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Often, when people think of hairballs, they think of cats, but dogs can get hairballs, too. The medical term for hairballs and fur balls is trichobezoar. Hairballs form when dogs ingest hair and then the hair combines with the contents of the stomach over time. Hair cannot be digested by your dog's stomach acid and can cause your dog discomfort, pain, and nausea.
Symptoms of dog hairballs
Your dog may cough because he is trying to clear his airway. They may be successful in coughing up the hairball right away, or they may be coughing or gagging for a few days in an attempt to get it up.
The American Kennel Club states, "A high-pitched, gagging cough can be suggestive of upper airway irritation, infection or even a partial blockage." This can be dangerous because a partial blockage interferes with their ventilation and swallowing. Your dog might experience constipation as well.
Consult your veterinarian to determine the cause of the cough and rule out other potential diseases. The hairball may be bigger than you might expect and is often a log-like shape, resembling the shape of their stool.
Risk factors for dog hairballs
Any dog can get a hairball. However, dogs that shed a lot, have longer coats, or suffer from skin conditions or fleas are more likely to develop hairballs, according to PetCareRx, and long-haired breeds tend to be more susceptible to hairballs.
Dogs may lick and chew themselves more than usual due to stress, skin irritation, or itchiness. The more they lick themselves, the greater the chance of developing a hairball. Hair stuck in a dog's throat can cause gagging and coughing.
Often, the hairball passes through their digestive system and comes out in their stools. Other times, your dog will vomit them up. But occasionally the hairball is too large and gets stuck, which is when it can cause a digestive obstruction.
Eliminate skin irritations
Check your dog for fleas or ticks, which can be itchy and uncomfortable for them. In addition to scratching themselves to relieve the itching, dogs may bite or lick themselves to soothe their discomfort. However, this makes them unintentionally ingest more fur than they normally would and increases their chances of a large furball getting stuck in their digestive tract.
Administer a monthly flea and tick preventive such as Onguard Plus Flea & Tick Spot Treatment for Dogs. This is particularly crucial in warm weather when your pet is outdoors more and has increased exposure to fleas and ticks.
Parasites could be the culprit. Visit the vet with your dog's stool sample to rule out a parasitic infection such as giardia. Allergies sometimes cause skin irritation and itchiness, which can lead to your dog licking and chewing their fur more than usual.
Yeast and bacteria on their skin can cause flaking, itchiness, and irritation. Getting to the root cause of their itchiness can nip licking and the resulting hair ingestion in the bud.
Stop dangerous chewing
Some dog toys, especially stuffed toys, can cause a hairball. The stuffing gets ingested by the dogs when they are chewing on them, either intentionally or by accident. Over time, the stuffing may not get digested or might be too much to pass through their digestive tract.
This can cause a blockage and can mix with fur. If your dog is prone to hairballs, discontinue using plush toys and only give them toys made of other materials. Some dogs chew on their plush dog beds and ingest some of the pillow stuffing from there as well. Monitor your pet's behavior to see if these could be possible causes.
Keep her entertained
If your pet is home alone for substantial periods of time, they may become bored. Some dogs lick themselves a lot when they are bored and ingest more fur. Dogs that are experiencing emotional problems, such as anxiety, separation anxiety, or stress sometimes lick themselves excessively as a coping mechanism and to self-soothe.
Make sure to leave your dogs with plenty of toys to keep them busy and entertained. Give them new toys frequently or rotate toys to keep their interest. Some toys are interactive and designed to stimulate your dog. These toys include interactive food mazes, wobblers, chew toys, treat-dispensing toys, Kongs filled with edible treats, and puzzle balls.
Leaving on a TV or radio may help soothe a dog suffering from separation anxiety. Having a camera or video monitor turned on your pet while you are away may help you monitor your dog's behavior and help them feel more calm and secure while home alone.
Fur, feathers, and prey
Some dogs with hunting instincts may eat other animals when outdoors. If they eat the animals whole, they may ingest fur and feathers, which are indigestible. If their digestive system is weak or if the fur and feathers get stuck in their digestive tract, this can be quite dangerous.
According to Dogsaholic.com, if the fur and feathers stay in the digestive tract, they can trap or block decaying feces. This can be very dangerous since toxic gases and particles of the rotting substance can be reabsorbed in the bloodstream. Contact your vet if this is the case. Try to discourage and prevent your dog from ingesting prey animals altogether.
Remedies for Dog Hairballs
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Serve a fiber-rich diet
Adding fiber to your dog's diet can help the hairball move along the digestive tract and help her pass it that way. VetInfo recommends fiber supplements to move the process along. Bite-size fiber treats such as Perfect Poop Digestion & Health Supplement for Dogs or Vetnique Labs Glandex Anal Gland Support can help hairballs while preventing blocked anal glands and other digestive problems.
High-fiber dog foods, such as Iams Adult ProActive Mini-Chunks contain high-fiber beet pulp. The low-sugar, mildly fermentable fiber helps feed your dog's digestive tract and supplies energy to the digestive tract while providing bulk to keep things moving, says Iams.
If your dog likes human food, add some fruits and vegetables to his diet. Apples without the core, sweet potatoes, and green beans are all high-fiber, dog-friendly choices.
Oatmeal can be an effective source of fiber for your dog and a tasty treat. Add the fiber slowly to avoid stomach upset and diarrhea. If your dog starts to develop diarrhea, however, she may be ingesting too much fiber. If this happens, adjust their diet and cut back on their fiber intake.
Pumpkin is another natural and tasty way to help your dog pass a furball. VetInfo recommends canned pumpkin with no added sugar in it as a delicious source of fiber. Dogs like the taste and the fiber can aid in digestion.
Moisturize her skin
Dry skin can cause itchiness in a dog. In cold and dry winter months, make sure to use a moisturizing shampoo such as Chi Deep Moisture Dog Shampoo.
PetCareRX recommends soothing oatmeal baths for moisturizing dog skin. If possible, skip the bath altogether. Taking fewer baths will help your dog's skin retain its natural oils.
Combat the fat
Fat emulsifiers can help eliminate hairballs in dogs. Hairballs can mix with fats from your dog's diet. Soy lecithin acts as a lubricant to help the hairball pass through the digestive system more easily according to VetInfo.
The American Kennel Club suggests serving coconut oil as a natural homemade hairball remedy. Coconut oil aids in digestion, can reduce coughing, and can help them eliminate hairballs. When giving it to your dog orally, start with a small dose and increase slowly to avoid digestive upset.
Your vet may recommend ingestible gel or another solution that will help dissolve the fatty hairball, such as NaturPet Hairball Care. The ingredients such as ginger, licorice, cascara sagrada, and dandelion leaf help break the hairball down and make it easy to pass through their digestive tract.
Brush up on daily care
Give your dog plenty of water to help him stay hydrated, especially if he is vomiting. Giving them more water than usual if you suspect they have a hairball will help with digestion. Hydration can help them pass the hairball in their stools faster.
Encourage hydration with sodium-free bone broth or designed-for-dogs electrolyte formula such as DoggieWater Chicken Flavor Dog Supplement. A liquid diet can help your pup eliminate a hairball. Since it's a liquid, there are no small pieces of food to potentially get stuck to the hairball and cause it to increase in size.
Groom your dog regularly to get rid of loose hair. When dogs are licking and cleaning themselves, they ingest the loose hair, which is the source of the hairball. Brush your pet frequently between grooming appointments or use a Chi Grooming Glove to caress your pet during snuggle time while easily eliminating loose fur at the same time.
Let him nibble grass
Some dogs instinctively eat grass on a walk outside if they are feeling nauseous or experiencing stomach discomfort. The grass irritates their stomach further and causes them to vomit. Your dog may do this on her own to try to vomit up the hairball. If you suspect that they have a hairball that is not being coughed up on its own, you can try to encourage them to eat grass.
VetInfo suggests growing your own grass at home with a kit because it will not contain any toxic chemicals, pesticides, or insecticides that could make your dog even sicker. They warn that if your dog is vomiting for two days and still has not vomited up the hairball, discontinue grass treatment. You do not want your pets to get dehydrated, and they may need a different course of treatment as determined by your vet.
Explore veterinary solutions
Your vet may need to prescribe your dog medication if dietary and natural remedies are not working. You want your pet to pass the hairball as quickly as possible to prevent further discomfort and damage. Medications may include laxatives and the type and dosage will be determined by your dog's age, breed, and size.
If no other treatments are effective, and the hairball is not successfully vomited up or eliminated, your vet may need to perform surgery. A hairball can block their digestive tract and can be very painful and serious. It may be the only way for your pet to get better.
While many hairballs resolve on their own, if your pet is showing signs of distress, contact your vet. Only your vet can determine the proper treatment of a hairball that is causing a blockage. Your vet can alert you to any other health conditions your pet may be suffering from that would cause them to lick their fur excessively in the first place and create hairballs in dogs.
- Vet Info: Hairball Remedy for Dogs
- American Kennel Club: Dog Coughing: Causes and Treatment Options
- American Kennel Club:Coconut Oil for Dogs: Is it Really Good for Them?
- American Kennel Club: Five Foods to Feed Your Dog When He’s Sick
- PetCareRx: Hairballs In Dogs
- Iams: Why Beet Pulp is Good For Dogs