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My Dog Digs Holes When Sick: This Is Why…

Your furry friend has been unwell, and you’ve noticed a peculiar behavior – they’ve started digging holes.

You’re understandably concerned and confused. So, what’s going on here?

There’s an array of possible reasons behind this strange habit in sick dogs.

Some suggest that ill dogs might be digging holes as a survival mechanism to hide from potential threats. Another theory is that they’re digging their own grave!?

Let’s clear up why your four-legged friend engages in this peculiar hole-digging behavior when unwell, and how to manage it.

dog digging holes when sick

Why Does Your Dog Dig Holes When They’re Sick?

When our canine companions are feeling under the weather, they often exhibit unusual behaviors.

Since our pets can’t communicate directly with us, these strange habits can leave us feeling worried and uncertain.

If your dog has been digging holes when they’re ill, you’re certainly not the only one witnessing this.

It’s a well-documented behavior among dog owners, and it can be quite unsettling if you’re not sure what’s causing it.

💡Debunked: The myth that dogs dig holes when they’re ill because they’re preparing their own grave is simply that – a myth.

There’s no concrete evidence to support this claim. Instead, let’s focus on the five real reasons behind this behavior:

5 Reasons Why Dogs Dig Holes When They’re Ill

Let’s run through the FIVE understood reasons behind this behavior. Dog experts have long been contemplating this behavior, and these are the five main reasons they’ve settled on.

➡️ Their Instinctive Need for Safety

In their pre-domestication days, wolves (dogs’ ancestors) used to dig holes for safety when they were ill. This inherited behavior continues in domestic dogs. When your dog is unwell, they might feel vulnerable and instinctively resort to hole-digging as a safety measure.

Even though they’re safe and loved in your home, when they’re sick, they might not remember that. They may behave as if they are alone and need to hide from potential threats – hence the hole digging.

➡️ Desire for Solitude

Your furry friend generally enjoys your company, but when they’re sick, they might seek some alone time. By digging a hole, they create a secluded space where they can rest undisturbed.

Try to notice if you see your dog seeking their own space while inside the house. If they do, then this could be the reasons behind the digging too.

➡️ Digging as a Stress Relief

Being sick can be stressful for dogs. In their attempt to cope with the anxiety brought about by their illness, they might engage in digging.

It’s a way for them to channel their discomfort and anxiety. Pacifying behaviors come in all forms, including digging.

➡️ Lowering Body Temperature

During Fever When dogs are unwell, they often develop a fever. If your dog is feeling hot, they might dig a hole and lie on the cool soil to help lower their body temperature.

This isn’t as bizarre as it sounds, we often see dogs doing the same thing in sand and mud during hot summer days.

➡️ Preparing a Space for Vomiting

If your dog is feeling nauseous, they might dig a hole as a private spot to vomit and cover up the evidence.

Dogs generally don’t like to soil their usual resting areas, and a hole provides a place for them to be ill without messing up their preferred spots.

Certain Sicknesses That May Cause Digging Behavior

Certain illnesses or conditions may increase the likelihood of a dog engaging in digging behavior.

It’s important to remember, however, that each dog is different, and not all dogs will react to illness in the same way.

After researching this thoroughly, we found the following five issues could increase the occurrence of digging behavior.

  1. Gastrointestinal Issues: If your dog is dealing with an upset stomach, nausea, or intestinal distress, they might dig a hole to find a safe place to vomit or to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The digging behavior can be a response to the discomfort they’re feeling.
  2. Fever or Heatstroke: When a dog has a fever or is overheated, they may try to dig a hole to lie in. The coolness of the soil can help bring down their body temperature.
  3. Anxiety and Stress Disorders: Dogs suffering from chronic anxiety or stress-related disorders may frequently dig as a coping mechanism. The repetitive act of digging can help them burn off some of that anxious energy and serve as a distraction from their stress.
  4. Certain Neurological Disorders: In some cases, repeated digging could be a symptom of a neurological issue, such as canine compulsive disorder. It’s similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans, where the dog engages in repetitive, compulsive behaviors, like digging.
  5. Pain: If a dog is experiencing physical discomfort or pain, they might resort to digging. This could be their way of trying to ‘dig away’ the pain, or find a softer spot to rest.

Remember, if your dog’s digging behavior is accompanied by other signs of illness, such as loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, or changes in behavior, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian.

This could be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs professional attention.

Should you see a vet anyway?

Well, this is completely down to you. Again, if you see other symptoms then yes for sure, and if you’re getting increasingly worried about this behavior or anything else, then that’s also more than enough to speak to your vet.

How to Manage Your Dog’s Digging Behavior

Although your dog’s hole-digging behavior is instinctual and challenging to curb completely, there are strategies to minimize the disruption:

  • Limit their unsupervised outdoor time. This could prevent your garden from turning into a field of holes.
  • Spend more time with your dog during their recovery. This could make them feel safer and distract them from their instinct to dig.
  • Provide them with enough chew toys to help them relieve their anxiety in a less destructive manner.
  • Plant dog-repellent plants or herbs near their favorite digging spots.
  • Consider creating a designated digging area in your yard. This could help confine their digging to one spot.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Hole Digging Mean?

Dogs may dig holes for a variety of reasons, with sickness being one of them. When ill, your dog might dig a hole to hide from imaginary threats, to seek solitude, or as a stress-relief mechanism.

Do Dogs Dig Holes Before They Vomit?

Yes, some dogs might prefer to vomit in private and will dig a hole to cover the evidence. This behavior is also associated with their natural instinct to keep their resting area clean.

Why is My Dog Digging and Not Eating?

If your dog is digging and refusing food, this might indicate that they are not feeling well. As mentioned, dogs might dig when they’re unwell due to stress, a desire for solitude, to cool down if they have a fever, or to hide their vulnerability.

Wrapping Up

Remember to be patient and understanding if your dog is digging holes when they’re unwell.

Punishing them while they’re ill might only increase their stress levels and could result in more hole digging.

Compassion and understanding are key during this trying time.


Before making any decisions that could affect the health and/or safety of your dog, you should always consult a trained veterinarian in your local area. Even though this content may have been written/reviewed by a trained veterinarian, our advice to you is to always consult your own local veterinarian in person. Please read our full dislcaimer if you have any questions.