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What happens if a dog eats potting soil?

What happens if a dog eats potting soil?

My dog loves getting into things they aren’t supposed to, including my houseplants. I’ve found more than one of my beloved plants on the ground, with potting soil all over the place. In addition to repotting my plant, I worried about my pup. Could the potting soil hurt them?  

What happens if a dog eats potting soil?

As a pet parent, it’s your responsibility to keep your dog safe. This can feel like a full-time job. There are many things that can harm your dog, and they don’t have the awareness to know what is safe. Why do they eat potting soil? Is it harmful to them? 

There are many reports from pet owners whose dogs have gotten sick after eating potting soil. Some potting soils claim to be organic, and have no warning labels stating that they can be harmful to pets. Owners claim that their dogs got sick from ingredients in the potting soil, and are now advocating for warning labels to warn pet parents of the dangers. 

It’s important to note that organic doesn’t always mean safe. There are human foods like chocolate and grapes that are toxic to dogs. They may be organic, but they aren’t safe for your dog to ingest. 


Some potting soils contain fertilizer, and some don’t. If the potting soil has fertilizer, or you’ve added fertilizer to your potting soil before potting your plants, your dog will be exposed to it if they eat the soil. 

The most common fertilizer ingredients are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. These can be derived from different sources, including synthetic manufacturing or organic blood and bone meal. 

These ingredients can be toxic to your dog if they ingest them. In large quantities, they can even cause organ failure. Ironically, organic fertilizers with bone meal may pose a greater risk to your dog than synthetic fertilizers, because dogs love the smell and taste of it. This can cause them to eat it in large amounts. 


Some soils or fertilizers also contain insecticides. These are also toxic to your dog if ingested. They can cause serious symptoms like seizures and respiratory arrest if ingested in large amounts. 

Not all potting soils contain insecticides, so it’s important to check the label. If you applied insecticide to your potting soil after planting, this also exposes your pet to the toxins if they ingest it. 

Insects or Worms

If your potting soil doesn’t contain pesticides, your dog could ingest insects or worms. Some potting soil mixes will contain pieces of insects or worms because they were in the soil material when it was harvested. 

Most bugs are safe for your dog to eat, but there are some that are poisonous. Bugs can also contain parasites that can make your pooch sick. 

Most worms aren’t toxic for your dog either, but they can contain parasites or bacteria that are harmful. 


If your dog snacks on the potting soil in a plant, there’s a good chance they will ingest small amounts of the plant as well. There are over 700 indoor plants that are toxic to dogs. About 30 of them are common plants that many people have in their homes. 

Aloe is my favorite houseplant to grow. It’s very forgiving and useful. Unfortunately, it’s toxic for dogs. Other common toxic plants include tomato, mother in law’s tongue, rubber plant, and the peace lily. 

Bacteria and Fungi

Potting soil is designed to grow plants. This also makes it an excellent medium for growing bacteria and fungi. According to CNN, bacteria or fungi in potting soil can make you sick. 

The fungus sporotrichosis can be contracted by humans and dogs. It causes a fungal skin infection. Nocardia is a bacteria commonly found in soil. It can affect the respiratory, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems. 

These types of infections are rare, but they are possible. In most cases, exposure causes gastrointestinal upset, but some fungi and bacteria can cause serious health problems. 

Why is My Dog Eating Potting Soil?

One of the most common questions about dogs eating potting soil is why they do it. There are many reasons your dog might eat potting soil, but some causes are more common than others. 


Dogs are naturally curious creatures. They also have extremely powerful noses, and can taste things that we can’t. This leads them to inspect interesting items, including potting soil, with their mouth and nose. While exploring, they may ingest small quantities of the soil to understand it better. 

Enjoys the Taste

Your dog may be drawn to the potting soil because of its taste or smell. If it has ingredients like bone meal, it’s no surprise your dog enjoys it. If it contains manure, this will also interest your dog. After all, poop smelling is a favorite pasttime for pooches. 

Poor Diet/Vitamin Deficiency

If your dog has a poor diet or a vitamin deficiency, they may eat potting soil in an attempt to get the needed nutrients. Your dog’s body will cause them to crave the nutrients they need, and some of these nutrients can be found in potting soil. 

Stomach Problems

Stomach problems are another culprit. You’ve probably seen your dog snacking on grass at one time or another. You may have heard they eat grass to calm their stomach. They will also consume dirt to soothe tummy troubles. Because potting soil resembles dirt closely, they may eat it to treat stomach issues. Unfortunately, it’s likely to make things worse instead of better. 

Boredom or Pica

Pica is a condition that causes your dog to eat non-food items. It can have a behavioral cause. It can also be caused by an underlying medical issue. A dog with pica will frequently eat non-food items. 

If your dog eats potting soil or other nonfood items occasionally, boredom may be the culprit. A bored dog will find a way to entertain themselves. Similar to a small child left alone for too long, they tend to do things they shouldn’t when they are bored. 

What to do if my dog ate potting soil?

You walk into the house and find your dog sitting amongst a plant disaster. Your plant is lying on the floor, and there’s soil everywhere. You suspect that your dog may have eaten some of the soil. Or perhaps you caught them in the act with a mouth full of soil. What do you do?

Remove the Soil

The first thing you want to do is prevent your dog from eating more potting soil. Place any potting soil out of your dog’s reach, including any potted plants and the bag of soil itself. 

Check the Label

Now that the immediate danger of your dog eating more soil is solved, it’s time to check the label. See if the potting soil contains fertilizer, pesticide, or insecticide. 

Remember that organic doesn’t mean safe when it comes to your dog ingesting the mix. You’ll also need to consider anything you have added to the soil. If you’ve added fertilizer or insecticide to the soil, your dog has also been exposed to these chemicals. 

Write down any ingredients you find concerning. Yes, you have to write them down. Don’t expect yourself to remember all of them if your dog begins to get sick. You’ll want them within easy reach, so it’s one less thing you need to worry about. 

 Most potting soils contain peat moss, pine bark, and either perlite or vermiculite. These ingredients won’t harm your dog. Any added fertilizer ingredients, including wood ash, bone meal, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous are toxic to your dog. If it lists an insecticide, write down the ingredients used. 

Watch for Symptoms

Regardless of whether your potting soil contains toxic ingredients, you’ll want to monitor your dog for symptoms. Depending on the cause, symptoms can occur quickly or a few days from ingestion. Watch them closely for the first 12-24 hours after ingestion. 

Call the Vet or Pet Poison Control

If you notice any symptoms, or you are concerned your pooch ingested something toxic, you’ll need to call your vet or poison control.

The Pet Poison Helpline is available 24/7. You can reach them at (855) 764-7661. They work with pet owners and vets. The poison helpline will perform calculations to determine if your dog needs veterinary care or home monitoring. If they require veterinary care, they will work with your vet to create a treatment plan. There is a fee for using the hotline, but it’s well worth it if you are concerned about your dog. 

Is it bad if my dog eats potting soil?

Eating potting soil can be dangerous for your dog. It’s not a good idea for them to eat it. Even if there are no toxic ingredients, it can still contain insects, bacteria, or fungus that can be harmful. 

Fertilizer Poisoning

Fertilizer poisoning is one of the dangers of your dog eating potting soil. Toxic fertilizer ingredients can cause mild stomach upset or make your dog very sick. 

Impaction or Blockage Risks

Fertilizers are designed to provide nutrition for plants. When it’s ingested by your dog, it’s poorly absorbed. This is both good and bad. On one hand, if it’s not absorbed, there’s less risk of it causing poisoning. On the other hand, poor absorption can lead to impaction or blockages. 

It can turn into a cement-like substance in your dog’s intestines, which makes it difficult or impossible for your dog to poop it out. The blockage can cause many problems for your dog, including poisoning or infection from fecal matter and bowel perforations. 

What symptoms to look for?

There are several symptoms you should look for if your dog has eaten potting soil.

Stomach Upset

The first symptom your dog is likely to experience is stomach upset. This can include vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive drooling or panting. They may also have abdominal pain or swelling. 

This typically occurs soon after ingesting. However, if they ingested parasites or have an impaction, it may occur a few days after ingestion. 

Stiffness and Pain

Stiffness and pain can also occur from eating potting soil. If toxic substances are ingested, it can cause stiffness and pain in your dog’s body. They may also become weak and have difficulty walking. This is a concerning symptom, so you should get your dog to the vet if you notice it after eating potting soil. 


Some toxic ingredients can cause seizures. This requires emergency veterinary care. Symptoms of seizures include convulsions or shaking. Your dog may lose consciousness or seem disoriented after the seizure occurs. 

Respiratory Distress

Respiratory distress is another symptom that needs immediate care. The most common symptom is difficulty breathing. You may also notice your dog’s gums are pale, because their body isn’t receiving enough oxygen.