Ask the Vet: Dirt Licking
The Problem: Four of our dogs lick dirt and it's making us crazy. Is there something missing in their diet? We feed a high quality kibble (not the junk from the grocery store). Thanks! - Melanie Foster-Bowles
Pica, eating things that aren't food (including licking or eating dirt), is not an uncommon complaint in veterinary or human medicine! If you are feeding a high quality kibble, it is unlikely that there is a mineral requirement missing from the diet. To be sure, you can check the dog food bag to be sure the food has been AAFCO food trial tested. When reading the label, look carefully at the wording. The two main distinctions are "formulated to meet ______" and "animal feeding tests _______". The first means that the diets are complete and balanced on paper according to AAFCO nutrient profiles. The second means that actual animals were fed the diet and various measures were taken to demonstrate adequacy. The feeding tests are better because they test for bioavailability. This is important because some diets look good on paper, but they don't result in adequate nutrition in an animal!
Other causes of pica include medical conditions such as anemia (low red blood cells), liver disease, and digestive disorders. There are also a few reports of this behavior as a side effect of medications or toxin ingestion. Finally, pica can be learned behavior due to stress, anxiety, or boredom. A visit to your veterinarian to have some blood work checked could help rule out some of these conditions.
Treatment of pica can be difficult. If an underlying medical condition is identified, it should be treated. If the cause is felt to be behavioral, treatment options include providing plenty of mental stimulation (toys), verbal discouragement and redirection of attention to toys when the behavior is noticed, use of a basket muzzle when unsupervised, or use of taste deterrents (finely ground black pepper, crushed hot pepper, Tabasco, etc). A visit to a board certified animal behaviorist to evaluate your dog for triggers that cause this behavior as well as further behavior modification treatment options should be considered. If other treatment options fail and the behavior is detrimental to your pet's health, medications for anxiety/stress can be prescribed.
Thanks for the question!
-- Dr. Holly Mims
Veterinary Specialty Care offer the highest quality specialized medical and surgical care available for your pet. We use only state-of-the-art technology for our procedures and employ Board Certified Specialists with advanced training in cardiology, oncology critical care, neurology, anesthesia, internal medicine, radiology, and surgery which is enhanced by our caring, experienced staff.