While cat owners are already familiar with hairballs, some dog parents might also deal with this condition.

Medically called trichobezoars, it’s a gastrointestinal obstruction. Once your dog swallows hair, it can start to cough and gag. These warning signs might make you think, “my dog sounds like he has a hairball,” but is it possible for dogs to have hairballs?

Let’s learn the answer and find out more about this:

Can Dogs Get Hairballs and How?

Even though hairballs are more common in cats, dogs can have them, too. There is even a Hairball Awareness Day to inform more people about it. 

If you’re wondering how a dog can get a hairball, the most common ways are the obvious ones — by licking its body during self-grooming or gnawing the skin due to irritation or parasites.  

Once your dog swallows the hair, it might start coughing. You shouldn’t worry about it in most situations, but sometimes that dog coughing can sound alarming. It happens when the hair gets stuck inside the body and can’t get out by vomiting or pooping. Once stuck, it attracts and collects more hair, thus making a ball. It’s called a snowball effect. If the ball gets too big, it can lead to serious gastrointestinal symptoms aligned with pain.

My Dog Sounds Like He Has a Hairball, But Does He? 

If following that cough, you can’t see vomit full of hairs; it’s hard to define the reason behind the coughing. 

A trip to the vet is always the best solution. They’ll check your pet, make a plan, and help diagnose what’s bothering your dog. Usually, laxatives and supplements can make that go away, but the vet may need more tests. In very rare situations, surgery is the only option.

Main Symptoms  

But how to know if that dog coughing is due to a hairball? Reportedly, coughing and gagging are always the main symptoms, but there are other signs you should be aware of. They include:

  • Retching
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of bowel movements
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal distress

If you notice any of these symptoms, consult your vet.

Hairball Causes

As you can probably guess, the main cause is swallowing hair. Your dog might lick itself or ingest it from the environment. Usually, it’s not harmful and goes by itself through pooping or vomiting. 

But sometimes, the hairball can get so big that your dog coughing and gagging might sound alarming. That’s when the hairball can’t move through the body and could clog the digestive tract. In this situation, your dog will experience dehydration, which can be harmful. In severe cases, it can cause pain and a terrible gastrointestinal condition. 

Other Reasons Why Your Dog Is Coughing 

Other issues might also lead to the same dog hairball sound.

Reverse Sneezing

The condition also leads to coughing and sounds like your dog has a hairball in the throat. It happens when your dog inhales air quickly through the nose. It’s caused by irritants that produce throat spasms. They might include:

  • Postnasal discharge
  • Foreign materials, like dust, smoke, or pollen
  • Overexcitement
  • Exercise
  • A collar that’s too tight
  • Rapid temperature change

According to the AKC, you can help by holding the dog’s nostrils closed for a second and massaging the throat to calm it. Lightly blowing in your dog’s face or getting it outside for fresh air may also be a good idea.

The issue is more common in dogs with short faces, like Terriers, Pugs, and Bulldogs. 

Funny face of the dog while sneezing

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is an upper respiratory infection caused by viruses or bacteria. The main symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Eye discharge
  • Sneezing

In severe cases, you can also notice a cough, yellow or white nasal discharge, lethargy, and disinterest in everyday activities.

If not severe, kennel cough usually resolves on its own. But some home remedies can ease the discomfort. For instance, you can keep your dog in humid environments. In mild and severe cases, your pet will need antibiotics. If not treated in time, it can lead to pneumonia

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis sounds more like a dog trying to cough something up, very similar to vomiting. It’s an airways inflammation. The condition is so bad that it results in excessive secretion that impairs the oxygen flow to the alveoli. 

Chronic bronchitis can happen due to airborne contaminants and irritants like cigarette smoke. Hence, the best treatment is minimum exposure to smoke, dust, and sprays. You should know that it cannot be cured if you don’t treat it in time.

Parasite Infection

Intestinal parasites are another problem you can mistake for dog hairball cough. They live inside a dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Some of them are:

  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Giardia
  • Coccidia

The typical warning signs include coughing, gagging, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. Also, the parasites are very hard to spot, but you can sometimes see them in feces or vomit. 

Collapsing Trachea

A sound like a dog trying to clear its throat can indicate a collapsing trachea. It usually happens in little dogs, and the main causes are heat, activity, and obesity. In severe cases, the dog has a lot of trouble breathing. The cough is dry, and it comes and goes.

Veterinarians report the most common signs: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing when you pick up your dog or apply pressure to its neck
  • Vomiting and gagging
  • Wheezing

Obesity and humidity are also factors that can bring out these symptoms.

Heart Issues 

Coughing can sometimes be a sign of heart issues. Aside from your dog making choking sounds, you might also notice: 

  • Blue tinged tongue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Collapsing

Unfortunately, many of these signs overlap with arthritis, seizures, and chronic lung disease. That’s why it’s crucial to visit your vet to find out what’s causing the cough. 

Cancer

Sadly, a dog making hacking noises can also indicate lung cancer. That’s why you should closely observe your dog’s coughing. If you detect the disease early, you can almost always cure it.

Other signs of lung cancer include weight loss, lethargy, and labored breathing. The condition is usually diagnosed in 10–12-year-old dogs. If that’s the early diagnosis, the options are surgery and chemotherapy.

Hairball Dangers You Should Know About

Regardless of how uncommon this situation is for dogs, you should still know what danger it can pose.

If your dog gets the hairball out by vomiting, there’s nothing you should worry about. But if it’s clogged inside, that can cause dehydration and becomes sepsis in rare situations.

To prevent this dangerous situation, remember to note down how many days the dog hairball symptoms occur. Any coughing and gagging that persist beyond three days is a sign that you should take your dog to the vet.

What Dogs Are at Risk?

It might sound logical that dogs with longer hair would be more affected by hairballs, but experts say that’s not the case. All breeds are at risk. 

What makes a dog cough doesn’t have much to do with its coat. It’s more about your pet’s digestive system. Hairballs are most common in dogs with skin conditions. They usually lick themselves more, so they have a higher risk of producing a hairball. 

Since hair is the main culprit, shedding solutions for dogs, like regular brushing and trimming, can help prevent trouble. That way, you’ll get rid of loose hairs and can spot any skin irritations or allergies in your dog.

How to Help a Dog With a Hairball?

You can help your dog in several ways. The most simple one is to offer fresh and clean water daily. It helps the body to clean itself better and create more bowel movements. Thus, hair doesn’t get stuck in the digestive system.

Introducing a high-fiber diet is also a healthy and natural way to help your dog. We recommend adding pumpkin since it’s rich in fiber and eases digestion, thus enabling the dog to get rid of the hairball. Plus, you can find canned pumpkin throughout the whole year. Also, you can consider top-rated canned dog food with chicken and rice or salmon and vegetables.

For dry and itchy skin, a petroleum jelly or vaseline can ease the itching. And by applying it to the skin, you can prevent your dog from licking its fur and displaying dog hairball symptoms.

If the hairball doesn’t go naturally, you might have to try laxatives, supplements, or stimulants. Here, it’s best to consult your veterinarian. If you’re looking for a natural solution, we like Bernie’s Perfect Poop supplement. 

Remedies & Prevention Tips

It’s normal to worry if your dog sounds like coughing up a hairball. So here’s what you can do to prevent complications: 

  • Brush and bathe your dog regularly. Depending on the coat type, some breeds require brushing several times per week, while for others, once is enough. Also, when bathing, use moisturizing shampoos that reduce hair loss. Once per month is quite enough.
  • Regular flea and tick prevention is another way to prevent dog hairball cough. When not treated, that causes itching and makes the dog scratch and lick itself. 
  • Trim your dog, especially if you have one with long and curly hair that’s prone to matting.
  • Keep your dog busy. Boredom often makes dogs gnaw their paws or lick themselves. If you see your dog doing that, fetch a ball or take it on a walk.
  • Offer clean water. Ensure your pet is always drinking clean water and invest in a good dog water bottle.

Conclusion 

Now that you know dogs can have hairballs, too, the best way to help is to observe closely any gagging and coughing.

Once the thought “my dog sounds like he has a hairball” crosses your mind, notice if your dog is constantly licking paws or coughing. If you see these symptoms, increase your pet’s water intake and introduce a high-fiber diet.

If coughing doesn’t disappear in 72 hours, you should visit your vet. It might be a hairball, but it can also indicate other gastrointestinal issues.

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