My Dog Sounds Like He Has a Hairball:  What Do I Do?  

Zack Keithy, our author, is a certified veterinarian technician (UC Blue Ash) for over 6 years (contact him here). The articles written here are based on his expertise and experience, combined with a review by our expert vet reviewers including Dr M. Tarantino. Learn more about us here.

Have you ever heard your dog hacking like they’re trying to cough up something stuck in its throat?

It’s not exactly the nicest sound, right?

Hearing this can be really disconcerting for any dog owner, and the thing is, it can signify a deeper problem than just having a hairball stuck in your dog’s throat.

In this post, I’ll cover all the possible reasons why this is happening and offer you some solutions that you can use right away.

Let’s dive in.

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Why Does My Dog Sound Like He Has a Hairball in His Throat?

Why Does My Dog Sound Like He Has a Hairball in His Throat?

When pets are bothered by something in their throat, they may start to hack or gag. If your pet seems to be doing this a lot, it’s important to figure out why. 

Maybe it’s just a pesky hairball stuck in their throat, or maybe it’s something that requires a vet’s attention. Here are some common reasons that could be making your furry friend cough and hack.

1. An actual hairball

You know how we humans shed hair and find it everywhere, right? Well, dogs do the same thing.

When they groom themselves, they can accidentally swallow hair which can tangle up in their stomach or intestines and form a hairball, also known as a “trichobezoar.”

Not a big deal, right?

Actually, it can be.

Hair is not digestible.

The hairball can either pass through their system and come out in their poop, or it can get stuck and cause a blockage.

Dogs with skin problems are more likely to get hairballs because they tend to lick their skin more often and swallow more hair.

If your dog has a trichobezoar, it might hack and gag to get it out of its system. 

Doggy says, you might be interested in reading this too: Withholding water for dogs at night

2. Caught a cold

Is your furry pal suffering from a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing on top of hacking?

Then your poor pet may be suffering from a cold.

Yes, dogs can catch colds too, and the symptoms are pretty similar to what humans experience. sore throat, stuffy nose, or body aches in your dog.   

3. Kennel cough

While a runny nose and sneezing may point to a cold, they can also be signs of a more serious condition: kennel cough.

This illness got its name from where most dogs contract it – at kennels.

But they can catch it just about anywhere that dogs come in close contact with each other. 

When a dog has kennel cough, they typically develop a dry, hacking cough that sounds like they’re trying to clear their throat.

This happens because the trachea and bronchi become inflamed due to certain viruses and bacteria.

After coughing, they may also spit up a foamy discharge.

Some dogs with kennel cough may also suffer from eye irritation and a stuffy or congested nose.

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4. Asthma

Did you know that dogs can get asthma too?

This condition affects their breathing and can make it hard for them to catch their breath.

Dogs with asthma may gasp or wheeze as their airways become inflamed and narrow.

Some dogs may also seem like they’re trying to clear their throat by coughing.

Different irritants like pollen, dust, smoke, or other allergens can trigger asthma, or it can also be caused by stress or exercise.

Check if your dog starts wheezing or coughing when exposed to these.

If yes, then they could be suffering from an asthma attack.

5. Collapsed trachea

A collapsed trachea occurs when the cartilage rings that support the trachea weaken and collapse.

Attention, small dog parents! Your pet is more prone to it.

A collapsed trachea can cause a goose-like honking sound when your dog breathes. 

Excitement, heat, and obesity can make the condition worse.

Plus, your pet may cough dryly from time to time.

If the trachea collapses entirely, the dog may have trouble breathing and require emergency care.

6. Foreign object

You know how much our furry friends love to explore their surroundings and get into all sorts of mischief.

Sometimes that mischief can involve chewing on things they shouldn’t, like toys or bones or even metal zippers!

Unfortunately, this can lead to a foreign object getting stuck in their throat.

If this happens, your pet may try to dislodge the object by hacking or coughing.

However, if the object doesn’t come out, it can cause choking and difficulty breathing.

7. Heart disease

Who knew that hacking could be a sign of heart disease? It may not just be a hairball stuck in their throat. 

Pay extra close attention if your furry friend is experiencing a bluish tongue, lack of appetite, fatigue, weakness, rapid or weak pulse, or difficulty breathing.

These are all signs that something may be wrong with their ticker. 

Is your pet hacking while lying down or resting?

CALL YOUR VET. This could mean that the heart problem is getting worse.

8. Chronic bronchitis

If your furry friend is hacking like it’s trying to cough up a hairball, but nothing comes out, it may not be caused by a hairball after all.

The hacking could be a symptom of a condition called chronic bronchitis. 

It is often caused by exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke and it inflames the airways and causes mucus buildup.

If your dog has been showing signs for an extended period of time (~2 months), it’s highly likely to be suffering from this.

9. Lung cancer

Sometimes, persistent coughing in dogs can be caused by lung cancer.

This cough may sound like a hairball cough, but it won’t produce mucus. 

How can you tell if the hacking is a symptom of this serious condition?

Besides the awful-sounding cough, a pooch with lung cancer may have trouble breathing, feel weak, lose weight, and refuse to eat.

Thankfully, this condition is pretty rare for our dogs.

10. Reverse sneezing

Do you ever hear your dog making sudden snorting or honking noises that sound like a hairball cough? It could very well be reverse sneezing

This respiratory condition in dogs is often caused by irritants like allergies or infections in the nasal passages or throat.

Good news!

You don’t have to do anything about it since it’s typically harmless and it will go away on its own!

11. Pneumonia

Pneumonia can be another culprit of your dog’s constant coughing.

It’s an infection that can cause your dog to cough, gag, or even vomit.

Apart from coughing, pneumonia can lead to other symptoms like fever, difficulty breathing, and a decrease in appetite. 

What Are the Signs of a Trichobezoar?

When it comes to dogs and trichobezoars, the most common sign is seeing a big wad of hair after they’ve thrown up.

But, if the hairball is stuck somewhere inside, it might not be as obvious.

If your furry friend has an obstruction, they might start throwing up, have abdominal pain, or not be able to poop.

And if they can’t keep anything down, it’s time to see the vet. 

How is Trichobezoar Treated?

How is dog Trichobezoar Treated

How severe is the hairball problem? The treatment for trichobezoars will depend on this. 

For mild cases, the hairball may be able to pass through the digestive system on its own.

What happens when the hairball becomes lodged and can’t pass through?

In such cases, medication can be given to help break up the trichobezoar and encourage it to pass through the intestines. 

If the medication fails to address the problem, the next step is to go in and remove the lodged hairball.

In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

The procedure involves accessing the dog’s gastrointestinal tract and removing the trichobezoar at multiple sites, if necessary.

Can Trichobezoars Be Prevented?


Keeping trichobezoars from forming in the first place is much easier and better for your furry friend than dealing with a blockage or surgery. 

The first thing you should do is to keep your home clean and hair-free and prevent your dog from accessing any spots that might contain such material such as the trash bins.

One thing to keep in mind is that trichobezoars in dogs can often be related to underlying skin conditions.

That’s why working with your vet to diagnose and treat any skin issues your dog has can help prevent future hairballs. 

What Should You Do if Your Dog Has Hairballs?

If your dog is suffering from swallowing hair, there are a few things you can do to help alleviate the issue.

These include:

Offer lots of water

Water helps with a lot of things.

First, giving your furry friend lots of water can help move the contents of the digestive system smoothly and promote regular bowel movements.

This will make it easier for your pet to poop out the hairballs that might be causing discomfort. 

Additionally, hydration can prevent dehydration.

This is very important for pets with persistent vomiting or coughing.

So, keep your pet’s water bowl filled at all times!

Increase fiber intake

If you want to help your pet get rid of hairballs, try adding some veggies or a bit of pumpkin puree to their meals.

Fiber-rich foods can aid digestion and prevent hairballs from forming.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to help your furry friend pass those hairballs out of their system.


If your dog is constipated or having difficulty passing hairballs, your vet may recommend a mild laxative to help move things along.

Apply petroleum jelly on dry skin

Applying some petroleum jelly to dry or itchy areas on your furry friend’s skin can help soothe the irritation and itchiness.

This in turn will lessen the chances of your dog excessively grooming and potentially swallowing their own hair. 

How to Prevent Hairballs in Dogs?

Ah, hairballs in dogs can be a real pain for both you and your furry friend, can’t they?

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to prevent them.

Here are some tips:

Brush your dog regularly

Regular brushing can help remove loose and excess hair from your dog’s coat.

Fewer loose hairs mean fewer hairs swallowed! 

It also helps distribute natural oils throughout their coat, promoting healthy skin and a shiny coat.

Provide a high-quality diet

To help prevent hairballs in your pup, it’s important to feed them a yummy, nutritious diet that’s right for their age, breed, and activity level.

This will keep their digestive system healthy and their skin and coat looking top-notch!

I highly recommend switching your dog to a fresh food diet, like the ones from Ollie dog food. My dogs have never had any skin issues after making the change!

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Increase fiber intake

If you want to keep your furry friend’s digestive system healthy and decrease the chance of hairballs, try adding more fiber to their diet.

You can do this by giving them fruits and veggies, or by choosing a top-notch dog food that’s high in fiber. 

Encourage hydration

Drinking plenty of fluids can help keep your pet’s digestive system working smoothly.

That means that any hairballs they do have will pass more easily.

Seriously, hydration is key!

Besides keeping the water bowl filled, you can also give them wet food or even add some broth to their diet to help them stay hydrated.

Consider supplements

There are various supplements available that can help support your dog’s digestive health and reduce the risk of hairballs.

Talk to your veterinarian to see if your dog is in need of supplements.

Address underlying health conditions

As we mentioned earlier, underlying skin conditions or allergies can contribute to the formation of hairballs.

If they itch a lot, they WILL lick their skin more and subsequently, swallow more hair.

Treating these issues can help prevent hairballs from forming in the first place. 

Consult with your veterinarian

When in doubt, always contact your vet.

They can provide guidance on the best ways to prevent hairballs in your individual dog based on their age, breed, and overall health.

You can also receive recommend specific diets, supplements, or other strategies to help keep your dog healthy and happy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are hairballs dangerous for dogs?

Hairballs can be harmful to dogs if they get stuck inside the body and create a blockage, which can happen in the throat or the digestive tract. It’s important to look out for any signs of hairball-related issues and seek veterinary care if necessary.

How often should I brush my dog to prevent hairballs?

Regular brushing is essential to prevent hairballs in dogs. The frequency of brushing depends on your dog’s coat length and shedding pattern. Dogs with longer coats and heavier shedding may need daily brushing, while shorter-haired breeds may only need brushing a few times a week. 

Is it safe to give my dog hairball remedies meant for cats? 

It’s important to note that while some hairball remedies meant for cats may be safe for dogs, it’s always best to consult your veterinarian before giving any medication or supplement to your furry friend. 

In Conclusion: My Dog Sounds Like He Has a Hairball

It can be worrying when your pup sounds like they have a hairball, but don’t fret too much.

Your furry friend might just be making a harmless noise.

Just pay close attention to their behavior as that can tell you a better story of what’s going on with them.

If necessary, send them in for a check-up!

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Zack Keithy
Zack Keithy

Hey, I'm Zack, the Chief Editor here. I was formerly a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) for a good 6 years before moving on to greener pastures. Right now, I am still heavily involved in dog parenting duties, and it is my desire to share all our knowledge with fellow dog owners out there! Connect with me on LinkedIn, or read more about Daily Dog Drama!

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