My Dog Sounds Like He Has a Hairball: Here’s What to Do!
Dogs coughing like a hairball is lodged in their throat is not uncommon, especially for breeds that groom themselves a lot. However, if this persists, you may want to give your vet a call.
Although, in most cases, a hairball is really stuck in your dog’s throat, making them sound like a honk, it may also be a result of a poor dog’s health.
Here, we’ll look into all the possible reasons why your dog sounds like it has a hairball in its throat and what you can do to stop it.
Why Does My Dog Sound Like He Is Coughing Up a Hairball?
There are eight common reasons why a dog’s cough sounds like a hairball is in its throat. Most of which require immediate medical attention from a veterinarian.
We often associate hairballs with cats, but dogs get them, too. When hair is swallowed, it does not pass the dog’s digestive tract as food does.
Instead, fur collects and forms a hairball, which causes vomiting, retching, and dog coughing.
In some cases, the collected hair causes a blockage, which leads to a lack of appetite and gastrointestinal distress.
Watch this video to see a dog that sounds like a hairball is stuck in its throat:
2. Kennel Cough
Kennel cough, also called canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that affects dogs in kennels, dog parks, and other places where one dog can pass the airborne virus to another.
Dogs with kennel cough sound like they have a hairball or dry cough because their throat and respiratory tract are inflamed. Vets suggest cough suppressants or coconut oil for dogs with kennel cough.
3. Collapsing Trachea
When the cartilage rings that encircle a dog’s trachea deteriorates, they will collapse and form only a small channel where the air can be pushed.
This results in a distinctive honking sound similar to a dog with a hairball stuck in its throat. Some of the common causes of a collapsing trachea are obesity, heat, and activity.
4. Chronic Bronchitis
A dog with chronic bronchitis has inflamed airways. This chronic inflammation makes the airway linings expand and produce mucus, which narrows the lung passageways. Hence, the hacking cough in severe cases.
5. Reverse Sneezing
For small dogs and breeds with flat faces, choking and coughing noises as if a hairball is stuck in the throat may be caused by reverse sneezing when they have a runny nose.
A reverse sneeze occurs when a dog inhales air quickly and loudly through their nose instead of sneezing it out.
6. Heart Disease
Although not as common as the other causes listed here, loud dog coughing sounds may be due to a certain heart disease.
If this is accompanied by weakness, decreased appetite, blue-tinged tongue, fatigue, poor endurance, breathing troubles, and fast or depressed pulse, veterinary intervention is necessary.
Coughing that sounds like a goose honk is typical for dogs with lung cancer. It can be mild or severe, depending on the stage of the disease.
In most cases, the cancer likely originates elsewhere in the body and spreads over the lungs.
8. Parasite Infection
Another reason why your dog makes loud gagging or coughing noises is due to intestinal parasites such as roundworms.
The larvae can travel from the intestines to the lungs and target the capillaries and air sacs, causing persistent gagging.
When Should You Worry About Your Dog Gagging?
If your dog seems active, breathing regularly, and eating and drinking normally, the cause of gagging may only be due to incorrect swallowing.
In this case, there is no need to bring them to the vet right away. Just keep an eye on them for the next 48 to 72 hours.
However, if there’s persistent cough and gagging, and your dog shows signs of anxiety, trouble breathing, and lethargy, take no chances and bring your dog to the vet immediately.
The gagging is most probably not a mild reaction to when a dog swallows.
Can Dogs Get Hairballs in Their Throat?
Yes. Dogs get hairballs in their throat, too, similar to felines. They commonly ingest hair while grooming themselves or by eating fur they find in their surroundings.
Since the hair has keratin, a fibrous protein, it cannot be digested and sometimes gets stuck in the intestines or the throat.
When the loose hair they ingested gets tangled, they form a hairball or trichobezoar.
As mentioned earlier, dog hairballs are common in breeds that often groom themselves and those with skin conditions because they lick their fur to lessen their discomfort.
What Causes Hairballs in Dogs?
Hairballs in dogs are caused by accumulated fur that they swallow and cannot digest. As the name suggests, they take the form of a ball and may get lodged in the throat and intestines.
Dogs typically get hairballs by ingesting loose fur from their surroundings, self-grooming, eating prey such as furry critters, or nursing from their mother (when still puppies).
Behavioral issues may also make a dog chew its own fur and accidentally ingest hair.
What to Do If Your Dog Has Hairballs
If your dog has hairballs, sometimes all you can do is wait for it to vomit.
The clump of hair will appear cylindrical, much like a cat’s hairball. It looks as such because of the forces that compress it as it travels to the esophagus.
However, if your dog isn’t able to vomit the hairball, it may obstruct its gastrointestinal tract.
This requires proper treatment from the vet, especially if your dog also experiences a lack of bowel movement, excruciating pain in the abdomen, vomiting without any traces of a hairball, and other symptoms.
When Should You Go to the Vet for Hairballs?
If your dog keeps making a hairball sound and it vomits, but there’s no hairball found on its puke, it’s time to contact a veterinarian, as these may be warning signs.
Chances are, the hairball is already obstructing its throat or gastrointestinal tract.
A vet intervention is especially needed when your dog can’t take in water or food and exhibits symptoms of abdominal pain.
The vet will do a thorough physical examination as well as palpate your dog’s stomach to check for evidence of obstruction or intestinal disease.
They would also request an x-ray, other imaging tests, such as ultrasound and contrast study, and blood tests to assess your dog’s organs.
If there is indeed a hairball obstructing the gastrointestinal tract, removal with an endoscope may be possible.
But almost always, the removal of hairballs is accomplished through surgery, which gives the vet more access to the intestinal tract.
If there’s no significant damage caused by the hairballs, your dog will respond well to surgery.
How to Prevent Hairballs in Your Dog
If the cause of the hairball is the constant dog licking due to irritated skin, managing seasonal allergies and skin problems through the help of a veterinarian will help prevent hairballs.
Meanwhile, if your dog eats fur or human hair found in the surroundings, you need to limit your dog’s access to loose hairs. Always vacuum your floor and keep the trash cans out of your furry friend’s reach.
As for breeds that constantly clean themselves, preventing hairballs isn’t exactly possible.
Just pay attention to the sounds they make and bring them to the vet immediately when you see any signs of obstruction.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will Kennel Cough Go Away on Its Own?
Yes. Kennel cough in dogs goes away on its own in two to three weeks, similar to a common cold.
But you may still want to bring your dog to the vet so that the other dogs in the dog park or kennel won’t catch kennel cough or any upper respiratory infection.
Also, if the kennel cough develops into more severe conditions like pneumonia, it would take longer for them to recover. Veterinary intervention is crucial at this point.
What Can You Give a Dog for Hairballs?
If your dog is prone to accumulating hairballs, home remedies such as laxatives, coconut oil, digestive aids, and a high-fiber diet can help them pass the collected hair on their digestive tract.
You may also want to add pumpkin to the dog’s diet for better bowel movement.
What Do Vets Do for Hairball?
Vets typically do surgery in order to remove the hairball from a dog’s body. This is primarily done when there are multiple hairballs stuck on different parts of the intestines.
But before operating, the vet will conduct multiple imaging tests as well as physical examinations to determine the presence of hairballs and the overall dog’s health.
If the hairball is not stuck in the digestive tract, the vet would only suggest home remedies for your dog.
We don’t always hear our dogs cough like a hairball is stuck in their throat, so it makes sense to get alarmed and panicked.
The best course of action is to monitor our dogs when they make this sound and bring them to the vet if they’re showing signs of obstruction.
Also, we should keep our place tidy so no matter how much they lick our floors, our dogs won’t ingest anything that can cause them harm.
Got any reactions to this blog or a personal experience with dog hairballs? Share them in the comments below!
My name is John Carter and I absolutely love pets, especially cats and dogs. I’ve got a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and have several years of experience working in animal shelters and rescues. My passion for animals started at a very young age as I grow up on a farm with several horses, cows, cats, chickens, and dogs on our property.