SpotOnTM Case Study #X that Includes Your Dog’s Symptom(s)Case Study #X

Ask Our Vets < Back to Search Results< Back

Dog diet change and dirt eating

by Lee
(Alabama, USA)

I've switched my two dogs to a vegan diet for ethical reasons and wanted advice. Specifically, one of them is digging and eating dirt and I'm concerned it might indicate a nutrient deficiency.


She's an 8-year old jack russel terrier. She was on Nature's Recipe vegetarian food (NR veg) for about 3 weeks (after a few weeks of combining the Merrick food with meat that she used to eat with NR veg to make the transition smoother) when she started digging.

The issue is a bit more complicated because she's also had a number of positive effects from the vegan diet: Her allergies have drastically decreased, she's more energetic, and she interacts more with the neighborhood dogs.

At the point when she started digging (which was about 2 weeks ago) I brought her to the vet and also started giving her Green Mush as a supplement. The vet examined her (no blood or urine test though) and said that by all accounts, she appears to be thriving and he wouldn't worry about the digging. He fully supported the vegan diet too and said the Green Mush looked like a great product. That was about 2 1/2 weeks ago.

So she's now been on the Green Mush for about 2 weeks (and 5 of Nature's Recipe vegetarian) and is still digging and eating dirt at times (but otherwise appears great). Despite what the vet said, the timing between the dirt eating and the switch to a vegetarian diet just seems so striking that I'm a bit concerned and wondering what your thoughts are.

I've considered the following:
(a) no change - just give it more time;
(b) Temporarily switching her to 50% Merrick and 50% NR veg;
(c) giving her 50% Natural Balance Veg diet and 50% NR - this change would give her more variety. And
(d) giving her the NR veg food but occasionally giving her bully sticks. This option might sound very strange but my understanding is that bully sticks are the only high quality source of meat (rather than meat byproducts and rather than human grade meat like Merrick) that doesn't involve killing additional animals. (The bull would be killed anyway for human food.)

I'd definitely feel somewhat conflicted about options B and D but I also would feel terrible if a major health problem developed as a result of A or C.

Thanks so much for your help!

Comments for Dog diet change and dirt eating

Click here to add your own comments

Jan 08, 2010
My Online Vet Response to Dog diet change and dirt eating
by: Dr. Carol Jean Tillman


Hi Lee,
That certainly is a strange coincidence! But you can rest assured that 3-4 weeks is not long enough to cause any kind of a nutritional deficiency problem. One option that you did not suggest was to continue the same diet and do a complete blood panel, including CBC, Chemistry with electrolytes, and Thyroid. I would also include a fecal and a urinalysis.

Jack Russell terriers are notorious diggers, very high energy, and it is not unusual for them to eat non-food items, like dirt, rocks or sticks. They were bred to be small, muscular and compact dogs, so you could put a harness on them and send them down a badger hole where they would grab a badger, or other 'unwanted' varmint, fight it underground, and hang on to it with their jaws while the owner would then pull them out of the hole!

I am not sure why she started digging and eating dirt at eight years of age. I would be more suspicious of a behavior issue, versus a diet issue, at this time. Also, digging is a 'normal' dog behavior. Although, you would probably prefer her to dig in a certain location, instead of your prized flower bed.

In order to do this, you need to provide her with a large sand box. Once a month bury some wonderful treat in the sand box. (If she ate meat, I would suggest a raw beef or turkey bone. Otherwise, you could use a Kong toy stuffed with almond butter, or some other treat that she loves.) Hopefully, she will catch on to the idea, that if she digs in her sand box, she will find something wonderful. If she digs somewhere else, she won't find anything...unless she does the digging in order to escape the yard.

As to escaping the yard and eating dirt, you need to contact a homeopathic veterinarian. Click on Alternative Care, under the Health/Wellness section in the left hand column (or click here).

He or she will examine your dog, look over the lab work, ask you questions regarding any past illnesses (like the chronic skin allergies), what treatment she had, how many vaccinations she has had, etc. Eating dirt and running away (escaping the yard) represent some big symptoms for several homeopathic remedies.

Please keep us posted by coming back to this page and clicking the 'click here to add your own comments' link below.

Take care,
Dr. Carol Jean Tillman

DISCLAIMER: This educational advice is based on the depth of your question and the picture you submitted. The above should never replace the advice of your local veterinarian, as they have the ability to evaluate your dog in person

Jan 08, 2010
RE: Your comments
by: Lee

Thanks for your replies. I'll give just a little more info. Although she's a Jack Russel, she's not like most JRTs--she's actually extremely calm. On a 1 to 5 activity level scale (with 5 being the highest), I'd put her at a 2. She was that way long before the diet change. Also, I adopted her last May (when she was 7 1/2) and I know nothing about her earlier life and behavior (including digging and eating dirt).

I like the blood, urine, fecal test idea. Would that be a definitive answer or are there certain essential nutrients that can't be tested this way? Thanks!

Jan 08, 2010
Online Response to diet change and dirt eating
by: Dr. Carol Jean Tillman

Hi Lee,
Thank you for the additional information. Considering she is normally a calm dog, I still do not think that a nutritional change would cause her to dig and eat dirt. Although, perhaps the change in her diet has improved her health so much, that she is behaving more like her normal breed characteristics! Just kidding!

Basic lab tests will pick up the majority of essential nutrients, calcium and phosphorus, hemoglobin, etc. will all be included. A fecal would rule out parasites, and a urinalysis would make sure she is not losing protein. If all of these are normal, I would continue her same diet, and work on behavior modification and contact a homeopathic veterinarian to help her.

Please keep us posted by coming back to this page and clicking the 'click here to add your own comments' link below.

Take care,
Dr. Carol Jean Tillman

DISCLAIMER: This educational advice is based on the depth of your question and the picture you submitted. The above should never replace the advice of your local veterinarian, as they have the ability to evaluate your dog in person.

Jan 09, 2010
Thanks! A couple more questions
by: Anonymous

Thanks so much, Dr. Tillman. I had the vet do a blood, a fecal, and a urine test yesterday. The results that came back so far are all within the normal range. Do you recommend getting carnitine and taurine testing done? The vet doesn't normally do that testing.

Unless you think it's a bad idea, I'm still giving some thought to option C--50% Nature's Recipe Veg and 50% of another product--to increase the variety of nutritional sources. However, another dog nutritionist said that he'd heard mixed reviews about the Natural Balance Veg food and he recommended Royal Canin Natural Blend. So, is C a bad idea? How do I tell if a commercial Veg dog food is high or low quality? The major differences between NB's and NR's veg dog food that I see are that NB has major sources of protein other than soy and has Carnitine added, whereas NR does not. I assumed both of these factors would give NB the edge.

Also, I do give my dogs occasional human food because my understanding is that this food often has higher quality nutrients than commercial dog products. Usually they'll get one of the following per day--a) a carrot, b) half of a banana, c) a small amount of baked beans, d) other veggies. (D is rare, though.) Does that sound like a good plan? Anything else that's easy to prepare that you'd recommend?

Thanks so much!

Lee

Jan 09, 2010
Online Response for Dog Diet Change and Dirt Eating
by: Dr. Carol Jean Tillman

Hi Lee,
That's wonderful news. I am glad all of the lab results have come back normal, so far.

As to measuring L-carnitine and taurine, I do not think that is necessary, since you are feeding her a balanced vegetarian diet. According to Donald Strombeck, DVM, PhD, in his book, Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, the Healthy Alternative, (p.308), "Plant-produced proteins can be fed to dogs because they produce taurine from other amino acids." (p. 225) "methinine and lysine are needed to make carnitine" and both of these amino acids are found in vegetables, grains, and legumes (beans).

Regarding how to know which food is a better quality:

Check in the left column under Food&Treats, and click on 10 Best Foods for the page that discusses how to pick the right food (or click here). Nature's Recipe, Natural Balance and Royal Canin are all excellent foods. Usually, I suggest clients to just read the labels to make sure there are no artificial colors, preservatives, animal digest or by-products. Then it's a matter of whether or not she likes it, or if it causes diarrhea or gas, if she starts scratching again, loses weight or gains weight, etc. Then you can decide whether or not that is the right food for her.

Also, it must be economical for you to continue to feed it. Therefore, taking all of these factors into account figure out which is the best food to feed her.

Your option C sounds like an excellent idea, of using 50% Nature's Recipe vegetarian and then you could 'rotate' different other brands as the other 25%-30%, and continue with 'human' foods as the remaining 20-25%. (Carrots, green beans, zucchini, apples, bananas, melon, cantaloupe, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, etc. are all excellent choices.) I am assuming that you are using the CANNED Nature's Recipe and the other foods are CANNED also? I would not recommend dry food, especially with her susceptibility to allergies.

It sounds like you are on the right track, Lee, and you just needed to do a little fine tuning in her diet. Next step, is the behavior modification. And she may still need a homeopathic veterinarian to help her out, if she does not respond to the behavior modification, on eating dirt.

Please keep us posted by coming back to this page and clicking the 'click here to add your own comments' link below.

Take care,
Dr. Carol Jean Tillman

DISCLAIMER: This educational advice is based on the depth of your question and the picture you submitted. The above should never replace the advice of your local veterinarian, as they have the ability to evaluate your dog in person.

Jan 10, 2010
Canned dog food
by: Lee

Actually, I feed her dry rather than canned dog food. However, I mix the Green Mush with water and put that in each meal. So, her morning and evening meals do each have about half a cup of water in them. Is that good or would you suggest switching to canned food?

Jan 10, 2010
Online Response to Diet Change and dirt eating
by: Dr. Carol Jean Tillman

Hi Lee,
The extra 1/2 cup of moisture with the Green Mush, is good. Canned food would be even better, though. Here's a little story regarding the history of how dry food came into existence, and you can decide.

Before World War II, there was no such thing as dry food. All pet foods came in cans, many people lived on farms, so pets also received a lot of human food, and dogs hunted for food, plus they were fed canned food. When the war came, the government considered pet food to be non-essential,everything was being rationed, metal was at a premium, since they had to use the metal for the war. Pet food companies did not want to go out of business, so they decided to develop dry food, which they could put into bags, for a 'temporary' fix, until the war was over.

When the war was over, they found that people thought dry food was great, very convenient, easy to fix, etc. So, pet food companies did not stop the dry food, they sold BOTH dry food and canned food. Not telling people that dry food was never intended to be fed for the whole life of the pet!

Now with the huge mega industry of pet foods, they have certainly made sure that dry pet food is balanced with all the essential nutrients, but it is DRY. It is not like the 'normal' moist diet that a dog or cat would eat. Since you are adding moisture to the dry, that is good, but in my opinion, canned would be even better.

Take care,
Dr. Tillman

P.S. If you've found this service or our web site helpful, please "Like" us by clicking the like button at the top of the left margin. Thank you!

Related Pages:
- 10 Best Dog Food Options,
- Homemade Dog Food Recipes,
- Ask a Vet Online Library - Dog Food Diet - Dog Food, Dog Treats & Homemade Dog Food Recipes Section


Jan 11, 2010
Thanks!
by: Lee

That's great info. Thanks so much for all your help!

Sep 28, 2010
Sounds like pica (visitor opinion, not My Online Vet)
by: LoupGarouTFTs

Dogs (and humans!) whose bodies are lacking certain nutrients will develop pic, an abnormal eating practice in which the dog attempts to consume the appropriate nutrient if s/he is not getting it in his or her diet. Dirt is commonly consumed when a dog has pica, regardless of whether the dog is a terrier or not.

Dogs are omnivores who benefit from eating meat. If you prefer a less allergenic food, Evo Red Meat dog food is free of corn and grains, which are the ingredients usually responsible for allergic responses to the dried food.

Mar 13, 2013
NB Vegetarian Diet and DIRT
by: Vee

Just switched my 7 dogs, exactly as you did, Lee, from Merrick to NB Vegetarian Diet and 5 of them are digging and eating dirt and mud. One of them is 14 years old and none of them have ever done this in the past. They have only been switched for about a week, totally vegetarian, and I am going nuts. Not sure if I should switch them all back to Merrick. I switched to Vegetarian for ethical reasons. I felt guilty about the Merrick grain free Duck and Pork, especially since I do not know how those animals are treated. It doesn't help that they have pictures of pigs and ducks on the bag.

Not sure when this was written. I hope you are still following. I am interested to see what you did. Vee

Mar 14, 2013
My Online Vet Response for: Dog diet change and dirt eating
by: Dr. Carol Jean Tillman

Hi Vee,
For the majority of dogs with no health issues, a vegetarian diet does not seem to adequately meet their nutritional needs. There are certain situations in which I will suggest a vegetarian diet, such as for obesity, (in an effort to help weight loss), pancreatitis, food allergies, or allergic dermatitis.

Otherwise, thanks for your question. I'm happy to help, but we only accept new questions from subscribers (the original question above was from a subscriber).
Please click here to sign up and submit your question and photos. I'll then get back to you right away at the bottom of your newly created web page.

Dr. Carol Jean Tillman


Jan 14, 2014
My dog is also eating dirt
by: Anonymous

I also changed my dogs food and now she is eating dirt . Not only outdoors but in my indoors plants so I will be changing her dog food back.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Ask a Vet Online via My Online Vet (SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED FOR NEW QUESTIONS).

This is the end of SpotOnTM Case Study #X for Your Symptom(s).End of Case Study #X

Ask Our Vets < Back to Search Results< Back

Want to ask our veterinarians a question but haven't subscribed to My Online Vet? Click here to learn how or click here to go back to the Ask a Vet Online Library of questions.

Want monthly "News You Can Use" and important Organic Pet Digest new content updates?  Click here to sign up for our FREE Dog Care Monthly newsletter.


Do you believe in holistic pet care?  If so, please tell your friends about us with a Facebook like, Google +1 or via Twitter, Pinterest, email or good old fashioned word of mouth. Thank you for supporting our efforts!

For additional research, search for your topic...



Disclaimers: The information contained in this web site is provided for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as nor should be relied upon as medical advice. Rather, it is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a pet owner/site visitor and his/her local veterinarian(s). Before you use any of the information provided in the site, you should seek the advice of a qualified professional.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we wanted to let you know that we proudly support this website through advertising and affiliate marketing. In other words, when you click on a link that takes you outside of this website, we often earn a small commission. These small commissions allow us to keep the site up and running and to continue offering it completely free of charge to you. Rest assured that all content, recommendations and advice are created before, and are independent of, any sponsorship or affiliate relationship. Click here for more info.