Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt, Stones, And Trash: A Guide To Dogs Eating Dirt

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Why do dogs eat dirt, stones and other trash

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.

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.

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 and stones. We look at Labradors that eat everything

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.

Mineral Deficiency

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.

Attention Seeking

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.

Why do dogs eat dirt, and stones, and stick, and mud? Find out all about crazy canine eating habits here!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.

Behavioral Help

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.

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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.

Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt, Stones, And Trash

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? — Summary

We don’t know exactly why dogs eat the things they do. Neither do we know why Labradors are so enthusiastic about eating everything.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

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
  • VetStreet. Why Does My Dog Like to Eat Weird Things Out of the Trash. Dr. Wailani Sung MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB
  • PetMD. Why Do Dogs Eat Dirt? Chavez, O. E., BVetMed, MRCVS, MBA.

34 COMMENTS

  1. Me and my six months old lab Hugo are living in Jerusalem. But there is so much dirt/ trash on the streets and in the parks that it is very hard to distract him not to eat it. Anyone, who has experiences or tips on how to deal with it?

  2. I have a 10 year old chocolate lab that is loved by everyone in the family. In the past though, he has consumed the following: a computer keyboard, socks, underwear, part of a couch cushion, part of my bullet resistant vest (kevlar), crayons, garbage which included used razor blades for shaving, tampons, Kleenex, used baby wipes, dirty diapers, rocks, a bed sheet, many training bumpers, and the list goes on and on. Every time he does eat something weird, he vomits it up usually about a week later, and of course, in the middle of the night. We have tried everything to get him to stop but with no luck. We are clueless how to stop this but it has sort become the norm. We keep a pretty clean house but he always finds some way of filling his stomach with weird items. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! We can’t keep closing every door and hiding everything in our house just to keep him from eating anything and everything.

  3. My six month old lab has an appetite for absolutely anything! So far I have retrieved from him (with a tasty treat) four pieces of broken glass, several flower pots, a quantity of gravel, some largish amounts of concrete, various screwdrivers, nuts, bolts and other tools from by husband’s toolbox, the contents of a blocked drain (eeargh!), various socks, a rusty nail or two, several small pieces of plastic, a multitude of small stones and several other small pieces of metal of unknown origin! So far he has had two episodes of bloody stools and I have found in his poo (and helped to extract!!!) some concrete, stones, pieces of pine cone, some string but everything has passed through and he is, so far, ok. He has been diagnosed by the vet as a little overweight and is on a restricted diet. so I am praying for the day he is on normal amounts of food and hopefully he won’t need to forage quite so much. Wish me well!!!!

  4. Please help. My dog had consumed stones and he vomited 5-6 times and the stones came out of it. I talked to my vet and provided medicine but he is not as active and playful as earlier. He’s quiet all time and doesn’t look active

  5. Thank you for the insights of Labrador ownership- We have a soon to be 5 month old Black English Labrador, much loved by all. She enjoys munching on many things!! and my partner- even after two children has not learnt to put items of clothing, hairbrushes and the such out of reach!! and of course then wonders why it is her things that get chewed upon-
    Since we have had her she has calmed down a lot, but still enjoys the odd stone now and then. Overall she is an absolute delight!! For some reason she gets very excited before bed every night and that is after a longish walk- but once in bed and a quick chew on a squeaky toy she settles down.
    One question- though, are dogs are afraid of strong winds, mine seems terrified and cowers close to the back door when I let her out and will not relieve herself without gentle persuasion (often very early in the morning!!)

  6. My wife was making some bread – a small loaf – and left the dough on the kitchen bench. Our boy got a hold of it and swallowed the dough lock stock and barrel. I went into a panic because the dough contains yeast which swells with heat which could really distend his stomach and not pass through his intentional tract . I contacted the vet who advised me to watch him for a couple of hours and bring him in if I saw any significant change. Well I did. In our garden we had a lemongrass plant. I watched our boy start to chew into the plant and I mean chew about an hour after he swallowed the dough… about 20 minutes later I found the dough fully hoiked up with the lemongrass on our outdoor lounge – bless him – a present.. He must have known that if he chewed the plant it would aggravate his stomach and make him vomit…true story. WE were very lucky actually because it could have killed him.

  7. My one year old female lab loves to chew on just about everything. We have a constant supply of chew sticks of all sizes, shapes and flavours. She recently took to chewing on her fleece blanket and it wasnt until she expelled a fleecy looking poop that I realised she had eaten it ! She used to regularly eat her way through plastic bags, plastic bottle tops, socks, etc. She does still love twigs though. I will try the swapping technique. Thanks.

  8. My 20 month black lab [male] eats tissues. My children leave tissues around and he’s got it in seconds. He has even taken them from the tissue box if they are sticking out. He is really quick at chewing and swallowing before i catch him.

  9. Rolo our 6 month old chocolate lab ate 2 tiny screws, a £200 trip to the vets to be told they can’t see anything on x-ray & to check his poop. 2 weeks later, still no screws. What on earth he did with them I will never know haha
    It is reassuring that he’s just exploring stones. He does give them up when we say “ta” but he has just started investigating his own poop, so stopping that is the next challenge. Swapping sounds like a great suggestion.
    Thank you. This site/facebook page/emails have been a godsend to us as first time puppy owners 🙂

  10. My two soga eat cat poo from the littlerthwy are a lab cross golden and she is 14 months old and my other is a 8 tear old dashhound and they both eat cat poo how do I stop them

    • Cat poo is a REAL delicacy to dogs and the ONLY way to stop it is to keep the litter box where the dogs can’t get to it! I put a baby gate in the doorway of the room ours is in and when we get a new door for it we will make a kitty door for her.

  11. Hello my 14 month old lab cross golden retriever eats all thw cat poo all the time and I’m sick of it my 8 year old dashhound does the same does any one know how to stop them because I have cat litter every where in my house

  12. My 7 year old black lab ate a panty a week ago, while i was chasing her through the house. She ate the panty and i waited for her to poop it out or vomit it. Nothing. But she was ok and normal. 4 days had past, and suddenly she vomits the damn thing !! 2 days ago, she ate all my sisters drawing material, pencils, pens, eraser, everything. And a big packet of candy. She had a big diharea because the candy had a diuretic effect. And today …. Well, today she had a TV cable for dessert. Not taking any chances this time. I’m going to the vet . it was a crazy week.

    • My 7 year old lab does the same thing!! I am sick of her throwing up objects–plastic bags, socks, part of a black dress she threw up on my white carpet, part of her bed. She is getting worse. I took her to the vet, and he thinks she is normal???? I have had labs for a long time, but nothing like “Angel!” Maybe I named her wrong, and I am about to change that name!!!!!

  13. My golden retriever (18month old) got a hold of a box of nails, he was in the other room and I walked in to find then in a pile on the floor. He has managed to pass through a plastic bag and a pack of chewing gum before. I’m not sure weather or not he actually ate any of them but he seems to be fine now. Advice? If he did swallow one would he be coughing or Anything by now? It was about an hour ago…

  14. My lab is 3 years old and sleeps in the house and in the morning I put him outside he will tear up and thing out there including large pots, hoses, towels, clothing, wood of any sort, a small tree, a rose bush ect.. He will eat small rocks and chew on bricks and throw up. You would think he would learn just from the pain of it. I can’t give him toys cause he will eat them including the much lauded kong. I do give him pig ears almost everyday and food is always available. There’s no way I can afford a 3000 dollar surgery so he is literally committing suicide. Any advice?

  15. Today Monty, my 15 week old lab, squatted in the middle of the street and passed a squeaker from a toy he destructed while I was in the shower. I didn’t even realise the thing squeaked! How that passed an entire digestive system is beyond me and I’m trained in nutrition!

  16. Years back we had a male lab that consumed pretty much anything we had worn….socks, bras, undies…. Never chewed a hole in any of them. He could wad them up in a ball and swallow them faster than you could get to him. Ended up putting liners in the hampers and bungying the lids shut. Usually after a couple days we knew he had eaten something when he would quit eating until he vomited it up. A few times he would pass them. It taught us, in particular my husband, to pick up after himself!

  17. I have black lab pup of 45 Days. One afternoon he had stones, stitcks and plastic bags and the same day night he got bleedding in his stool which made me so serious. He got a vomit als and later i found he had taken al des inorganic items. M so worried
    pls tel me how to stop this habit

  18. Walking my dog today and she came accross a woodpigeon that was resting/hiding/ under some twigs nr a river, my dog got to it before i could get her under control, she ran off with bird in mouth and killed the poor creature, i had my teenage son with me and bless my son, he ran through the shallow river and tried to get hold of our dog. What can i do to make sure this NEVER happens again? Any ideas? Shes a 15mth old Lab

  19. Hi my 5 month yellow labrador keeps digging in a stoney area around the house. He sniffs and sniffs looking for something then digs up one specific black stone. It is his treasure which he does give up for a kibble. But he is very proud of himself is this normal??

  20. my 7 months old lab always eat mud,soil etc.once he ate a safety pin but there was no problem because it came out when he poop.

  21. When my yellow was about 6 months she was watching me replace some old decking when I saw her reach for something. I was finding all sorts of garbage under there since the property was a rental for many years. I didn’t see what she had in her mouth but immediately said, “drop it” which, of course, to her at that age meant “swallow it”. Almost a week later, one night around 3AM suddenly things were coming out both ends. A rush to emergency and the $5,000 prize was a hard rubber ball that they used in the older golf balls. It was stuck in her small intestine refusing to budge. She has around 13 inches less of intestine to fill now.

  22. Belle’s owner
    My month old lab just swallowed a rib bone 2 inch by 1 inch x 1 inch ?
    She stole it off the table . When I tried to get it she just decided to swallow it.

    Should I be worried ?

  23. Our beautiful yellow Lab, Morgan, will eat anything! She is the loveliest dog ever & we are sure she is committing passive suicide! If we are not vigilant with fabrics, trash, plastics, she will swallow them. Last year she ate a piece of corn cob, which I had sliced in medallions to serve. $3,000 later it was surgically removed from where it was blocking her small intestine. She has eaten the contents of a guest bathroom room trash can containing dental floss, plastic items & other uneatable items. A local dog breeder gave me the hot tip to keep cans of Pumpkin to use as an emergency aid of sorts when Morgan seems to have swallowed non-food items. This tip has proven to be a life saver!!! Apparently it cleans out all the nooks & crannies in the bowels but mostly coats & helps lubricates the “things” swallowed & allows them pass through the bowels. If Morgan would not eat the Pumpkin, indicating an active blockage, we would be making a fast trip to the vets. Who knew we’d have a counter surfer & live disposal!

    • We have a lovely 12 week old black lab puppy that loves eating soil and stones? Our garden has no soil borders. But he digs the grass to find any stones or soil he can find, and sits crunching them whenever he has the chance? Have found a few stones in his poo, but worry that he is swallowing bigger ones? He is healthy, eating, and full of energy at the moment? Should I worry about this behaviour ?

  24. My 20 week old pup eats sand. We live next to the beach and walk there 3x a day. The other day my daughter and I couldn’t believe what we saw. He pooed out a sand poo. It was the most bizarre and disgusting thing. Im trying really hard to stop him eating sand but he goes mad digging and stuffing his nose into the hole then scoffing mouthfulls. Hoping that he will stop this soon as it can’t be good for his digestive system. has anyone heard of this? He doesnt seem unwell at all. A bit lethargic sometimes.

    • Hello my 14 month old lab cross golden also eats sand I don’t know if you should worry to much but if you see bad things with her then I would get her check out

  25. I had to stop giving my dog a kong in the morning. I would put peanut butter in it to occupy him for a while as I left for work. He would take it yo his dog run and eat the peanut butter, along with 20-30 pebbles in the dog run (there are hundreds of pebbles to keep the weeds out). Now I give him his kibble right before I leave early in the morning, instead of first thing in the morning. He hasn’t eaten any more pebbles

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