Why Does My Dog Eat His Shedded Fur?

There you are trying to make your dog look all nice and clean and what does he do? Starts chasing every last hair on the bathroom floor gulping it down as if it were the tastiest of treats? Is this normal?

Is this dangerous?

How can you stop a dog from eating his own shedded fur?  In this article we will examine all the possible causes of this odd doggie behaviour and how you can correct it.

What makes a dog eat his shedded fur?

First of all, this problem is more common than you might think so there’s no reason to be alarmed.

Some veteran pet parents have had this issue with most of their dogs and, besides being a disturbing thing to watch, it did not cause their pets any significant health problem.

So, what’s so appealing about shedded fur?

Cleaning instinct

If your dog spends a lot of time grooming himself he will involuntarily ingest some hair. Now, when the dog sees his fur on the floor or on the brush, he will be tempted to do the same.

It’s still their hair after all and the smell is enough to trigger their cleaning instinct! It’s like saying ‘Thanks for getting rid of all this hair for me, but I’ll take it from here!’

Or it might very well be that it is theirs and they see no reason to part with it.

Curiosity

When you notice this behavior in a puppy it’s obviously caused by curiosity. The loose hairs move in weird patterns on the floor so it’s quite natural for a pup to want to explore.

Plus, hairs are light enough to be blown away by the slightest movement which makes it fun to catch. Maybe the puppy is too young to have a developed grooming instinct, but the instinct to give chase is already present.

Survival instinct

Many believe eating his shedded fur is part of a survival mechanism for canines, as well as felines. The theory is that leaving hair behind would allow a bigger predator to track a smaller animal down.

Basically, some dogs prefer to eat their own fur to cover their traces. Since the same behavior has been observed in cats, there might be some truth to this theory.

However, there’s little information on this kind of behavior happening in the wild, so it’s hard to say if what we’re dealing with is related to a survival instinct.

Some dogs also eat their clipped nails and this habit can hardly be traced to instinct as wild animals are not known for carrying a nail clipper around and giving themselves a pedicure.

Why do dogs pull at their fur and eat it?

Technically it’s the same thing, a dog eating on his own fur. However, when it comes to a dog actively pulling his hair out the reasons are quite different.

Parasites

If you notice your dog is furiously biting at his fur, pulling clumps of hair out and eating it, the first thing you should worry about is parasites.

Normally, a dog will scratch himself furiously to relieve the itch, but if that doesn’t help he will lick himself raw and pull out his hair. This at least makes sense.

The poor dog feels there’s some nasty little creeper hiding in his fur and the obvious solution is getting rid of the hair.

Allergies

A dog might have an allergy you know nothing about. It might be a food allergy, or maybe a reaction to something in the environment, including the shampoo you’re using to give him a bath.

Just like parasites, allergies can trigger terrible itches and the dog will try to get to the root of the problem by pulling his hair out. If you suspect an allergy, try changing your dog’s food as well as his shampoo.

Pica

Pica is a condition characterized by the compulsive need to eat things that do not qualify as food, such as dirt, paper, the paint on the walls, etc.

Pica also affects humans and experts do not really have an explanation for it. There have been speculations that some people are drawn to eating all sorts of non-food items because they contain nutrients that are lacking in their diet, like calcium or other minerals. 

If a dog has a compulsive need to bite off his own hair he will naturally want to eat his shedded fur as well.

Boredom

This is considered the main reason why dogs sometimes pull out their hair and eat it. At least it’s something to do. True, it hurts and the dog might develop sore red patches of raw skin, but it gives them something to do. It’s a repetitive behavior that can help them deal with stress and anxiety. This is basically the reason why many people bite their nails and some won’t stop until their fingers start to bleed.

A dog might bite his hair off because he spends too much time alone and maybe suffers from separation anxiety. At the same time, such behavior might indicate lack of exercise and/or mental stimulation.

Why do dogs eat another pet’s hair?

If you have two dogs in the house don’t be surprised to see one of them eating the other’s pet shedded fur. Why is that is quite baffling to most experts and the best explanation you’ll find is that it is a compulsion. It’s just something dogs do, for no apparent reason. It might be related to pica, or it might have something to do with the pecking order in the household and establishing dominance, but, frankly, this is all speculation.

Why do dogs eat human hair off the floor?

They’re certainly not doing it as a favor to you, like trying to clean the house after you. The cause probably has to do with the fact that the hair smells of you, their favorite human, and eating it gives a dog pleasure, making him feel close to you. He might start by picking up random hairs of the floor while you’re away and this gives him some sort of comfort. Once it’s become a habit he will do it every time there’s a hair on the floor.

What can happen if a dog eats too much hair?

If a dog eats a few hairs now and then, that won’t be a problem, as it can easily pass through his digestive system and come out the other side.

However, if a dog ingests large quantities of hairs he might develop a hairball in his stomach, just as cats do. The hairball might have difficulties passing to the intestines. As it sits in the stomach, the hairball will only grow larger as food particles, especially fats, adhere to it.

The signs a dog has a hairball are coughing and retching, as the dog is trying to vomit the mass in his stomach. If the problem persists the hairball might cause your dog diarrhea or constipation, and in severe cases, your pet might become lethargic

If you notice such symptoms and you know your dog is in the habit of eating his own fur you should see a vet as soon as possible. In most cases a laxative will be prescribed.

As a side note, and a totally gross one, if you notice your dog is trying to poop and there are strands of hair sticking out his butt, don’t try to help by pulling on that hair. You don’t know how long those hairs are and by pulling on them you might cause your dog intestinal damage.

How can you stop a dog from eating his own hair?

If it’s happened once, your dog will probably try to do it again next time you’re brushing his coat so you need to be prepared.

Someone to help you dispose of the shedded fur while you’re still grooming him would be of great help, but the dog might notice what you’re doing and become agitated because you’re robbing him of his hair.

The best thing is to tell the dog No and gently remove him from the room. You can deal with the mess later. A well-trained dog might understand and obey your command, begrudgingly, but if your pet insists it’s his right to eat his fur if he feels like it, you’d better come up with an irresistible treat. Some might say bribing a dog is not the way to deal with behavioral issues, but it does the trick.

If possible, as soon as you’re done, have an accomplice lure the dog away with a juicy piece of meat or a large bone that will keep him busy for an hour and he’ll forget all about the hair on the floor in the meantime.

Closing thoughts

 Eating their shedded hair is a common problem in dogs and it’s nothing you should worry about. If there’s a lot of hair on the floor, do try to stop your dog from eating it as it might cause a hairball to form in his stomach and this in turn can lead to an upset stomach. When a hairball grows too big, you might need to see a vet.

If your dog starts eating his shedded fur as a puppy, good training might solve the issue. Teach him it’s not OK to eat fur and give him a soft toy instead.

When an adult dog starts pulling his hair off to eat it, first check with a vet to see if he doesn’t suffer from parasites, allergies or other skin conditions. If the vet rules these out, you’re probably dealing with a behavioral issue, like boredom or separation anxiety. Find a way to solve those problems and your pet will probably stop biting his hair off.