Some dogs are what we call ‘indiscriminate eaters’ meaning they put anything and everything into their mouth whether it really resembles food or not. It’s a pretty common complaint of dog parents, especially those of new puppies. One of those non-food items you may see a dog eating is hair. Read on to see causes for dogs eating hair and what you can do about it.
Is it normal for dogs to eat hair?
Normal grooming behaviors and grabbing the odd furball/ dust bunny off the floor is perfectly normal. But a dog who grooms excessively, who vomits up or defecates hairballs, or seeks out sources of hair to consume is unusual and worth investigating.
Why dogs eat hair & what it looks like
If you’ve noticed your dog consuming hair, you may be concerned as there are many reasons that may indicate something serious. Some of those may include:
- Boredom or anxiety
- Emotional self-soothing
- Dietary deficiency
Whether it’s a behavioral or a health issue, eating hair is something that shouldn’t be ignored. You may catch some dogs in the act, while others may just show up with thinning hair or even bald patches on their body. Other dogs may actually seek out and eat hair off the floor, their bed, furniture, or other furry housemates.
Potential risks associated with a dog eating hair
If your dog is grooming excessively or seeking out fur or hair to consume, there are some side effects to be concerned about:
Dogs will pass small amounts of ingested hair with relative ease. However, if they have made eating hair a major habit, they may have trouble getting all that hair through the digestive system. Although rare in dogs, hairballs can cause digestive irritation leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. They can even cause intestinal blockages if large enough.
Acral lick granuloma
While this isn’t a direct result of eating hair, it is a result of overgrooming. Acral lick granulomas are sores that are created on the skin when a dog excessively licks one area. Dogs may overlick if they are bored, anxious, or have pain or irritation from parasites or allergies in that area. Not only do acral lick granulomas usually have an underlying cause that needs to be treated, they can become infected and very painful.
Although rare, some dogs can actually eat enough hair to make them not hungry for their regular food. If dogs don’t get enough of their regular food, they can actually suffer from nutrient deficiencies. Keep in mind this would take consumption of large amounts of hair over a long period of time but shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Signs and symptoms to keep an eye on
- Behavioral changes, such as increased restlessness or anxiety.
- Gagging or attempts to vomit.
- Actual vomiting
- Passing hair or hairballs in stool
- Loss of appetite or changes in bowel movements like diarrhea
- Thinning or patchy loss of hair on the dog
- Thinning or patchy loss of hair on housemates
What to do if your dog eats hair
If you catch your dog eating hair, it’s a good idea intervene and discourage the undesirable behavior. This could mean just vacuuming and sweeping often enough to keep dust bunnies off the floor. It could also mean taking extra steps to groom your dog by brushing as frequently as needed. But if your dog’s hair consumption is due to excessive grooming of self or others, or they’re going out of their way to find hair to literally eat, you should make arrangements for a vet visit at your earliest convenience.
Any home remedies or tips?
If your dog is over-grooming the best intervention is a trip to the vet to solve the underlying problem, but if your dog is just a fastidious groomer and needs a little assistance, check out these tips:
- Regular grooming and brushing to minimize loose hair
- Rotating metal teeth: the rotating metal teeth remove loose hair from undercoat and help prevent tangles and mats in dense fur.
- Help manage stress or anxiety by addressing the source (things that cause fear, discomfort, and stress) alongside using products that can help your dog feel generally at ease
- POWERED BY ADAPTIL: Recommended by thousands of vets and scientifically studied and verified for over 20 years. Use only in properly functioning 120 volt electrical outlets.
- Provide appropriate chew toys to satisfy a need for oral or mental stimulation – keep their mouths and minds busy with safe enrichment objects
- Power Chewing Dogs: The natural KONG Extreme black rubber formula is created to be tough and durable for power chewing dogs
- MADE OF DURABLE NYLON - Long-lasting dog toy for aggressive chewers discourages destructive chewing
- IRRESISTIBLE & SQUEAKY FETCH TOY: The Fire Biterz are a plush line of squeaky dog toys that come in a variety of sizes and fun characters to get your dog excited for interactive games of fetch, hide and seek, and more!
- Consider using specially designed products, such as hairball prevention treats or supplements. Most hairball products are built for cats so keep that in mind. Cat products are likely to be safe but because the directions aren’t made for dogs you should use caution and talk to your veterinarian before administering them.
- HELPS PREVENT HAIRBALLS - Contains natural oils that may help prevent and eliminate hairballs by lubricating the intestinal tract and minimizing excessive shedding in cats of all ages.
Remember to consult your veterinarian for personalized advice and to address any underlying causes – diseases or conditions that cause the desire to groom excessively or eat hair.
How to prevent dogs from consuming hair
If you notice your dog intentionally consuming excessive hair, take these steps to limit their access:
- Maintain a regular grooming routine for all living beings in the home, this includes other animals like dogs or cats, but also humans. Make sure hairbrushes are being regularly cleaned out and excess hair is being disposed of in receptacles the dog can’t get into.
- Sweep and vacuum as much as necessary to prevent buildup of dust bunnies on the floor.
- Offer engaging toys or interactive feeders and plenty of exercise to keep them mentally stimulated, distracted from their drive to consume hair.
- Seek regular veterinary care to make sure your dog doesn’t have any underlying health concerns.
Is consumption of hair a bad habit for dogs? Is it really risky?
While the general, occasional consumption of fur or hair may not be inherently bad, excessive hair consumption can lead to health issues. It is also usually an indication of some underlying issue that you don’t want to ignore. With this in mind, if you notice your dog making a habit out of eating hair, speak to your veterinarain. .
How to distinguish between normal grooming and excessive hair consumption
Normal grooming involves licking and grooming targeted areas or grooming of the body at large. This kind of behavior isn’t bothersome to the dog, to it’s housemates, or to you, the pet owner. It shouldn’t be taking up the majority of their time.
Excessive grooming/ consumption of hair involves persistent licking, biting, or chewing that often results in missing or at least thinning of hair in the over-groomed areas. Pay attention to the frequency and duration of the behavior.
Excessive grooming can also involve grooming of other animals in the house to a degree that appears unhealthy. Inappropriate consumption of hair is also notable if the dog is searching for sources of hair like a hairbrush or dust bunnies.
When to visit the vet
Getting your vet involved early can mean prevention of a larger issue. If your dog seems to groom a lot or you notice hair or fur in stool or vomit, it’s a good idea to bring it up at your dog’s next vet appointment. However you should make a special visit to the vet if you see any of the following:
- Persistent vomiting, excessive diarrhea, or inability to pass stool.
- Lethargy or weakness.
- Abdominal pain or discomfort.
- Signs of distress, such as excessive drooling or panting.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Is it normal for dogs to eat their own hair?
While it may seem unusual, it is relatively normal for dogs to ingest their own hair in moderate amounts as part of normal grooming. However, excessive consumption can lead to health risks. Excessive consumption includes over-grooming of self, over-grooming of housemates or human household members, or seeking out hair or fur to consume.
Can hairballs be dangerous for dogs?
Yes, hairballs can be dangerous for dogs, especially if they cause gastrointestinal blockage. Signs of blockage include persistent vomiting, abdominal pain, or inability to pass stool.
Are there any dietary supplements to help prevent hairball formation?
It’s possible that dietary supplements can help manage hairball formation but most products are formulated for use in cats rather than dogs. It may be best to consult your dog’s veterinarian for suitable options based on your dog’s specific needs.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.