The reasons why a dog would chow down on dirt and grass are varied. He could have a medical condition, a behavior problem, or he could be malnourished. One way to tell whether there might be a problem is if your dog suddenly starts eating a lot of grass, for example. If that happens, or if you are concerned for any reason, take your dog to a veterinarian. Sometimes this peculiar habit is one you can shrug off as just another doggy quirk, but sometimes it isn't.
Dogs Eating Dirt
The medical term for dogs who eat dirt is pica, which means the dogs crave a nonfood item. Some dogs, besides eating dirt, also crave rocks, clay or soap. A dog who does this might be malnourished, be hungry, or have a vitamin deficiency. He might have diabetes, a thyroid condition or parasites. Your veterinarian can diagnose the reason.
What to Do
If your vet rules out a medical reason, your dog isn't ill but is eating dirt because his dietary needs are not being met. Dog foods vary in quality. Ensure that the food you buy meets your dog's nutritional needs and is formulated for the life stage your dog is in -- puppy, adult or senior maintenance. The first ingredient listed on the label should be a meat, such as lamb or beef. Don't choose food with "meat byproducts" on the label. This means feathers, hooves, beaks, eyes and skin. If diet isn't the reason for your dog's dirt-eating behavior, you might need to teach your dog new behavior or change his environment.
Dogs Like Grass
Most dogs like to eat grass, but it's anyone's guess as to why, said veterinarian Richard Orzeck on his website. Dogs are omnivores, and many eat nearly anything. If grass is readily available, dogs will likely eat it. They might have a craving for grass that dates from their ancestors, who killed grass-eating prey. Dogs, in other words, consumed grass when they consumed whatever their prey ate. Dogs might be balancing a nutritional need by eating plants. Try giving your dog an occasional carrot or broccoli stem and see whether that cuts down on the grass eating.
Grass and Upset Stomach
Many people believe that a dog eats grass when it has an upset stomach and is trying to make himself vomit. But this theory is difficult to prove. Orzeck posed this question: "Do dogs eat grass to make themselves vomit, or do they vomit because they're eating grass?" In addition, not all dogs who eat grass vomit. They key for dog owners is to monitor the grass-eating activities. If your dog occasionally nibbles a blade here and there, that's probably fine. If your dog suddenly gulps down grass, take her to the vet.
By Laura Agadoni
About the Author
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.