Dog Health
6 Minute Read

My Dog Sounds Like He Has a Hairball

Published on
August 18, 2023
Golden retriever laying his head on his paws
Written By:
The Otis O
The Pet Experts
Reviewed By:
Dr. Ellen Russell
Dr. Ellen Russell DVM, MPH
Licensed Veterinarian
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You’re probably used to your dog greeting you with joyful yips or barking at a squirrel in the yard, but what happens when they start making more concerning noises? You may wonder why your dog is coughing or sounds like they have a hairball. More importantly, you want to know whether or not these are a sign of a more severe problem that needs medical attention. 

The causes of these noises can be minor and temporary or indicate a larger health issue. It’s important to monitor your dog’s behavior so you can get them the appropriate care.

Potential Causes

There are a number of different causes for your dog sounding like it has a hairball. Whether 

Actual Hairball

Your dog may actually have a hairball. They can accumulate hair or fur from licking themselves which then gets matted in their stomach. Unlike cats which typically vomit hairballs, dogs usually pass them through their digestive system. However, sometimes they may vomit or try to cough them up. This is usually not considered severe unless it’s a repeated issue.

Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs that is most commonly caught in environments where there are many other dogs present. If your dog was recently at a daycare facility, training group, or other setting with large groups of dogs, they may have caught a kennel cough infection. Your veterinarian can properly diagnose kennel cough and prescribe treatment if necessary.

Respiratory Infections

Other respiratory infections, like pneumonia or bronchitis,  may lead to your dog coughing or abnormal breathing. These infections can vary in severity, so you should pay attention to other behavior changes such as decreased appetite and changes in energy.


Just like humans, dogs can be allergic to certain particles in their environment like dust and pollen. If a dog has allergies, they may experience an irritated throat or respiratory tract. They may cough or make unusual sounds as a result of this irritation.

Reverse Sneeze

Reverse sneeze is the common term for paroxysmal respiration - where a dog rapidly pulls air in through their nose. While it may be alarming to hear, it is not normally associated with any larger health issue.

Unusual sounds may also indicate other issues ranging from a minor cold to more severe health issues. 

Should I take my dog to the vet if they sound like they have a hairball?

As a general rule of thumb, if your dog is making unusual noises you should continue to monitor their behavior. If the unusual  sound continues for several days, you notice difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, or lethargy, you should consult a veterinarian. Your vet will be able to examine your dog and run tests to determine whether or not there is a larger issue that needs to be addressed.

Veterinarian inspecting a german shepherd
A veterinarian will be able to examine your dog for more significant issues

How to Prevent Your Dog’s Hairballs

If your dog is having an issue with hairballs, there are a number of steps you can take to prevent them.

Improve their diet

By improving your dog’s diet, they will be able to better digest their food and avoid digestive problems associated with swallowing hair.

Treat Fleas & Ticks

If a dog is licking or chewing on themself regularly, they may be trying to get rid of pests like fleas and ticks. Giving your dog a monthly preventative is the best way to keep these critters off of your pet. Start a free flea & tick consult with a licensed vet.

Treat allergies

Allergies to plants, pollen, or dust can cause very itchy skin in dogs. When dogs are itchy, they will scratch and  lick themselves excessively, which can lead to hairballs. Allergies are very common in dogs and many treatment options exist. Discuss the best option for your dog with your veterinarian. 

Brush Them Regularly

Eliminating loose, excess fur and hair by brushing your dog can help prevent them from swallowing it when they lick themself.

Key Takeaways

If your dog is making strange noises and sounds like they have a hairball it may not be an issue. To ensure their wellbeing, you should monitor them for ongoing or worsening symptoms. If you notice any of these, please consult a veterinarian.