Hairballs in Dogs: Treatment And Prevention

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Hairballs in dogs are rare, but it does not mean that it will not happen to your dog.

A lot of the time, we associate this phenomenon with cats, especially since they are the ones who love to lick and groom their bodies most of the time. We rarely see a dog that will continuously lick his fur just to become clean.

When they get dirty, most would rub the dirty part on the floor or the walls to get it off.

Hence people often think that a dog that seems to be “grooming itself” will only do so if they have a wound, a tick bite, or some skin irritation in a particular area of its body.

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Although this is partly true, some dogs will groom their fur, especially when they are medium to long.

This and the fact that some dogs seem to be very conscious of the cleanliness of their fur contribute to the fact that a dog can cough up some hairballs at any particular time.

Aside from this, you also need to consider that dogs have that season for shedding, and the amount of fur they shed will also depend upon their health.

Therefore, it is also extremely important to look after the kind of diet you provide for your pet as a part of an overall dog hairball remedy.

What are dog hairballs?

Hairballs are also tricholiths or trichobezoars, a mass of concentrated hair material that has surrounded a non-digestible item that has become stuck in the stomach, the esophagus, or the intestines. It comes in various shapes ranging from rounded to tubular to spherical, and depending on how long your dog coughed them up, it can be a wet and soggy mass or a dry one.

Just like cats, they are made of the dog’s fur and may occasionally come with fibers such as grass and other non-soluble materials.

Dogs can ingest their fur by licking and grooming, or it could be on their surroundings. Although there are more reasons why dogs lick, you can read all about it in our article of the same title.

A hairball can pose several levels of risk depending on how many and how long the hair materials have been in their gastrointestinal tract.

A dog can usually eliminate a small amount of hair they ingest if these are really few, and the speed of his elimination is normal. But a dog with a slower rate of elimination can have hairball problems even if he ingests them in small amounts.

As the hair accumulates, they tend to tangle themselves around each other, forming an almost solid structure, and if he happens to have a weak body, he may have problems vomiting or coughing it out.

Here are some of the symptoms to look out for if you want to know if your dog has gotten some hairballs:

  • Repeated attempts to cough or vomit something out of their mouths
  • Constipation
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Gagging
  • Diarrhea
  • A bloated stomach, in more serious cases

Hairballs could pose a huge risk to the life of your pet if they grow hard inside your pet’s stomach.

This is often due to a poor state of health and large amounts of ingested fur. As they become larger, they will somewhat harden and prevent the passage of food down the stomach.

Aside from this, it can also pierce your pet’s stomach as the hairs become much stiffer and harder as time goes on.

Therefore, it is extremely important to have your pet healthy and regularly checked up by their vet to detect this condition early on and prevent it from getting more serious.

How do dogs get them?

Although dogs are not known to be as dedicated to grooming as cats are, there can be instances when they do this rather obsessively, leading them to ingest large amounts of fur.

Here are some causes or reasons how a dog can get a hairball:

  • Shedding. Dogs, especially those with two layers or coats of fur and those with longer fur, are prone to shedding, and it can be one of their greatest problems if not dealt with properly. A dog will often shed its fur during spring when its winter coats begin to fall as the warmer seasons begin. If they are not properly groomed by their owners, they will end up doing it themselves. With the large amount of fur they are shedding, it poses a large opportunity for them to swallow those furs and develop a hairball. If your dog sheds a lot, find out in our article why your dog is suffering from hair loss to get to the root of the problem.
  • Eating prey. We all know dogs have that prey instinct and tend to eat them whole, including feathers and furs. Since animal hair is indigestible, it will remain inside their stomach, and if they are lucky, they will eliminate it together with other materials. But, if their digestive system is not that strong, it will stay on their digestive tract or large intestines, where it will trap or block other decaying feces. This poses a great health risk since toxic gases and substances from the rotting materials will be reabsorbed by the bloodstream.
  • Excessive licking. When a dog licks their fur, your pet will often swallow some of them. Here are some reasons why your dog may be excessively licking themselves:
    • This is one of the main reasons why dogs can lick themselves to the point that they do not get a good night’s sleep. A dog constantly feeling itchy will, of course, try to alleviate their itchiness by chewing and licking it. But since allergy cannot be easily cured by biting it, it will, of course, continue to itch. As the area becomes too much exposed to saliva, the furs will begin to fall off, and when this happens, your dog can ingest some of them.
    • If a dog does not have sufficient physical or mental stimulation, they will try to do just anything to occupy their time, and licking can be one of them. A bored dog will find a way to get rid of all their energies, and so you can expect them to do it incessantly until they get tired.
    • Flea and tick bites. If your dog has a problem with flea and tick infestations, chances are they will be biting and licking their fur a lot more often. Tick bites can be itchy and cause your dog to chew on their fur. When they do so, they also pull some of their furs out and swallow them as they try to get rid of these parasites. Check out our piece on how to effectively deal with fleas and other parasites that can help you a lot.

What are the available treatments for dog hairballs?

You will find many commercial products in the market that promise to eliminate your dog’s hairballs, but not all of them can treat your specific case.

This is because dog hairballs come in different stages. There are those which are yet in their early stages that are still quite soft and easy to eliminate, and there are those which have been in your dog’s stomach for a significant amount of time that they have already hardened.

Aside from that, dog hairballs can be stuck in different areas in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract – in the esophagus, the stomach, or the small intestines.

Here are some of the solutions that you can apply if you ever encounter this problem:

  • Petroleum jelly. Giving your dog petroleum jelly will help “smoothen” out the passage of the hairball either through their throat or stomach. It will also help soften the hairball in case it has a large quantity of hair.
  • Pumpkin. Pumpkin is known to contain a large amount of fiber which can help “pull out” the hairball as they pass through the gastrointestinal tract. Aside from this, it will help support the mucus membranes of the track, giving it a smoother travel time in the stomach.
  • Laxatives. Since laxatives can significantly affect your dog’s body, you should only use them under a vet’s supervision. The type and dosage depend on your pet’s age and health condition. Any underlying medical condition, especially those related to the gastrointestinal area and other major organs, must be considered before giving this treatment.
  • Surgery. If the hairball is already stiff and hard or too large to be eliminated through the anus, surgery will be required to remove it.

How do you prevent hairballs from developing?

Since prevention is still better than treating any illness, it would be much better if you, as a pet owner, could help prevent your dog from getting it in the first place.

This way, you would not have to face the prospect of a possible surgery in case your dog cannot eliminate it naturally.

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Here are some steps that you can take to keep your dog from getting a hairball:

  • Groom your pet regularly. Constantly cleaning and brushing your pet’s hair will help them eliminate lost and dead hair more effectively. If your dog has medium hair, you must brush them at least once a day before they go to bed. A dog with longer hair will need to be brushed twice a day, especially during the shedding season. Make sure to throw the hairs in a bin that they will not be able to reach or open. Read our article on the top dog shampoos to give you more choices for your pet.
  • Provide a diet healthy in essential oils. Essential oils help maintain the shine, luster, and strength of your pet’s fur, including fish, meats, and some vegetables. Make sure that they get a sufficient amount of these through natural foods or by giving them Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements.
  • Treat their allergies if they have any. If your dog is biting and chewing his skin constantly, chances are he may suffer from an allergy that manifests itself through skin conditions. Have him checked upon by your vet for any type of allergy, and make sure to avoid any situation in which they will be exposed to allergens such as pollen, plastics, and certain types of foods.
  • Give your pet sufficient water. A healthy gut needs sufficient hydration, which can come only if you give your dog enough water. Water in the stomach will also help ensure your pet’s smoother elimination. The amount that your pet needs will vary from case to case and will depend on their activity level, weather, age, breed, etc. Make sure to ask your vet about this.
  • Provide your pet with sufficient stimulation. Since boredom can cause your dog to lick his fur incessantly, it is therefore important to provide him with enough physical or mental activity to keep his mind occupied. Give him a chew toy and ensure you spend enough time playing or going on walks with him to prevent boredom or anxiety. Bonding with your dog is just as important as giving him a place to stay and food to eat.

Hairballs are not an exclusive phenomenon to cats only, even dogs can get them, and they can pose a serious risk to their health if left unattended.

A dog can get hairballs by excessively licking and chewing their skin and which, in turn, can be caused by allergies, boredom, or flea and tick problems.

Your dog is also prone to having hairballs during the shedding season, especially if they are left to groom themselves.

Hairballs can develop into stiff and hard masses in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract and puncture or rupture their stomach. Make sure you look well after your dog to avoid this situation and lose your pet forever.

If you believe you can’t deal with all that shedding, here’s our article on non-shedding dogs if you think you are better off with this breed.