My Dog Sounds Like He Has A Hairball

Many pet owners have heard of cats hacking up hairballs, but we don’t often hear the same for dogs.

Dogs can produce the same dry cough cats make when passing hairballs, but does this mean it’s a hairball?

In this article we will discuss the details of hairball prevalence in our canine friends, and help you better understand their symptoms if hairballs are not to blame.

Can Dogs Get Hairballs?

We may not hear about it as often, but dogs can certainly get hairballs as well.

Hairballs in dogs, or trichobezoars, can develop when a dog consumes hair of any kind.

The structure of hair makes it challenging to digest properly, so it does not often break down as it moves through the digestive tract.

Because of this, lumps of hair can build up in a dog’s stomach and intestines as their body attempts to move the material through.

Cats are known for developing hairballs through their grooming habits, and this can be the case for dogs as well.

They may not be meticulous groomers like their feline friends, but they do attempt to clean themselves with a lick of their tongue.

Not only can they consume hair as they groom their bodies, but some pups even eat hair they find around their environment.

Though it seems strange to you and I, clumps of hair are an enticing snack for some dogs.

In most situations, dogs will simply pass any consumed hair with a bowel movement.

Dogs don’t often consume enough hair to cause serious complications, but it can never be ruled out completely.

Hairballs in dogs either pass in their stool, collect in their stomach and cause vomiting, or become lodged in the intestinal tract.

Dog Sounds Like He Has A Hairball

Are Hairballs Common In Dogs?

Hairballs are not as common in dogs as they are cats, but they do occur from time to time.

Hairballs in dogs are most common in those who have some type of chronic skin condition, as this causes them to groom their skin more than the average pup.

Skin conditions related to allergies, ectoparasites, and autoimmune disorders are among the conditions that can lead to excessive grooming in dogs.

Another factor that causes an increased risk of hairballs in dogs is the desire to consume things outside of their normal diet.

Some pups explore the world around them with their mouths, leading to the consumption of strange material.

If a dog is known to eat everything they can get their paws on, they are more likely to consume bundles of hair.

Can You Treat Hairballs In Dogs?

As we mentioned above, most dogs will either pass any consumed hair in their stool, or vomit up any hair trapped in the stomach.

If your pup vomits up a hairball without issue, then treatment is not often needed.

However, things get a bit more complicated when hairballs form an obstruction.

If a dog consumes enough hair, the hair can form a blockage in the digestive tract.

Similar to any other foreign body, these obstructions will need to be removed if the dog cannot pass the hair ball on their own.

This can require a stay in the hospital on IV fluids, or even surgery to remove the hair obstruction.

Every situation will vary, so your veterinarian will craft the best treatment plan for your pup.

Why Does My Dog Sound Like He Has A Hairball?

So what happens when your dog sounds like they have a hairball, but they do not produce one?

If this is the case, it’s very possible that your dog is simply coughing.

Coughs can range in sound based on the cause, with many canine coughs sounding similar to a cat hacking up a hairball.

As we mentioned above, hairballs in dogs are not as common as they are in cats.

While they certainly do occur, it’s not often the first diagnosis a vet assumes when examining a coughing pup.

Because of this, it’s important to consider other possibilities outside of canine hairballs.

What Causes Coughing & Hacking In Dogs?

Now that you have a better understanding of hairballs in dogs, it’s time to get into the other potential factors behind your dog’s sudden coughing and hacking.

Ranging from respiratory infections to objects stuck in your dog’s throat, there are many other causes of coughing to be aware of.

Respiratory Infections

Just like you and I, our dogs can fall victim to an array of respiratory infections.

The world is filled with viruses and bacteria that can cause a hacking cough, some of which can infect our canine friends.

Some of the most common respiratory diseases that impact our dogs include Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine influenza, canine coronavirus, canine adenovirus, and canine distemper.

Each of these conditions can cause coughing in our pups, as well as other respiratory symptoms like sneezing and eye irritation.

Reverse Sneezing

Reverse sneezing is known to startle dog owners around the world.

View a video example of reverse sneezing attached to our article about dry heaving in dogs.

The sudden honking and strange breathing pattern catches fur parents off guard, often assuming they are choking on something.

This strange behavior is referred to as paroxysmal respiration, and it occurs when a dog is pulling air into their nose at a rapid rate.

This behavior is often accompanied by a strange snorting sound, leading owners to believe that their dog is coughing or struggling to breathe.

These episodes can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes, but most pups will be just fine afterwards.

Environmental Irritants

Environmental irritants can cause a serious tickle in a dog’s throat.

Things like dust and fragrances can be extremely irritating for our furry friends, causing them to sneeze and cough without relief.

A dog may continue to cough until the irritant is removed from the environment, with some even being allergic to certain irritants.

Some of the most common irritants that cause respiratory symptoms in dogs include dust, perfumes, incense, essential oils, and cleaning supplies.

Canine Allergies

Our canine friends are not immune to the sniffles and coughing that allergies often bring.

Dogs can develop allergies to an array of items in their environment, ranging from plant material to the food they consume each day.

These dogs will typically continue to suffer until their allergies are addressed, whether it’s with daily medication or removal of the allergen.

A dog with allergies may suffer from coughing, sneezing, itchy skin, fur loss, watery eyes, and even GI upset.

Canine allergies often require the guidance of a veterinarian, so we always suggest reaching out to your vet if you think your pup is struggling.

Foreign Bodies

If a dog feels like they have something stuck in their throat, you may hear them hacking in effort to find relief.

Material ranging from blades of grass to pieces of toys can stick to the back of a dog’s throat, even becoming lodged in the esophagus in some cases.

If this occurs, your dog may experience episodes of distress, often including coughing.

Cardiac Disease & Lung Disease

While this should not be the first assumption in a generally healthy pup, cardiac and lung disease can cause a dog to hack as if they are coughing up a hairball.

Though the two are separate conditions with many illnesses that fall under each category, both often cause a chronic cough.

Many dogs will even cough up phlegm or fluid, and this action can resemble a dog or cat coughing up hairballs.

Dogs with either of these conditions may also experience lethargy, decreased stamina, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.

What Does Kennel Cough Sound Like In Dogs?

While we mentioned respiratory infections in the section above, we feel as if kennel cough needs it’s own explanation when discussing a hacking cough in dogs.

This is a blanket term that refers to any infectious respiratory agent that causes coughing, most often acquired in settings where multiple dogs are present.

Owners describe the cough sounding as if their dogs are trying to cough something out of their throat, so we understand why some owners will first assume hairballs.

When To See The Vet

As you can see, there are many potential illnesses that can lead to coughing and hacking in dogs.

Though vomiting up a hairball typically occurs without issue, it can be challenging to know if that’s actually the issue at hand.

To be safe, we always suggest reaching out to your vet if your dog’s cough lasts for more than 12 hours.

While our canine companions can develop hairballs, it is more common to witness coughing as a result of other factors we discussed above.

If your pup is experiencing any hacking our coughing for more than 12 hours, we always suggest reaching out to your vet for further guidance.

Take a video of your dog’s cough or coughing episode to show to your vet, so they can see what you see and help you figure out what is going on.

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