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Dr.Fiona, Dog Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 6273
Experience:  Small animal medicine and surgery - 16 years experience in BC, California and Ontario
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How to treat hairball in dogs?

Customer Question

How do you treat hairballs in dogs. My dog has been coughing since last night and has thrown up a couple of times but it was just hair and saliva. What should I do?
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  Dr.Fiona replied 7 years ago.

I would like to help you and your dog but need a bit more information in order to better assist you.

Has she been to the groomer recently, or to a boarding kennel, or dog park - or anywhere around other dogs?

Does it look like this when she coughs:

Expert:  Dr.Fiona replied 7 years ago.

Generally, if a dog is ingesting a lot of hair, it goes down into the stomach. The hair would either pass out in the stool, or be vomited back up.

Have you seen a lot of hair in her stool?

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
I haven't looked, but I will. What do I do for her in the mean time. A website said to give her some butter or petroleum jelly (small dose on the roof of her mouth). Does that work?
Expert:  Dr.Fiona replied 7 years ago.

Well... in truth, I have been a vet for 15 yrs and I have never seen hairballs in dogs. I suppose it is theoretically possible, but I feel it is unlikely to cause coughing. A sudden onset of coughing is far more likely to be due to Kennel Cough. The videos I showed you were of Kennel cough.

Could you please check something for me?

Please go and firmly clap your dog on her chest first on one side then on the other. Does that make her cough?

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
I am at work, but will try that when I go home for lunch. If it is kennel cough how would she catch it if not around other dogs? Do I have to get meds for that?
Expert:  Dr.Fiona replied 7 years ago.

Is she eating normally?

Any nasal discharge?

Customer: replied 7 years ago.
She hasn't eaten today but did eat and drink regularly yesterday. I think it is wierd that it just came on last night because she didn't do it at all yesterday during the day I was home. No nasal discharge.
Expert:  Dr.Fiona replied 7 years ago.

What you are describing in your 7.5 yr old Rotty-Lab sounds very much like Kennel Cough.

If she did have hairballs, I would suggest feeding your dog something to make a "pillow" around the hair. Suggestions would be 3 or 4 slices of high fibre bread, or 1 cup canned pumpkin (plain pumpkin, not pie filling), or 1-2 cups brown rice.

The goal is to make a cushion around the hair to help to push it through the intestines.

Most things make their way through the intestines in about 24 hours. Do check all her stools to see if you are finding a lot of hair in them.

Now, without examining her, I can't be sure... but I am suspicious that your girl may have kennel cough. Let me explain...

Kennel cough (Bordetella, infectious tracheobronchitis) is a highly contagious cough that is transmitted by saliva or through an aerosol when a dog coughs.

With kennel cough, dogs have a cough that sounds like something is stuck in their throat, and after coughing a few times they have what is called a "terminal gag" which means that they sound like they are bringing up phlegm. It starts very suddenly.

By doing "coupage" (firm claps) on the chest you can induce this cough in dogs with kennel cough. So, if you coupage her and she coughs, then it makes me even MORE suspicious that this is what you are dealing with.

If you watch closely, you will often see dogs swallow after this final gag - they are in fact swallowing phlegm.

Some dogs will even cough up a puddle of clear, whitish, or slightly yellow mucoid fluid. Many dogs will cough so hard that they will vomit.

Kennel cough is highly contagious so dogs that have this should be kept isolated from other dogs for 2-3 weeks until it resolves.

It is possible that your dog got this from another dog walking by the yard, or by picking up a stick that was in the mouth of another dog that had kennel cough, or you could even have brought it home on your shoes/pants if you passed a dog that had kennel cough. It is HIGHLY contagious - just as the cold and flu viruses are for humans.

The incubation period (time from when she was exposed to it, until time she starts showing symptoms) is anywhere from 3 to 10 days.

Most cases resolve without medications, but in some cases patients are put on antibiotics and/or cough suppressants.

Antibiotics are used in dogs who are at risk for a secondary pneumonia (very young or very old dogs, or those with a suppressed immune system).

Cough suppressants are used when the cough is so severe that the dog cannot sleep. There can be quite a bit of phlegm with kennel cough, and it is better that the dog DOES cough that up, rather than leave it in the lungs by suppressing the cough. However, there has to be a balance where it's possible for the dog and his human companions to sleep.

For dogs that are unable to sleep, I do sometimes advise owners of my patients that they can give cough syrup. I advise them that it is very important to read the label carefully and find a cough medicine that contains ONLY dextromethorphan (DM). This can be given to dogs.

Here is more about precautions and dose:

Watch your dog to see if she is retching or gagging at the end of her coughing episode. Since it sounds like she is, and because she is coughing up puddles of phlegm, she likely has kennel cough. Many dogs will vomit due to the intensity of the coughing.

I'll give you links to further information:

If she coughs up fluid that is green, or is blood-tinged, or she is lethargic or has difficulty breathing, then you should definitely see a vet.

Many dogs with Kennel Cough seem to have a sore throat and thus don't want to eat their dry food. You can soften it with warm water to make it easier to swallow.

Keep your dog isolated from other dogs for at least 2 weeks! Keep her as quiet as possible - just out for potty breaks and back in. Kennel cough usually gets worse for 2-3 days, then frequent coughing with phlegm for 2-3 days, then starts to slowly get better.

It is also helpful to walk dogs with Kennel cough on a head halter or chest halter, as a leash around the neck can pull on the trachea and start a coughing spell.

I do hope that this helps you to help your dog!

Best wishes to you and to your dog!

Dr.Fiona and 2 other Dog Veterinary Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 7 years ago.
Thanks so much for your help. Wendy
Expert:  Dr.Fiona replied 7 years ago.
YOu are so welcome! I do hope she feels better soon!