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 may also be constipated.
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.
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. Your vet may also put your dog on a special high-fiber dog food. You can also add some fruits and vegetables to their diet, such as apples without the core, sweet potatoes, and green beans.
Oatmeal can also be a great 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.
Risk factors for hairballs in dogs
Any dog can get a hairball. Dogs that shed a lot, have longer coats, 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 skin irritation and itchiness. They may also lick themselves or objects excessively due to stress or separation anxiety.
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 be problematic for your pet.
Fat emulsifiers can help eliminate hairballs in dogs. The hairball may mix with fats from your dog's diet. Soy lecithin is especially good at helping them expel hairballs according to VetInfo. Soy lecithin acts as a lubricant to help the hairball pass through the digestive system more easily.
The American Kennel Club suggests trying 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.
Check with your veterinarian about the recommended dosage. Too much can give your dog digestive upset and other uncomfortable side effects.
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.
Your vet may recommend a special ingestible gel that will help dissolve the hairball, as stated in VetInfo. The ingredients help break the hairball down and make it easy to pass through their digestive tract. Common ingredients include corn syrup, petrolatum, soybean oil, and mineral oil.
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. It may also help them pass the hairball in their stools faster.
Getting your dog groomed on a regular schedule with help get rid of loose hair. When dogs are licking and cleaning themselves, they ingest the loose hair, which is the source of the hairball. Brushing them frequently between grooming can also help. You can also use a wet cloth to try to remove as much loose fur as possible or use a grooming glove.
Make sure your dog does not have any fleas or ticks. Flea and tick bites are very 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 or a large furball getting stuck in their digestive tract.
Check them regularly for fleas and ticks, and make sure to give them their monthly preventative flea and tick medication. Being outdoors more frequently, warm weather, and being around many other dogs increases their exposure to fleas and ticks.
Other health factors
Parasites could be the culprit. Your vet can check a stool sample to rule out a parasitic infection such as giardia. Allergies can also 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 in the bud.
Dry skin can cause itchiness in a dog. In cold and dry winter months, make sure to use a moisturizing 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.
Try a liquid diet
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.
VetInfo recommends switching from their regular food to a liquid diet gradually to prevent stomach upset to diarrhea. Bone broth is a great meal for upset stomachs. Bone broth has a delicious flavor and adds water to their diet to prevent dehydration.
The American Kennel Cub advises to make bone broth with beef marrow bones or bones with joints such as turkey and chicken legs. Do not let your pup eat the bones themselves, however, since this can be dangerous to their digestive health.
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 their 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.
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 may 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 may also 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.
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 may also 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 hep 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.
Some dogs with hunting instincts may eat other animals when outdoors. If they eat the animals whole, they may ingest fur and feathers, which in indigestible. If their digestive system is weak or if the fur and feathers gets 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.
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 may also be able to 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.