Can dogs get hairballs? The question, I admit, seems strange. Surely, hairballs afflict cats and cats alone? While they are rare, dog hairballs do appear occasionally, and for a variety of reasons. Indeed, a number of hirsute and fur-bearing creatures — most notably cats, but also cows, ferrets, rabbits, and even humans — can and do develop hairballs. And pre-modern and early-modern human cultures believed that hairballs, along with many other stone-like formations expelled by bodies, had magical or medicinal properties.
These days, we expect and can treat hairballs when they afflict our cats. Hairballs in dogs, while unusual, are more likely to send you running to the Internet for answers rather than to your friendly local alchemist. What are hairballs, exactly? What causes hairballs to form in the stomach? What can be done to prevent their formation? The last Friday in April is National Hairball Awareness Day, and we at Dogster have all the information you need to untangle these questions!
What is a hairball?
A hairball is a trichobezoar, a word that simply means a concentrated mass in the stomach comprised of hair. That mass may be formed solely of accumulated hair, or congeal around another indigestible element present in the stomach. Typically, a dog who inadvertently swallows his own hair or fur in the process of self-grooming will pass any stray hairs in his feces. Should sufficient hair or fur collect in the stomach, animals with a gag reflex, like cats and dogs, will vomit, expelling the mass from their bodies.
While we may associate hairballs with cats, that does not mean they are normal, nor to be expected in any animal. The larger a hairball grows in a dog’s stomach, the more it deprives a dog of necessary fluids. This leads to discomfort, dehydration, and eventually a lack of appetite. A hairball can create blockages in the digestive tract and become septic, interfering with the dog’s normal processes of digestion.
What causes hairballs?
When a dog ingests more hair than he can expel in his feces, that hair can begin to congeal around any other small, stray item present in the stomach. Hairball formation has a kind of snowball effect; once a hairball begins to form, the more hair a dog ingests, the larger it becomes. Once a hairball is large enough, physical discomfort compels the dog to vomit it out. Though hairballs in dogs are rare, they can form under the right conditions.
The length of a dog’s coat is not as big a factor in the formation of hairballs as is the ability to evacuate the bowels before hairballs can form. Dogs with skin conditions that drive them to repeatedly lick or chew on their skin and hair are also more likely to develop a hairball in their stomach. These conditions can vary, from skin allergies to parasitic infestations like mange, fleas, or ticks.
How to treat hairballs in dogs
Because hairballs in dogs are rare, the first thing you should do is make a visit to the veterinarian to discover the underlying cause. Should your dog be suffering from a skin allergy or parasitic infestation, treating the source of the affliction will likely eliminate the resulting hairballs. If it is not a skin condition or parasite, the vet may recommend a laxative or temporary dietary change to make passing excess hair in the stomach easier on the dog.
Preventing hairballs before they begin is, of course, the best option. Make sure that your dog is getting enough fresh water to drink. A well-hydrated dog experiences more efficient bowel movements, allowing any hair that is ingested to pass naturally in the feces. If your dog has longer hair, establishing a regular grooming routine, even if it is simply brushing away and disposing of excess hair, reduces the available raw materials.
Boredom is another potential cause of hairballs in dogs. Dogs who are left to their own devices for extended periods of time without toys or company to distract them may turn to chewing and licking at themselves simply to pass the time. Spending time with your dog on a daily basis — going for a regular walk or playing with her at a specific time each day — can eliminate boredom, as can providing an assortment of toys.
Has your dog ever vomited a hairball?
Whether you call it a hairball or a trichobezoar, finding a moist mass on your carpet or couch is not only inconvenient for you, but a painful and unwelcome experience for your dog. If your dog is producing them, the most important thing is to discover the reason behind it and to address it as quickly as possible.
Have your dogs ever had problems with hairballs? Was it due to heavy shedding, parasites, or boredom, or was it caused by something else entirely? Share your experiences in the comments!
Learn more about dog hair with Dogster:
- Hairball Facts and Fallacies
- Why Severely Matted Hair Needs Professional Attention
- How to Combat Seasonal Allergies in Dogs
- 5 Tips on How to Survive Hair-Shedding Season
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a one-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Idris, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.
16 thoughts on “Can Dogs Get Hairballs?”
My 3 month old puppy vomited up a hairball today. She loves to bite our long haired dog and chomp on leaves and twigs. Well today her hairball consisted of the other dogs hair wrapped around leaf spines and small twigs. We had been trying to get her to stop eating leaves, but had slacked off in the last couple of days. We will be trying to stop her and hopefully will prevent another one forming.
My 3yo Patterdale cross vomited a hair ball some months ago – it consisted of rubber toys he had swallowed and a mixture of me and my partners hair (we live on a narrowboat and I guess our hair ended up in his stomach whilst licking the floors).
I noticed he was more thirsty days prior to the hair ball.
Today he seemed to drink more than usual and last night he was making some heaving noises but nothing happened so I wonder if there is another one to expel.
We avoid rubber toys now as they seem to do more harm than good, and try to clean the floors often.
My little pup threw up a hair ball today, but not of his own hair ! It was from a few of his plush toys !! And dog ropes he has destroyed. We try to remove as much as we can we he starts to eat things he shouldn’t. But today he threw up quite a large hair ball and I was very surprised that he managed to eat so much from his destroyed toys, when we quickly try to remove anything in his mouth that he runs away with. Make sure you look out for these things too this is the first one he’s done but throughout the whole morning he was trying and got out nothing but white/yellow foamy saliva. Thankfully it’s all out now !
I think my German shepherd has a hair ball, but I believe it’s from sharing bones with my golden retriever. Hairs stick to the bones I’m constantly washing them and replacing them, but suddenly he started throwing up bile and sometimes food. Our vet has done Xrays, blood work and can’t find any medical explanation. All tests reveal a healthy dog. I keep finding hair in his feces.
My dog sounds like she is coughing and gagging. But only does this while liking and biting ear her tail. Is it her fur creating this. She does not throw up anything
I have a little dog who coughs a lot and throws up yellow stuff today she threw up two big hair balls how did she get that much hair is it normal for her to throw up yellow stuff and hair balls…
Pingback: How To Deal With Hairballs In Your Dog | Animal Authority
My dog Coughs then gags and foamy saliva comes out. Could this be caused by a hair ball he can’t get up?
Pingback: How To Deal With Hairballs In Dogs | PetSide
Pingback: Can Dogs Have Hairballs? – dogger online
I had a tiny visiting puppy and she played with my small dog for two solid days. Lots of biting and hair pulling. So much so that the little one vomited on her last day here and it was a huge hairball that was the color of my little dog. Very weird. I actually picked it up with paper and pulled it apart to see what it was. Just hair.
My question is about something you didn’t address in this article. Our Maltese had severe diarrhea this morning and this afternoon threw up a huge (especially for the tiny size of the dog) trichobezor. Clearly we need to take him to the vet to get him checked out and any help he needs, but one of the strange things about is that Maltese don’t shed, they have hair! And the hairball he threw up was dark colored hair and he is all white. We do have 2 bigger dogs with black hair that does shed, but I’ve never noticed the Maltese licking them. My question is: can dogs develop a condition like Pica in humans in which they compulsively eat inedible things, like hair?
Thanks for reaching out. Here is an article related to your question about dogs eating inedible things:
Please ask your vet for more information pertaining to your dog’s specific eating habits.
Pingback: Episode 174: No More Petes, Just Howard | Decorative Vegetable
My lab is throwing up her dog food sense yesterday to me it looks like she’s gasping for air she drinks water fine plays fine she keeps cloughing can u help me to fine out what’s wrong with her
Hi Lori — we would suggest seeing a vet ASAP.