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5 Reasons Why Dogs Eat Dirt - And You Should Too!

Why dogs eat dirt
By federico stevanin, published on 08 November 2008
Stock photo - image ID: 1001821
As scientists of various disciplines investigate the topic of dirt eating, or more accurately clay eating, they are discovering that it is more prevalent across geographic regions and species than previously imagined.  Humans, primates, dogs, cats, parrots, buffalo, deer and even fruit bats engage in clay eating or geophagia, a subset of pica.

Until now it has been assumed that the animals engaging in geophagia were either malnourished or suffering from a form of obsessive compulsive disorder originating from boredom.  New studies indicate that there may be other factors at work in the age old practice of clay eating. In our list of five reasons your dog eats clay, we offer up three traditional explanations as well as two new explanations that are gaining credence in the international dirt-eating research community.

Eating Soil From Boredom, Habit or OCD

It has been noted that bored dogs can get into the destructive habit of digging holes and then consuming the unearthed soil or clay as a by-product of the digging behavior.  In some dogs, this behavior takes on an obsessive quality, with dogs digging 2-3 new holes per day, leaving yards pock-marked with ankle-bending divots.  This behavior is different from that of the dog that returns to the same beloved spot in the yard for his daily dose of dirt, frequently an area of moist clay.  Habitual digging is a behavioral issue that should be addressed with training, increased interaction and exercise.

Clay Eating to Relieve Hunger

Some trainers have suggested that dogs fed a single meal a day are relieving hunger pains by adding a clay snack to their diet.  If your dog is on a single meal regimen and eating soil, you may try stepping him up to two meals a day to see if that curbs his clay appetite.  If that does not work, read on.
reasons why dogs eat dirt and clay
By Tina Phillips, published on 10 August 2012
Stock photo - image ID: 10095988

Dogs Eating Dirt For Missing Nutrients

Soil contains many trace elements and nutrients that are not readily available in packaged foods; clay eaters may be seeking minerals that their normal diet is lacking.  In fact, geophagia in expectant human mothers in Nigeria (an area low in available calcium) is a centuries-old indicator of pregnancy.  In other regions of Africa, where calcium is readily available, clay eating is not particularly prevalent among expecting mothers. Perhaps the pregnant, clay-eating women in Nigeria and other regions of the world are adding calcium, sodium and iron to supplement their diets for their developing fetus.

Clay Eating For Relief of Digestive Upset

For centuries man has used clay minerals to relieve vomiting, diarrhea and stomach upset.  In fact, Kaopectate, a remedy for relief of gas, bloat and diarrhea, was originally formulated with Kaolin, a clay mineral.  Ironically, clay can also contain parasites, which may create a vicious circle.  The dog eats clay to alleviate the discomfort created by the parasites, while ultimately re-infecting himself with greater numbers of parasites.  It’s a good idea to get a stool sample to the vet if your dogs is eating a lot of clay to rule out parasitic infestations.

People and Dogs Eat Dirt to Detoxify?

Clay has long been considered a detoxifier. The Mesopotamians and ancient Egyptians used mud as a treatment for wounds and to treat various digestive ailments.  Today spas worldwide offer mud baths as a path to detoxification.  As kaolin and other clay minerals have the ability to bind toxins and remove them from the system, this motive for clay eating has now moved to the forefront of scientific research. 

Returning to the subject of pregnant clay eaters, women across Sub-Saharan regions and the Southern United States have consumed clay to alleviate morning sickness.  It has been proposed that morning sickness is actually the body's attempt to remove toxins from the system.  Even pregnant fruit bats increase their daily diet of clay.  It is surmised that as they increase their diet of fruit as well as fruit seeds, which contain toxic properties, they are using the clay to remove the additional toxins from their bodies. The binding properties of clay may not only be removing toxins from the system; clay possesses the additional ability to bind food born bacteria and viruses that would be harmful to the mother and developing fetus. 

Ranchers too have long used clay when preparing livestock feed to inhibit toxin transmission. And now a few researchers are now proposing exploiting clay’s pathogen-binding talents to purify water.

Dogs eating packaged foods with traces of antibiotics or chemicals remaining in them or grass, weeds and run-off from treated lawns, may be attempting to remove toxins from their systems.  It is likely that geophagia is a specific defense that has evolved across a spectrum of species to combat toxicity and, also ease mineral deficiencies.

But, if you’re feeling that old kaolin craving, we suggest you stick with safe commercial products that have been heated or otherwise sterilized.  If you have a favorite dig in your neighborhood, heat the dirt or clay in the over at 200 degrees for at least 2 hours before consuming it.  That should eliminate most parasites.  Bon Apetite!

If your dog has been experiencing stomach upset for a prolonged period of time, including loose stools and gas, you may want to look at adding a probiotic to his diet. To learn more about how probiotics work, and which probiotics are the most effective visit Pet Helpful's article, The 5 Best Probiotics for Dogs.

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