My Dog Sounds Like He Has a Hairball — Now What? 

3 min read
Jul 27, 2022

If you thought cats were the only pets that got hairballs, think again! It turns out our dogs can get hairballs as well. Unfortunately, a dog hairball can be potentially dangerous, just like a cat hairball. But why do dogs get hairballs, and how can dog owners prevent them?

Why Do Dogs Get Hairballs?

For pretty much the same reason that cats get hairballs.

Cats get hairballs from grooming themselves. Most cats lick their fur to clean, and this incessant licking often leads to hair being swallowed. Sometimes the hair will form into a ball and the cat will throw it back up. Long-haired cats are especially prone to hairballs.

The dog hairball formation process works the same way — if too much fur is swallowed, it can form into a ball and get stuck in the digestive system.3

For the dogs who do occasionally groom themselves, hairball formation can be dangerous. If the hairball is too big to throw up. In extreme cases, surgery might be needed. Hairballs can also lead to dehydration, as they make your dog unable to properly absorb fluids.

Is Paying Your Dog’s Vet Bills Getting Hairy?

Pet Insurance Can Help

Is Your Dog Making Choking Sounds? Potential Dog Hairball Symptoms

Keep an eye on your dog for hairball warning signs (especially during the winter, when your dog’s skin is dry).

Some indications that your dog may have a hairball can include:

  • Increased shedding in long-haired dogs
  • Increased licking
  • Increased chewing of the fur

An intestinal blockage due to a hairball might present with:3

You might also notice your dog gagging, but nothing coming up. At that point, talk to your veterinarian about what to do next.

Preventing Hairballs in Dogs

Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent hairball formation in your pup:

  • The most important thing to do is brush your dog! Regular grooming is essential to prevent hairballs in both dogs and cats. Brushing your dog gets out all their loose fur so your dog won’t swallow much of it. You can also consider getting your dog groomed by a professional on a regular basis, and then spend time at home brushing your dog every day, too.
  • Focus on preventive treatment for fleas and ticks. If your dog has fleas, ticks, or itchy skin, they will be more likely to lick their fur — leading to greater potential for hairball formation. So don’t forget to give your pup those monthly preventive medications when prescribed.
  • In the colder months, help your dry skin on dogs by using a special kind of moisturizing shampoo. This can help decrease their licking and chewing. Oatmeal baths might also help moisturize the skin.
  • A temporary or long-term high-fiber diet could help hairballs keep moving.4 Talk to your vet about whether your dog’s diet should include fiber supplements, high-fiber dog food, or vegetables like green beans. It’s also important to ensure your dog is drinking plenty of water — this can also help keep everything moving through the digestive tract.
  • Finally, if your dog frequently has hairballs, they might be bored, stressed, or feel anxious. Try to keep them busy with new toys or extra walks so they have less time to lick their fur. This can help prevent hairballs from forming in your dog.

Dog hairball blockage treatment

If your dog does end up with an obstruction caused by a hairball, it will need to be removed. There are several ways a veterinarian might want to go about this. Surgery is the most common treatment, but your vet may instead opt for an endoscopy.3 Once the hairball is removed and your dog has recovered, the vet will likely prescribe a special diet and supplements. These procedures can quickly add up, so it’s important to make sure you’re prepared. One way to do that is by taking out a dog insurance policy.

Dog Hairballs: Will a Pet Insurance Policy Help?

A pet insurance policy from MetLife Pet Insurance1 may be able to help cover the costs of treatment related to chronic hairballs.2  In general, dog insurance policies will not cover any conditions, injuries, or illnesses deemed pre-existing, but they may be able to help cover approved expenses. As a pet parent, we know your pets are family. That’s why we work to provide you with the best coverage possible. Learn more about how pet insurance works.

We Can Help You Protect Your Pup

Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

2 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

3 ”Trichobezoars (Hairballs) in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospital

4 ”6 Remedies for Hairballs,” Fetch by WebMD