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Hairballs in Dogs

What to Do if Your Dog Gets Hairballs

By Sora Wondra. February 27, 2013 | See Comments

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Hairballs in Dogs

Hairballs are a real pain in the neck, and not just for cats. Dogs, especially those with medium to long fur, are just as likely to cough up a furry surprise.

Cats aren't the only furry friend we have to worry about getting hairballs—dogs can get hairballs too. Dogs that have longer coats or love to lick everything (you know the type) are at risk of developing hairballs, just like cats.

Why do dogs get hairballs?

While cats are known for constant grooming, dogs sometimes lick their fur, and dogs who are shedding may ingest large amounts of fur in their normal daily routines. Dogs with itchy skin or pests like fleas and ticks are more likely to chew and lick their fur, and are therefore more vulnerable to getting hairballs. 

In general, any ingested fur passes through the digestive system. If there is too much fur, dogs may vomit up their hairballs and usually have no further problems. In rare occasions, hairballs can be a concern beyond dirtying your carpet. If the hairball becomes too large to pass through the intestines, or cannot be coughed up, it can cause a blockage in the digestive system and begin to ferment. In some extreme cases, this may require surgical removal. 

Hairball warning signs

If you have a medium or long-haired dog, take note of increased licking and shedding as signs that hairballs may be on the way. Winter can trigger dry skin and irritation among dogs, so you may notice more licking during the colder months. If you notice your dog has been licking and chewing their fur, check for parasites and skin problems.

Frequent hairballs could be signs of a bigger, possibly digestive, problem, since hair should be able to pass normally into the stool. It could also be a sign of boredom--if your dog has nothing to do but sit around and lick or chew their fur, they'll have more hairballs.

Many of the symptoms of a dangerous hairball (the kind that causes blockages) overlap with signs of other health concerns: lethargy, constipation, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. The only telling sign may be if your dog has been gagging or trying to cough up unsuccessfully for some time.  

If unsuccessful heaving continues for 24 hours, you should contact your veterinarian. Laxatives may be prescribed to solve the problem, but in extreme cases, other options such as surgery may be considered to remove the obstruction before it causes other problems.

Tips to prevent hairballs

While you can't stop your dog from swallowing any fur, you can decrease the likelihood of bad hairballs.

  • Brush your dog often to reduce loose hair consumption. If you know your dog is shedding, double or triple your efforts, and use a damp cloth to wipe off extra loose hair after brushing. What's healthy for your dog will also save you time in vacuuming and lint rolling.

  • While originally created for cats, your veterinarian may recommend using hairball remedies or lubricants to help your dog digest hair easier.

  • Keep your dog protected from fleas and ticks with collars or spot-on treatments. If you notice a lot of licking and gnawing, check your dog for skin or fur problems.

  • During winter, when your dog's skin becomes dry and irritated, consider giving fewer baths, using moisturizing shampoos, or even oatmeal baths to reduce itching, gnawing, and licking.

  • Make sure your dog is getting enough water to stay well-hydrated and aid digestion.

  • Get your dog a new toy for entertainment and to distract them from chewing on their fur!

Hairballs don't have to be a big concern for dog owners. If you take a few preventative steps, you should avoid having to deal with hairball messes and your dog will appreciate the extra grooming and attention.

More on Caring for Your Dog

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Dogs With Hairballs at a glance

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  • 1Dogs who are shedding or have long hair, skin conditions, or fleas are at greater risk of hairballs
  • 2Hairballs can be dangerous if they become too large to digest or cough up
  • 3Brush your dog often and wipe off loose hair to prevent hairballs