fussing over a dog who’s eating dirt. We’ll discuss more specific tips later on what you can do. But, if you’d like some ideas on training, check out our training section for more information and tips.
Something Buried in the Soil
Another reason for eating dirt may just be a strongly flavored area of soil. Perhaps something tasty (to your dog) has been spilled there, or is buried in that patch of soil? It might help just to wait them out and see if they return with anything specific or interesting. This option is especially worth considering if your dog keeps digging and snacking in the same place.
Again, if your dog is taking this to extremes, get some professional help. See your vet in the first instance, and from there you may need a referral to an animal behaviorist. Why do dogs eat dirt? There you have four solid reasons why your dog may be eating dirt. But what about stones? Why do dogs eat stones?
Why Do Puppies Eat Stones?
Eating stones is a very common activity among puppies. So, if you’re a dog parent with a dog eating stones, don’t feel bad. In many cases, it probably starts with the puppy just exploring a pebble or two with his mouth. Puppies are similar to toddlers in that way; they use their mouths to explore new sensations.
However, if left alone with the small stone/coin/plastic toy or whatever he has in his mouth, most puppies will simply spit it out when they get bored with it. But of course, we worry that the puppy will choke or swallow the thing, and we try to get it off him. The puppy then does swallow it, simply because if it’s in his tummy, no one else can take it. For this reason it is always best to “swap” items you don’t want your puppy to have, for a tasty bit of food. It helps to avoid the swallowing habit getting started.
Puppies often grow out of eating rubbish. But, if a dog eating stones or rocks persists into adulthood it can be much more serious. We’ll look at that below.
Why Do Dogs Eat Sticks?
Many dogs that appear to be eating sticks are actually just chewing them up. It’s an activity that many dogs really enjoy. For Labs, this chewing is often born from their retriever instincts. Still, stress, boredom, and anxiety may exacerbate these chewing tendencies.
Most of the tiny bits that the stick breaks down into, are spat out. You’ll often find them in a pile around the dog. But if your dog is actually eating and swallowing wood, then you should be worried. In this case again, we’ll do what we did with the puppy and stones. Swapping the stick for something tasty makes it less likely that your dog will swallow what is in his mouth, or run off with it.
However, for some dogs, eating everything and anything is a real psychological problem and health risk. These dogs often consume items of clothing such as socks, dishcloths and cleaning rags, toys, sticks and pretty much anything they find lying around.
Why Do Dogs Eat Trash?
If you’re wondering “why does my dog eat trash?” you’re not alone. Many dogs love a good trash rummage. There are a few reasons why your furchild loves to snoop in the trash. And no, it’s not because one man’s trash is another (doggie)’s treasure.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as the fact that something in the trash smells like food to your dog. Other times, it’s because your trash can seems like an exciting gadget for your dog. Perhaps he’s noticed that pushing a lever magically opens this trove of food. Dogs also love weird smells. If you’re a dog owner, you’ll know that they sniff anything from butts to smelly feet — don’t be shocked if they love the way trash smells.
Still, trash-loving dogs may have serious issues too. Maybe your dog’s appetite is skyrocketing because of an undiagnosed illness? Either way, if you find it happening too often or your instincts tell you there might be more to it, see your vet. We’ll have more tips for dealing with dogs eating trash in our tips section below.
Why Do Dogs Eat Socks and Other Clothing?
This is one habit that I have noticed occasionally in gundog breeds. It may also be related to their retrieving instincts. The habit often starts by the dog enjoying carrying items of clothing around in his mouth. Retrievers have been bred for generations to love carrying things, so perhaps it isn’t surprising if this instinct sometimes gets a bit out of hand.
But, if no-one intervenes, the dog carrying his sock may settle down to have a little chew on it. Then, from there he may progress to swallow part or all of it. Or, like the puppy with the stone in his mouth, he may swallow the sock to stop his worried owner from taking the sock away. But, if your Lab does swallow all or part of a sock, don’t panic.
Very often the sock will pass through the dog in a day or two, perhaps needing a little help at the far end of it’s journey (lovely). You can read this article if your dog has swallowed a sock and you’re not sure what to do.
However, it’s certainly a sensible precaution to give your vet a call and let him know what has happened. He’ll confirm whether he wants you to wait or to bring the dog in for a quick examination.
Safety Precautions for Labs Who Eat Clothing
Does your dog suffers from what is charmingly known as “depraved” appetite? In other words does he persistently swallow clothing and other odd items? If yes, you will need to be very careful about picking things up around the house. You won’t be able to leave washing hanging on radiators, tea towels within his reach in the kitchen, or shoes on the floor.
It would be wise to throw away all loose packaging religiously and generally be very tidy. While outdoors, your dog may need to wear a muzzle. But this is something you should discuss with your vet first.
Why Do Dogs Eat Dead Animals and Poop?
Eating organic waste such as rotting animals or animal waste products is natural behavior for a dog. Still, it doesn’t make it any less disgusting to us. I can reassure you a little, though, on your dog’s safety with this particular habit. You might think that carrion and animal waste are dangerous, but the dog’s stomach is a vastly environment from ours.
Dead seagulls, horse manure and his own poop, are actually substances your Labrador can digest. At least, for the most part, with no ill effects — however disgusting we may think his behavior. But, perhaps the most common source of anxiety for new owners, is the dog that eats poop, whether his or that of other dogs.
We have an entire article on the topic: Why dogs eat poop and what you can do about it. It may help if your dog has acquired this charming habit. You may also like this article: How to stop your dog eating trash. It will help you tackle general trash eating whilst out on walks.
Still, take comfort from the fact that unless your dog has developed a taste for poisonous mushrooms (it happens), for the most part he will probably come to no harm from eating organic material. Unfortunately, this is not the case with dogs that consume inorganic objects.
The Risk to Dogs That Eat Stones and Clothing
Rest assured that most dogs are not at risk from occasionally swallowing a bit of dirt, a scrap of paper, or something grubby they found in the bin. With a few dogs, however, regardless of how it started, eating everything becomes a dangerous habit. Indeed, a few dogs do seem hellbent on getting themselves onto an operating table. These are dogs that eat stones, nails, plastic bags, and the contents of your washing line.
We are not talking about the puppy who once swallowed a pebble that you tried to take out of his mouth. Or the dog who eats the rotten dead squirrel he finds on a walk. We are talking about regular, compulsive eating of inappropriate and inedible items. And if your Labrador falls into this category, it can be very upsetting and frustrating — not to mention expensive.
I have known two dogs like this. One was a Labrador of my own who compulsively ate clothing. And another was a flat-coated retriever who ate dangerous quantities of vegetation. He eventually needed an operation to remove a large spiked piece of pyracanthus (a prickly shrub) from his stomach. Several dogs have had to undergo major surgery after eating a stomach full of pebbles on the beach, or swallowing cutlery or laundry.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Dirt or Trash— Tips
Although we’ve already mentioned a few ways to stop your dog eating dirt, let’s list them all now. This way you can have an organized list of tactics:
- Use a trash can with a locking lid. See some of our favorite dog-proof trash cans here. This will keep your dog out of the trash at home, at least.
- Get your dog checked at the vet. If your dog keeps eating dirt ravenously, get them checked for anemia or any medical conditions that could cause pica. Pica/depraved appetite is the condition of eating inedible materials.
- Distract your dog from dirt, stones, and other trash by swapping. If you’re out walking, try to have a treat to distract them, At home, it may help to buy them a chew toy. You can see some of our favorites here.
- Don’t rush at your dog when you see them playing with a stone or stick. This may cause them to swallow it. Gently approach and try to swap the harmful object.
- Make sure your dog gets enough exercise everyday. This reduces boredom and the desire to dig.
- Provide lots of supervision. You’ll need to be very attentive about not leaving clothing, or linen lying around, for example.
- If all else fails, see a behaviorist.
Do your best. But, if your dog does manage to consume something he shouldn’t, you’ll need to let your vet know what your dog has eaten. If the dogs seems well and happy, the vet will usually advise a wait and watch policy to see if it emerges through the normal channels.
Symptoms to Watch out For
Keep a close eye on your dog during this time and don’t hesitate to get him to the vet if he shows signs of being unwell or in pain Watch out for drooling, whining, loss of appetite, lethargy, restlessness or any other abnormal behavior. Then, talk to your vet by phone if you are not sure whether to take the dog into his office.
Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt, Stones, Trash and Other Weird Stuff?
We don’t know exactly why dogs eat the things they do. Neither do we know why Labradors are so enthusiastic about eating everything. But we do know that most dogs don’t come to any harm from eating a bit of trash.
In a few dogs, swallowing dangerous objects will persist and worsen as the dog heads towards adulthood. This can become an extreme and obsessive behavior, sometimes referred to as Pica or “depraved appetite.”
Always consult your vet if you think your dog has swallowed something inedible. You may well be told to “wait it out.” Sometimes these objects do pass straight through, but it can be a tense time, waiting for the outcome.
Check your dog at regular intervals for symptoms that things are not going well, signs of discomfort or pain. Get straight back to your vet if the situation changes. Remember, most puppies do grow out of eating stones, dirt, and bits of fabric. It is normally just a phase and can be dealt with through distraction and “swapping.”
Check with your vet if your puppy still eats weird stuff at six months old, or seems to be getting worse. And try not to worry if he eats the odd dead bird. He will probably digest it without any trouble.
Does Your Labrador Eat Trash?
We hope you found ‘why do dogs eat dirt’ interesting. Maybe you have an interesting story too? Has your dog ever swallowed something dangerous or weird? Tell us your story in the comments box below.
Further Reading and References
- MSD Manual, Veterinary Manual. Anemia in Dogs. Marks, S. L., BVSc, MS, MRCVS, DACVIM, North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine
- Pet Health Network. Anemia in Dogs. Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website