Our furry friends are notorious for eating things that they shouldn’t including plastic, socks, and any human food dropped on the floor. However, what if your dog has eaten potting soil? What will happen?
Whether it is the soil in a potted plant in your home or outside in your yard or the park, dogs have lots of access to grass and soil. It is not uncommon for dogs to sample soil and, for some critters, soil eating can become a bad habit.
Why Do Dogs Eat Things They Shouldn’t?
Dogs are curious by nature and will explore their surrounding by both smelling and ‘sampling’ them.
Puppies are notorious for licking and ingesting things that they shouldn’t, as they learn about the world around them. This behavior improves naturally with age and maturity.
Even when things don’t taste especially pleasant, this is not usually a good enough deterrent for our dogs. Sometimes, they will enjoy the texture or the scent of the soil, meaning the foul flavor may not put them off.
Does My Dog Have “Pica”?
If your dog has been eating soil, you might have heard your vet mention the word ‘pica’. This is a medical condition whereby a dog eats indigestible things like soil, paint, wood, or sand.
It is important to mention that pica and coprophagia (the eating of feces) are not the same things. A dog may exhibit both behaviors or just one of them.
When a dog is destructive and exhibiting pica, boredom and frustration are often the underlying cause. A dog who is left alone and chews on the carpets and furniture may be letting you know they need more to keep them occupied.
It is also possible they are anxious and cannot cope when left alone for long periods.
Less commonly, pica has an underlying medical cause such as a digestive disorder, parasites or hormonal disorder.
This is why a medical check is the first step if your dog begins to eat things that they shouldn’t. This is particularly true if you have a mature dog who has never shown any interest in soil before.
While pica won’t always be harmful, if your dog eats something toxic or develops a gut obstruction, their life could be at risk. This is why it is important to get a handle on pica, and nip it in the bud when possible.
Which Breeds Are More Likely To Eat Soil?
It is true that any dog breed can exhibit this behavior, but certain breeds are more likely to show signs.
Breeds most likely to eat soil:
These breeds have a real affinity for soil, sand, and muck. This stems from their past, where they would dig to find their prey or to seek shelter from harsh weather conditions.
The act of digging in itself is not an issue: unless you aren’t a fan of new holes being made in your garden! It is a natural behavior and a dog can find it enjoyable and soothing. However, if it is associated with soil eating, it can become problematic.
Can Soil Make My Dog Ill?
Yes, soil can contain a range of pathogens and toxins that could pose a risk to our pets. Things like bacteria, parasites, fertilizer, and weedkillers can all be present.
Your dog could also be bitten by ants or centipedes if they disturb them.
Minimize risks by keeping your own garden chemical free and by ensuring your dog is up to date with effective parasite prevention. While we can’t make soil sterile, we can do things to keep our dogs safer.
What Will Happen After My Dog Eats Soil?
For most dogs, when a small amount of soil is eaten, nothing will happen. Dogs have a strong constitution and acidic stomach juices which means they tend to cope well if they eat a little bit of dirt.
Risks are higher if a dog is very young, very old, or already unwell. These dogs are at increased risk for viral or bacterial infections. Signs would usually occur within the first few days after soil ingestion, so do keep an eye out.
My Dog Has Eaten Soil And Is Now Sick…
If you’ve noticed your dog is not right after eating soil, they may have developed a mild gastroenteritis (stomach upset). Signs can include:
- Flatulence (passing gas)
- A reduced appetite
- Mild lethargy
This tends to be self-limiting and most pets would not require veterinary intervention. We should ensure they are active and alert and happy to eat. Signs should remain mild and resolve quickly.
If your dog’s signs persist or worsen, or they seem lethargic or off their food, a vet visit is sensible. The vet may advise on some testing such as a blood test or stool analysis.
For some pooches, antibiotics, anti-nausea medicine and fluids may be suggested.
Can My Dog Get Worms From Eating Soil?
Yes, if your dog eats soil containing infected fleas, flea eggs, or feces they may develop worms. However, this is unlikely when it comes to potting soil.
Remember, many worms and their eggs will be microscopic and cannot be seen by the naked eye. So, we should always assume they might be present, even if not visible.
If you see things that look like worms in potted soil, they are more likely to be maggots, potworms (similar to earthworms) or fungus gnat larvae than canine parasites.
How To Stop My Dog From Eating Soil In The Future
Oftentimes, prevention is better than cure. So, if soil eating is becoming a real issue for you and your dog, try to remove plant pots from the home and yard. You can also fence off soil or put things like rocks or a patio on top of it.
As boredom is usually a big factor in soil eating, ensure your dog is both mentally and physically stimulated.
This may include a mix of exercise, agility, puzzles and training sessions. Younger dogs and more active breeds (like the Border Collie, Belgian Malinois and Jack Russell Terrier) will need the most interaction.
What About My Dog’s Diet?
Many owners will blame their dog’s food if they begin to eat soil. They will wonder if it is providing enough nutrients and they might consider supplementing it or swapping it over entirely.
For most dogs, if fed balanced and complete dog food, the diet won’t be the issue.
However, if an owner has tried to provide a homemade diet without consulting a canine nutritionist, the diet may well be the issue. Doing this is a ‘recipe for disaster’ as nutritional deficiencies in things like calcium, iodine and vitamins will be common.
The Bottom Line
Soil eating is relatively normal and is not usually a big deal. This is especially true when your dog does it infrequently and does not consume much soil. For many, it happens ‘by mistake’ when they are digging, playing or eating grass.
Symptoms rarely occur and when they do they are mild. However, it is wise to prevent soil ingestion when you can as a dog can rarely become ill. Do also keep your dog up to date with their de wormer.
Though soil digging can be relatively normal behavior in a range of breeds, soil eating is to be discouraged. For most, this will mean limiting access and giving them other things to do.
Extra info: Why Does My Dog Eat Dirt? AKC