Why Do Dogs Dig Holes When Sick? Should I Be Concerned?

dog digging hole in the backyard

Sick dogs are more inclined to dig holes to help protect themselves until they feel better. The hole is like a fortress they can hide in while keeping an eye out for danger. Although there are no predators in your backyard, the instinct to find protection when feeling sick still kicks in. 

When dogs are sick, they have different ways of communicating with us. Since they cannot speak to us in words, we must learn their language by deciphering the signals they send us. 

You know your dog, his moods, what makes him happy, and (usually) what he is trying to communicate. But what happens when your dog starts a bizarre and unprecedented behavior like digging holes in your yard?

Let’s discuss in depth what could be going on with your dog when your backyard is suddenly full of holes.

Is My Dog Sick?

Dogs often give us tell-tale signs when they aren’t feeling well. One of these signs is digging holes! 

See if your dog is pairing any of these symptoms with their new digging habit:

  • Appetite change
  • weight loss or gain
  • Bad breath
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Excessive drinking and/or urination
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty moving or stiffness of limbs
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Dry, runny, or cloudy eyes
  • Loss of interest in their favorite games, toys, food, etc.
  • Labored breathing

The symptoms can indicate either minor or more severe problems. It is important to decipher the probable cause and see if the situation presents an emergency. 

For example, your dog may not be feeling well if he has eaten too much food or has scarfed it down too rapidly. Also, if his food has recently been changed, it could cause stomach upset and diarrhea or constipation. 

If you suspect something is not right with your furry friend, do not hesitate to give the vet a call!

Some Dogs Dig Holes When Sick

When a dog is feeling under the weather, he may dig. It’s an instinct that dates back to his wild days. Digging a hole ensures that he remains in a position that protects his vital organs. In this case, underground. 

Digging a hole allows him to keep an eye out for trouble and prevents him from being taken down when he is feeling down. You could say it’s their own little fortress.

Even though you are his friend, not a rival Alpha, old habits die hard. He may even think this will keep him safe from a shot or a trip to the vet!

But feeling under the weather isn’t the only reason dogs dig holes…

Why Else Do Dogs Dig?

Dogs dig holes for a variety of reasons. It’s in their nature! My dog used to see me digging holes to plant new flowers in the spring, and she would start helping by digging beside me in the beds.

If we’d have called it a competition, she would have definitely won! Unfortunately, she didn’t always dig them exactly where I wanted to plant flowers.

The Digging Breeds

Dachshunds, Beagles, Schnauzers, and the terriers, are all breeds that naturally want to dig! The upside is that many of these dogs are professionals at catching rats. The downside is, if you’ve got your lawn in order, these breeds are known for getting their noses and paws dirty by hunting under that beautiful new layer of St. Augustine.

Cool Cats… Er… Dogs

Dogs want to get out of the heat as much as any of us! 

Instead of raising their electricity bill by setting the air conditioner to 60 degrees, dogs find a fresh patch of earth or make one. 

The freshly turned dirt is cooler than top-soil and is a great way (as dogs see it) for them to regulate their thermostat. 

They’re Bored

Dogs may become bored if they spend a lot of time in a fenced backyard without their human to play with them. To keep their muscles strong, they may begin exercising by leaving marks all over your yard. 

Hiding Buried Treasure

A dog may also dig to hide his treasures. We take our money to a bank to keep it safe, a dog takes his treasures to his… your yard! 

If your dog has a special treat that he thinks is too special for everyday occasions, he may keep it well-hidden until he finds the perfect moment. 

The Stress Factor

If your dog is anxious or stressed, he may try to get his mind off his troubles by digging. Getting rid of this negative energy will be a good thing for him, but it might make you bite your nails when you look at the holes in your yard! There are ways to help him use his energy in better ways though…

Let’s look at some ways we can help our dog stop digging up our yard.

Getting Your Dog to Stop Digging

All dogs need activity and exercise, but “working breeds” such as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Australian Cattle dogs, etc., have an even deeper-seated need to put their brains and feet to use! 

We have some ideas that can help keep your dog busy in constructive ways.

Playing

Dogs love to play and socialize with humans or other dogs. Playing with your dog is a great way to reduce his stress and use up some of his ever-abundant energy. Games like fetch, tug-of-war, or running with your dog are some great ways to bond with your dog while giving them a chance to release their energy.

A Friend

If you don’t have the energy to play as many games as your dog wants, another option is to get him a sibling. 

Another dog can distract him from wreaking destruction and help him learn healthy dog behaviors. 

Just make sure you are adding a dog that can help him work towards being calmer instead of a partner in crime.

If you are not ready for two, you can also choose to foster. Fostering is a great way to help your own dog while also helping another find his forever home. 

You can also call a friend over for doggy playdates! After working out some of his pent-up energy, he will probably let your yard have a rest till tomorrow.

Dog Toys

There are many dog toys on the market designed specifically to keep dogs active. Adding some of these mind-bogglers to your dog’s collection can help your dog find better ways to use his time.

Sickness Isn’t The Only Cause of Digging

Digging may be your dog’s way of telling you he is sick, a way of cooling off, or a sign that he is so healthy he needs even more exercise. 

Check your dog for signs and symptoms of illness, especially if it is a newly formed habit. If the vet says all is clear, try some of the other options for keeping your dog busy. 

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