SHARE

It is widely known that cats get hairballs, but what about dogs? If your dog sounds like he has a hairball, you might feel alarmed and wonder if this is normal for a dog. But can dogs actually get hairballs? Yes, a dog can get a hairball in their throat, but it's very rare and there's more to this.

In this article we will discuss whether dogs get hairballs, causes and most common reasons why that happens, and what you can do to help your dog if he has a hairball, and how to prevent hairballs in your dog in the future.

We will cover the following topics:

  • Do dogs get hairballs?
  • What causes hairballs?
  • Are some dogs more prone to hairballs than others?
  • Are hairballs dangerous?
  • What should you do if your dog has hairballs?
  • How to prevent hairballs

Do Dogs Get Hairballs?

You know that cats get hairballs after grooming themselves, but do you know why that happens? It is because their tongues are serrated in such a way that it makes it impossible for them to spit certain things back out of their mouths, for example, string, hair or fur. Dogs do not have the same serrated tongues as cats but this does not mean that dogs will not ingest any hair on occasion.

Because cats groom themselves by licking, and do that often, they really have no option but to swallow some fur that comes loose. This can then gather in the cat's stomach and form balls of hair, which the cat later is able to throw back up. This is very normal for cats. But are hairballs normal for your dog?

So, “my dog sounds like he has a hairball – what does that mean?” It is rare for a dog to get hairballs, but certainly not unheard of. In fact, it's not only an issue with cats and dogs – many other furry creatures get hairballs, including rabbits, ferrets, cows and others. Even humans have been known to get hairballs (“trichobezoars”) from time to time. On one occasion, there was even a 9 lb hairball removed from one girl's stomach.

What Causes Hairballs in Dogs?

Whether it's in cats or in your dog, you may wonder why any hair ingested by the animal is not simply digested along with the other contents of the stomach. To answer that, let us first take a look at what exactly a hairball in a dog would be.

This is what a hairball looks like:

What does a hairball from a dog looks like

A hairball, also known as a trichobezoar, is a mass of hair in a dog's gastrointestinal tract that has not been digested. As you see above, hairballs look like tight, elongated cylinders of compacted fur. They often also contain bits of undigested food that has been caught up in it whilst in the dog's stomach.

In majority of cases, a dog would get hairballs whey they accidentally swallow some of their own fur during self-grooming, licking a skin spot that has loose hair or other reasons, and that hair is then passed when the dog goes potty.

If you have ever experienced your dog freaking out because his feces is hanging from a thread of hair out of his rear end, he has probably been eating his own fur or has been chewing on your hairbrush. This happens rarely but it's not unheard of, and in most cases, dogs only swallow small amounts of hair which will not cause any problems.

The main issue with hairballs in a dog's stomach is that they have a kind of snowballing effect. This means that once your pet has already accumulated a small amount of excess fur in their stomach that has not been expelled in time through feces, then it will attract more fur that will inevitably congeal around it, making the hairball increase in size and harder to pass through pooping.

Are Some Dogs More Prone To Hairballs Than Others?

You may think that more fur on a dog means higher chance of hairball problems, but that's not actually the case. As far as we know, the length of your dog’s fur isn’t necessarily a factor in determining whether or not they are more likely to develop hairballs. For this reason, hairballs in dogs are not associated with any specific breeds.

The determining factor whether a dog will have problems with hair balls lies in how that dog's stomach and digestive tract functions, and whether the dog is able to evacuate their bowels effectively before the hairballs have the opportunity to start forming and accumulating more hair.

For example, if your dog has a skin condition, has an issue with hair loss, suffers from mites, flea allergies or other skin problems that encourage the dog to lick themselves more than normal, then this may make them more susceptible to forming hairballs.

Are Hairballs Dangerous for Dogs?

While this is rare, in some cases, a formation of hair balls will be dangerous to a dog.

If hair or fur collects in your dog’s stomach, it will naturally trigger a gag reflex, causing your dog to vomit and, therefore, expel the mass of hair from the body. Once this happens and the dog passes a hairball, they're going to be fine.

However, if the hairball growing (collecting more hair) in your dog’s stomach is becoming a big one, then it is likely to be depriving your dog of fluids that he needs, which can lead to dehydration.

Dehydration is dangerous for your dog, so look out for these warning signs of it, such as:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy and reduced energy levels
  • Dry nose
  • Panting
  • Dry or sticky gums
  • Dry-looking, sunken eyes.

Hairballs for dogs can also become dangerous if they cause a blockage in the digestive tract and become septic, disabling your dog’s normal digestion processes.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Has Hairballs?

As it is quite rare for a dog to develop hairballs, when you have found yourself in this situation, it is a good idea to book an appointment with your vet in order to work out what the underlying cause may be and why your dog sounds like he has a hairball. While it may be a hairball issue, it may also be some other respiratory problem.

Your vet will be able to distinguish any obvious issues such as fleas, mites, fungus infections and other skin allergies. In treating the underlying cause of your dog’s itching and licking, the hairball issue will also be resolved in the long-term.

If it is in fact a hair ball issue, then your vet may also want to take a look at your dog’s diet to find out whether something is causing your dog to have itchy and irritated skin which causes the dog to self-groom too often. Alternatively, your vet may recommend a laxative so that your dog is able to pass any hair from the stomach more comfortably.

You can try using a cat hairball remedy for your pooch, such as Greenies Smartbites. But in most cases, veterinarians will recommend using a stool softener or laxative so that the dog can more easily pass the hairball. Some of the popular laxatives for dogs are below:

How to Prevent Hairballs in Dogs

Prevention is always the best cure, and luckily dog hairballs are not a common problem so you're unlikely to need to worry about them. Because dogs rarely self-groom as much as cats do, and if your pooch doesn't suffer from any underlying skin related issues, then you probably won't have to deal with it.

That said, some of the ways to prevent your dog from getting hairballs are these below:

  1. Provide your dog with plenty of fresh water daily. A hydrated dog will have more efficient bowel movements, and any hair that the dog ingests will be able to pass naturally along with their feces, as it should do on normal occasions.
  2. Establish a regular grooming routine. This is especially important for dogs that have long hair or shed often, particularly during the shedding season. Regular brushing will ensure that there is less hair for your dog to consume if he does lick himself.
  3. Entertain your pet dog. Boredom is one of the most common reasons a dog will start nibbling, chewing, biting and licking themselves. A bored dog picks up these bad habits in order to pass time. You can distract your dog by providing plenty of playtime and exercise so that he is relaxed in your home. Offer healthy chews to encourage the dog to direct their licking onto something less hairy.

Summary

A dog with hairballs is a strange incident that doesn't happen often to dog owners, but one that still does occur on occasion from time to time. If you found yourself asking, my dog sounds like he has a hairball, what do I do? then the best option is to consult with your veterinarian. Whether it's actually a hairball issue or something else, you may need to develop a treatment plan to cure the current issue and prevent this from happening again.

READ NEXT: 6 Common and Serious Dog Skin Conditions (And What to Do About Them)