Why Does My Dog Eat Hair?
[How To Prevent It?]

By kropek2021. • Updated July 2, 2021

There are many reasons why dogs eat hair. Most common are stress, boredom, and attention-seeking. However, they can also be caused by allergies, parasites, or pica (a rare psychological condition). Luckily, there are many ways to address this issue.

Even though hair eating usually does not threaten dogs’ health, it can turn south pretty quickly. So there are certain things you need to know to react appropriately and prevent unwanted harm.

Brief Overview

It may be puzzling for you at first to see your dog eating hair. We love our four-legged best friends so much, but sometimes their actions and behavior can be confusing. Dogs may eat their own fur or human hair.

In most cases, they swallow their own hair due to boredom or anxiety (including separation anxiety). If your dog eats the hair of other dogs, this is most likely a compulsion. The act is simply pleasurable but does not achieve anything for them. 
Regardless of the reason, eating hair is not healthy. It is actually quite dangerous and can result in chronic hair loss and acral lick dermatitis (a form of skin infection). Not only does it cause a lot of pain, but it is also quite hard to heal. I know, you are wondering: “Why does my dog eat hair?”. Well, I invite you to read about all of the reasons and potential solutions as to why and how you can get rid of this problem. 

Understanding the Reasons

Before we can get into potential solutions, we need to look for common reasons behind such behavior. Luckily, most of them can be prevented or controlled in some ways with correct training and enough practice.  

Stress or Anxiety

As I mentioned previously, stress and anxiety are among the most common reasons dogs may eat their hair. If your dog is stressed out about something, they will try pulling out and eating their hair. For example, your dog may suffer from separation anxiety when you leave. The more stressed out they are, the more hair they will lose as a result. When experiencing anxiety, dogs may even try eating human hair or a host of troublesome behavior. 

Attention seeking

You may be simply sitting in a chair, watching TV when your dogs will try eating your hair. Now, this may look concerning to you, but it merely is attention-seeking behavior. They can’t communicate using words, so they stick to a second-best option, trying to eat your hair. 

Furthermore, if you have previously reacted to that kind of behavior, positively or negatively, it only teaches your dog that this gets your attention. It doesn’t matter what kind of attention they bring onto them; the main thing is that you notice them. Therefore, the best idea is not to react to these “provocations” and stay patient. 

However, it is crucial to give your dog positive attention when they stop eating your hair. This will teach your dog that eating your hair will get them nowhere. The same method can be used when your dog is eating their own hair. But always keep it rational. If you think that your dog eats too much hair, it is time to interfere.
 

Boredom

If a dog is bored, they will try to find anything that will help them kill time, and most of the time, these activities are not very wise. That may become a habit if not receiving enough activity and entertainment, and that’s when you have a problem. One of the most common ways dogs fight boredom is by eating their own or human hair.

Both are bad news. When your dog is bored, this is usually due to a lot of pent-up physical energy with nowhere to go. This is probably happening because of a lack of exercise for the mind and body. In other words, you are not playing and training enough with your dog.

Pica

When you eliminate the causes mentioned above as possibilities for hair-eating behavior, there are several involuntary causes of this action. First, one being the pica condition. It is a behavioral issue. Dogs affected by pica tend to consume non-food items. Eating human hair is one of the most common symptoms of pica, and the causes behind it can be quite complex. 

It could be some kind of learned behavior or even an indirect way to avoid punishment. In many cases, a rescue dog or rehomed dogs have at least some manifestation of pica due to some kind of previous trauma and bad habits formed in the past.  

Development

It is common knowledge amongst dog owners that puppies explore the world with their mouth. Given that, most puppies will try eating their own fur coat at some point as a way to explore it and understand it better. Not only that but hair will also feel interesting to eat. It moves around and gives some sort of feedback when they chew on it. 

Parasites

Fleas, ticks, and other parasites can be a reason for your dog’s weird diet choices. If you notice that your pet is not only eating their hair but is also aggressively itching compulsively, then parasites can be the cause. Hair loss, redness, scabs, and sores in the area of chewing are common symptoms of parasites. 

Allergies

Another environmental reason behind hair eating can be various allergies. Something in a dog’s food or surroundings can cause allergies and therefore cause itching. This will cause your pet to lick and eat hair in the area of irritation.

How to Prevent / Stop Dog from Eating Hair

So now that you know all of the different reasons that can cause your dog to eat hair, it is time to discuss how you can prevent or stop it from happening. First, it is essential to recognize that eating hair is a compulsive behavior that can be hard to overcome

For example, like quitting smoking in humans (or any other bad habit), it will be hard to do but is certainly doable with enough commitment. Always remember that your dog will be healthier and happier in the end. Some of the steps may require you to seek help from a professional. 
Doctors may prescribe medications to alleviate stress in your dog. Or professional behaviorists can help cope with traumas that your pet has experienced. Here are several ways you can find out the cause behind hair eating and help your pet get over this habit:

  • Check if there have been any changes in the dog’s diet, medications, or hygiene products.
  • Take your dog to a vet and make tests for allergies.
  • Provide more and wider arrange of toys to fight boredom.
  • Hire a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help with pica (stress and anxiety).
  • Provide your dog with more exercise and playtime.

When to See a Vet?

If your dog becomes constipated and doesn’t have bowel movements for 48 hours, you need to see a vet. Large hairballs can be stuck in the intestines and therefore block the digestion pathway. If your dog is constipated, vomiting, and seems to have abdominal pain, it is time to see a vet as soon as possible. It is also essential to note that hair can be toxic if it is coated in hair products. This can develop toxicity issues in your dog and make them ill, requiring you to see a vet.

Final Thoughts

When you notice your dog eating hair, it is not necessarily a reason to sound the alarm. However, if you see this becoming a behavioral problem in your pet, it can be a serious issue. We all want our dogs to be happy, and therefore it will take some time and patience to get rid of the hair-eating problem. 

As I mentioned earlier, it is similar to quitting a bad habit in humans. From my experience, it probably won’t be successful from the first one. It is a journey that will have inevitable set-backs, but you should never give up. Make sure you analyze all of the possible causes discussed and take adequate actions to address this problem.