Every pet parent has been there with the worry, “my dog sounds like he has a hairball!” More often than not, short bouts of coughing in dogs resolve by themselves. Your dog might cough due to irritants in the air or a dry throat. However, there are times when coughing as if trying to hack up a hairball can be a sign of something more serious.
If your dog makes a hairball sound, it’s important to rule out other causes. In dogs, kennel cough can cause a persistent, honking cough. Your dog might also cough due to heartworms, heart disease, the collapse of the trachea, and distemper. Be sure to monitor your pup’s condition closely, and get in touch with a vet right away if necessary.
What Does It Sound Like?
Hairballs occur when your dog ingests hair that does not smoothly pass through the digestive system. Instead, it accumulates, forming a hairball in the digestive tract. As your dog attempts to pass the hairball, they might cough, retch, vomit, and show signs of gastrointestinal distress. Some dogs may lose their appetite if the hairball causes a blockage, and diarrhea can occur as well. If the coughing and retching are followed by the expulsion of a hairball, it’s likely that the hairball was to blame for your dog’s sounds. However, where your dog does not hack up a hairball, something else could be to blame – and, in most cases, the culprit is kennel cough.
Causes of Hairballs
When your dog grooms themselves, they inadvertently ingest large amounts of hair. As your dog licks their body, their tongue catches dust, dirt, dead skin, dead hair, and other irritants that end up in the digestive tract. Loose debris that does not pass through the gastrointestinal tract can then get stuck.
If your dog is a heavy shedder or has a condition that causes excessive hair loss, they’re much more likely to struggle with hairballs when they groom themselves. If your dog is grooming themselves more than usual, be sure to check them over for signs of skin irritation, parasites, or unusual hair loss. Always talk to your vet if you find anything abnormal in your search.
Effects of Dog Hairballs
Dog hairballs can cause digestive issues when they become too large. As your dog’s body attempts to expel the hairball, they may suffer from bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. This may cause your dog to drink more than usual to make up for the loss of water in the body. When a dog hairball causes a blockage, however, you may find that your dog’s symptoms swing the opposite way.
If the hairball blocks part of the digestive system, your dog might become constipated and lose their appetite. Not only this, but large, hardened hairballs can cause abdominal discomfort and nausea, further adding to the lack of appetite. If your dog shows these symptoms it’s vital to get to your vet as soon as possible. A blockage in the GI tract can be fatal for dogs, as well as extremely painful and uncomfortable!
How to Address Hairballs in Dogs
Fortunately, dog hairballs are far less common than cat hairballs. Most dogs will go through their lives without ever suffering from hairballs. However, prevention is always the best policy, and as a pet parent, you must be sure to prevent any and all illnesses in your furry friend. The best start for this is regularly grooming your dog. By brushing your dog well, you reduce the amount of hair that they will consume when they groom themselves. Check-in with your local professional dog groomer for advice about your dog’s grooming schedule if you are unsure about your breed’s grooming requirements.
Next, you can prevent hairballs by keeping your pooch well-hydrated. A dog who is hydrated will have healthier bowel movements and will be less likely to get hairballs after ingesting hair. Water consumption also helps to soften the stool, thereby preventing constipation. Lastly, regular exercise is a must for any dog. A dog that doesn’t get enough exercise for their breed may groom themselves more out of boredom. This may lead to more hairballs, as well as issues with skin irritation and hair loss.
When It's Not A Hairball
If your dog keeps coughing and hacking away as if choking or trying to get rid of a hairball, it could also be a case of kennel cough. Just as human colds come from many different viruses, kennel cough in dogs can have multiple causes. However, the most common culprit is the bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica.
This is why you may also hear kennel cough being called Bordetella. Your dog may catch kennel cough when they inhale the bacteria into their respiratory tract. The respiratory tract is usually protected by a coating of mucus, but a number of things can weaken this protective covering, making dogs more prone to kennel cough. Such factors include exposure to poorly ventilated areas like kennels, cold temperatures, exposure to dust and cigarette smoke, and travel-induced stress.
The hallmark symptom of kennel cough in dogs is a forceful and persistent cough. The cough may sound like a goose honk and is distinct from the cough-like sound from reverse sneezing. Most dogs with kennel cough will recover within three weeks. However, serious ongoing infections can lead to pneumonia, so it’s important to talk to your vet if your pooch shows signs of kennel cough.
Other causes of coughing in dogs include:
- Heart failure
- Tracheal collapse
Be sure to take your pooch to the vet if they display other symptoms alongside their coughing. It’s important to rule out these conditions to be on the safe side!
My Dog Sounds Like He Has a Hairball – FAQs
Are you still concerned by the fact that your dog makes a hairball sound? Feel free to check out our FAQ for more details. If in doubt about your pup’s health, always talk to your vet for advice.
If your dog is prone to hairballs, it’s important to monitor their condition closely. When a dog with a hairball exhibits constipation, a lack of appetite, and abdominal pain, it’s vital to get to a vet as soon as possible. These are signs that your dog is unable to get rid of the hairball by themselves, and they may need to have it removed by the vet. Without removal, an enlarged and hardened hairball can cause life-threatening GI tract blockages, making it impossible for your dog to go to the toilet or to digest their food.
You should also get in touch with your vet if your dog’s coughing resembles kennel cough. Kennel cough causes a persistent, forceful cough, which may sound like a goose honk. While kennel cough typically resolves itself within three weeks, it may develop into life-threatening pneumonia. It’s important that a vet oversees your dog’s recovery because of this. Your vet may also give your pup some medicines to help them recover quicker.
While a poor diet may not directly cause hairballs, it can lead to factors that increase the chances of your dog getting them. A dog eating a poor diet will often develop a dry, itchy, dull coat. This often causes dogs to groom themselves more often to relieve their discomfort. With more self-grooming comes the risk of developing hairballs. As well as this, a poor diet can lead to digestive tract issues for your dog. Your dog might suffer from constipation or diarrhea, especially with a lack of fiber or other essential nutrients. If your dog is already constipated, the risk of complications from getting hairballs is much greater.
Because hairballs are most often from self-grooming, it’s important to look at why your dog is self-grooming more than usual. If your dog grooms more often, do they have any skin irritation? Is there hair loss? If so, your dog could be struggling with parasites like fleas or lice. Other medical problems can cause dry, itchy, irritated skin and hair loss. This is especially true for hormonal conditions like hypothyroidism. Liver disease, kidney disease, and cancer are also culprits for hair loss in dogs. Lastly, hairballs also come from excessive dead hair in your dog’s coat that they ingest – are you grooming enough for your dog’s breed? It’s a good idea to brush your dog’s coat at least once a week to get rid of loose hair.
Some dogs will eat grass to relieve stomach discomfort. If your dog regularly eats grass and shows other signs of stomach upsets, it’s time to consider talking to your vet. For some dogs, eating grass is also a way of inducing vomiting.
As always, it’s best to talk to your vet before giving your dog anything for their hairballs. There are some home remedies that might be useful for mild cases of dog hairballs. These include small doses of petroleum jelly (Laxatone), canned pumpkin, and encouraging your dog to drink plenty of water. Do not attempt to give your dog a laxative without veterinary supervision!
When your dog makes a hairball sound, they should expel the hairball in question shortly after. If your dog persistently coughs as if they have a hairball, it’s time to consider other causes for their cough. In dogs, kennel cough, heartworm, heart failure, and distemper are just some of the common causes for persistent coughing. Be sure to talk to your vet if you have any concerns about your pup’s health.