Why do dogs eat dirt?

DEAR PAW’S CORNER: I have three rescued dogs that each dig a small hole, usually with their teeth, and proceed to eat the dirt. I feed them quality food, so I don’t know what they’re after. Is this typical behavior or are they lacking a mineral that the dirt is providing? I’m also not real happy about the holes in the lawn. I’ll bet I am not the only one with this issue. — Jeannette V., Billings Mont.

DEAR JEANNETTE: You’re right, this behavior is actually fairly common and a source of distress for a lot of dog owners. Termed “pica” — defined by The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs as “an abnormal desire to eat things that are indigestible” — this behavior includes eating dirt and rocks. Some dogs will eat sticks, socks or whatever is handy. A common form of pica is coprophagia, a fancy term for “eating poop,” which many dog owners also deal with.

Pica is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, although a nutritional deficiency also can be a cause. So the first thing to do is consult the dogs’ veterinarian. The vet may ask you to bring in samples of the dogs’ stool to check for worms or other problems. (Separate each dog’s sample in plastic baggies labeled with their names.) Even if the vet doesn’t find a physical cause, he or she may recommend you add a vitamin supplement to their diets.

You’ll also need to address the obsessive-compulsive component. This means going outside with the dogs (or taking them out one by one for awhile). When they start digging or chewing at the ground, distract them immediately and call them over for a short spell of basic obedience training, rewarding them with either treats or praise depending on your training style. You also must fill in and re-sod the small holes in the lawn.