Some Labradors eat the most astonishing amount of trash.
In this article we are going to look at why Labs and many other dogs 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 be giving you some reassurance and helpful tips, and pointing you in the direction of some great training ideas and solutions
Let’s find out now – why DO dogs eat dirt and other trash.
Why do dogs eat dirt?
One possible reason is that dogs that eat dirt may have a mineral deficiency, and are 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.
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.
IMPORTANT: some garden mulches are poisonous to dogs – never let your dog have access to mulch.
Eating dirt could arise in dogs that are very bored, or as an attention seeking device. A kind of ‘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. 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’s worth considering. Especially if your dog keeps digging and snacking in the same place.
Again, if your dog is taking this to extremes, get some professional help. From your vet in the first instance, and from there you may need a referral to an animal behaviorist.
Why do puppies eat stones?
Eating stones is a very common activity among young puppies.
In many cases, it probably starts with the puppy just exploring a pebble or two with his mouth. In the way that puppies like toddlers, use their mouths to explore new sensations.
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 its in his tummy, no-one else 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. If 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. An activity that most dogs really enjoy
Most of the tiny bits that the stick breaks down into, are spat out. You’ll find them in a pile around the dog.
But if your dog is actually eating and swallowing wood, then you are going to be worried.
Again, 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.
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 socks and other clothing?
This is one habit that I have noticed occasionally in gundog breeds. And may be related to retrieving instincts.
It 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.
If no-one intervenes, the dog carrying his sock may settle down to have a little chew on it, and from there 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 taking the sock away from him.
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)
It’s 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
If your dog suffers from what is charmingly known as ‘depraved’ appetite, in other words he persistently swallow clothing and other odd items, 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.
You will need to throw away all loose packaging religiously and generally be very tidy.
Outdoors, your dog may need to wear a muzzle. But this is something you should discuss with your vet.
Why do dogs eat dead animals and poop
Eating organic waste such as rotting animals or animal waste products is a very natural behavior for a dog.
It doesn’t make it any less disgusting to us, but I can reassure you a little 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 very different environment from ours.
Dead seagulls, horse manure and his own poo, are actually substances that your Labrador is capable of digesting, for the most part with no ill effects. However disgusting we may think his behavior.
Perhaps the most common source of anxiety for new owners, is the dog that eats poo. His own, or that of other dogs.
You can check out the following article: Why dogs eat poop and what you can do about it for help if your dog has acquired this charming habit.
And this article: How to stop your dog eating rubbish will help you tackle general trash eating whilst out on walks.
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.
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 he found in the bin.
With a few dogs, however, regardless of how it started, eating everything becomes a dangerous habit.
Indeed, there are a few dogs that seem hell bent on getting themselves onto an operating table.
And if your Labrador falls into this category, it can be very upsetting, frustrating, not to mention expensive.
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.
I have known two dogs like this. One a Labrador of my own who compulsively ate clothing. And one a flatcoated retriever who ate dangerous quantities of vegetation, and needed an operation to remove a large spiked piece of pyracanthus (a prickly shrub) from his stomach.
There are dogs that have had to undergo major surgery after eating a stomach full of pebbles on the beach, or from swallowing cutlery or consuming some-one’s laundry.
Remember, if you have a dog like this, he is going to need a lot of supervision and you are going to have to be very attentive about not leaving clothing, or linen lying around.
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 watch and wait 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, and talk to your vet by phone if you are not sure whether to take the dog into his office.
We don’t know exactly why dogs eat the things they do. Or why labradors are so enthusiastic about eating everything.
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. Becoming an extreme and obsessive behaviour. 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 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.
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