Why Dogs and Cats Dig

Why Dogs and Cats Dig


Our canine and feline friends may have the urge to dig.  Sometimes they dig in approved areas however, often times they don’t.  Digging can become a destructive habit to our household as well as or gardens.  Even though it is a natural instinct for our pets to dig, we need to determine the reasons why our furry friends do this. 

Why Animals Dig:

  • Kittens and puppies may dig as a form of play.  They’re simply exploring different textures on the surface of our environment. 
  • Pets will instinctively dig before and after elimination of urine or stool in order to disperse their scent and to increase territorial marking (there are glands present in the footpads that mark the soil with their scent).
  • Dogs may dig to create a resting place in the soil or the snow.  In the winter, this may create a shelter from the wind or help conserve body heat.  In the summer they may dig to provide a cool place to rest.
  • Dogs dig holes to store food or bones that they can retrieve at a later time.  This is an instinct they acquired before dogs were domesticated.
  • Digging may be displayed during periods of excitement or as a release of anxiety.  We often see this in dogs with separation anxiety.

Once we understand why our pets dig, we can begin to try and rectify this problem.  Although it may be hard to determine as they may be numerous factors as to why our cat or dog is digging and therefore may require multiple ways to rectify the behaviour. 

Although it may be difficult to determine why your pet digs, the following list may help you control this habit.

  1. Kittens and puppies that are digging as a form of exploring will grow out of this habit as their surroundings become more familiar to them. 
  2. Animals will always dig before and after elimination of urine or stool.  With cats we can try different styles of litter boxes to help contain the litter into a desired area.  With dogs we suggest throwing a ball or another toy to distract them from digging.   
  3. Ensure your pet has a heated shelter when he/she is outside in the winter.  They will retreat to their shelter instead of digging in the ground to conserve body heat. 
  4. To prevent dogs from digging to store their bones or food you must restrict their access to the areas you do not want them to dig.  You should not leave your dog unsupervised in your yard, regardless of any misbehaviour. 
  5. There are products we can use to help decrease your pet’s anxiety.  There are diffusers (that you plug into the wall) or sprays you can use with your cat or dog that release calming pheromones which may reduce your pet’s anxiety.  Also, there are medications that can decrease your pet’s level of anxiety.  Occasionally, sedative are prescribed for anxiety if necessary.  This will calm your pet and hopefully control any destructive behaviour such as digging.   

 In order to deter the act of digging, we encourage you to control the opportunity to dig.  Provide your pet with alternative activities that are equally enjoyable and physically challenging.  A dog that is walked at regular intervals every day and has a variety of appropriate physical activities is less likely to feel the need to dig.  Physical activities should include daily play sessions that apply obedience skills, such as retrieving their favorite toy.  If your pet’s digging becomes a concern, please call our clinic at (519) 250-0099 and we can help you and your furry friend through this frustrating behaviour.


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