Dogs seem to have a habit of picking up and eating just about anything they find lying around, but one of the weirdest things you may seem them eat is your very own hair from a hairbrush.
You may also find that they’ll ingest their own hair after a grooming session or try to pick it up off the floor after a shave, making puzzled dog owners worldwide wonder why dogs eat hair.
Dogs eat hair as a response to their own cleaning instinct, a way of exploring the world around them, or seeking your attention.
If you’ve ever had your dog try to graze on your hair, then you know how confusing it can be. There’s a lot of interesting science that goes behind why dogs eat hair, and the rest of this article is going to explore each of the different reasons dogs engage in this odd behavior.
Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Hair?
A lot of what dogs do is by instinct, and that applies to cleaning. Dogs clean to remove hair, dirt, and grime from their bodies. A dog’s saliva contains all the antibacterial agents they need to stay healthy, but the motivation behind this behavior is largely instinctual.
When a dog is prompted to clean, they will naturally ingest some of the hair during this cleaning process. This isn’t dangerous in any way for a dog― stomach acid is plenty powerful enough to dissolve hair, and it passes through the intestinal tract with no issues.
The scent of a dog’s own hair can cause the cleaning instinct to kick in and make the dog start licking as if to clean. In this event, when a dog sees their own hair on a hairbrush or the ground, they are inclined to clean and will lick at the hair.
Some alternatively believe that dogs clean up their own hair as an instinctive survival holdover from their ancestors. The theory goes that if a dog were to leave behind any hair, other predators could potentially pick up their scent and track them down.
Perhaps this explains why dogs seem to seek out and eat their own hair when they catch a whiff of it.
Dogs Eat Hair Out of Curiosity
A primary way a dog can explore the world around them is by tasting something. Putting something in their mouth gives a dog a lot of vital information about what that particular something is and helps them get acquainted with new things.
Your hair is a pretty interesting new thing that bounces and waves around in an interesting way. For puppies especially, it’s just too tempting not to try and grab ahold of it to see what it could be.
It’s not an unnatural behavior for dogs, especially puppies, but if you want to discourage them from doing so, consider putting down other toys for their enrichment to take their focus off your hair.
Dogs Eat Hair Out of Boredom
Sometimes, when dogs don’t have anything to do, they get into mischief. That mischievous behavior often translates to chewing or playing with things they aren’t supposed to, and chewing your hair serves a double purpose.
Not only does it alleviate their boredom by giving them something to play with, but it also engages you in the behavior. If you react to the hair-chewing, even in a negative way, it makes the activity more fun because it elicits a response from you.
Getting a reaction from their human can excite dogs and teach them bad behaviors. If a dog is insufficiently exercised or stimulated, they will resort to ‘naughty’ behaviors like hair chewing (and much worse).
To avoid this, consider increasing the amount of exercise they get on walks, getting a wider variety of exciting toys, and working their brain.
Teaching them tricks, using a puzzle box, or playing hide and seek are all great ways to keep your dog’s mind active, and a mentally stimulated dog will be much more content than a dog with a ton of pent-up energy.
Dogs Chew Hair Out of Anxiety or Stress
Have you ever been so stressed that you feel like you could pull your hair out? Dogs take that phrase a little too literally and can often chew their hair out of stress.
Whether you’re moving to a new home, taking your dog to a vet, or even leaving him at home for a few hours, dogs are very emotional creatures and react to stressful new situations by chewing their hair.
Depending on the situation, you can alleviate their stress simply by being present with them, giving them engaging activities, and taking them out for regular walks.
Dogs Chew Hair Because of Allergies or Parasites
Sometimes, if a dog has allergies or a skin condition, they will tend to scratch, lick, and chew their skin.
Especially with parasites like fleas and ticks, dogs will aggressively chew and nibble at their skin, oftentimes disregarding the hair that they’re pulling out and eating along the way.
If you notice your dog compulsively scratching or doing the quick turnaround to nibble at his backside, you should immediately look into a course of action to treat them.
If you’ve recently started any new medication and shampoo, consider holding off for a while where applicable to test whether your dog is reacting to it.
Some dogs respond badly to medication and will start pulling their hair out to relieve the itchiness or irritation from a foreign substance. Contacting your local veterinarian is wise if you suspect that your dog is reacting to a new medicine or shampoo.
Oftentimes, compulsive hair chewing can be prevented if the underlying skin condition is properly addressed.
Dogs Chew Hair Due to a Mental Condition
Sometimes, the act of chewing and eating hair isn’t related to any external factors. Some dogs are diagnosed with a condition called pica, which affects both humans and animals, that causes dogs to treat inedible things as food.
If you notice your dog trying to eat another dog’s hair, you should consider discussing the possibility with your veterinarian. Not much is known about pica, but it is a likely a compulsive behavior brought on by stress or anxiety.
Dogs with traumatic or abusive backgrounds are more likely to develop pica in their lifetime, although the condition as a whole is quite rare.
What Are the Risks of a Dog Eating Hair?
If your dog has just nibbled some hair, don’t be alarmed. Most of the time, dogs aren’t going to be any worse for wear from a single occasion of hair chewing; however, if hair-eating becomes a habit or if your dog eats a lot of hair at once, there is a risk of blockages forming in the gastrointestinal tract.
This can cause constipation or the formation of a hairball. If you’ve observed your dog eating a lot of hair, psyllium and Metamucil are suitable home remedies for doggy constipation.
How to Stop a Dog from Eating Hair
Most of the time, dogs eat hair out of anxiety or boredom. First, make sure that you limit your dog’s access to hair snacks on hairbrushes and sweep up thoroughly after you finish shaving or grooming your dog.
To address the underlying cause, you can provide more enrichment for your dogs in the form of walks or a wider variety of toys. Don’t react strongly whenever you catch your dog eating hair. Utilize distraction using another toy to discourage the behavior.
Staying on top of your dog’s grooming is also a good way to make sure that they aren’t able to ingest too much hair when cleaning themselves.
You should always engage in a conversation with your vet if you suspect your dog is developing a skin condition that is causing them to scratch, lick, or chew incessantly, and be sure to stay on top of your recommended flea and tick treatments.
Parasites can cause a whole host of other issues that you certainly don’t want any part of, and excessive licking and chewing is your pet’s primary way of alerting you to a potential issue.
Dogs do a lot of strange things, most of which make us laugh and bring joy to our lives, but eating hair is just one of those off-putting things that’s hard to understand. Dogs may eat or chew their own hair as a part of their cleaning instinct when grooming.
Stressful situations can also make dogs react negatively by chewing off their hair. If you find your pup is obsessed with your hair, rest assured that it’s perfectly natural and he or she is likely to grow out of the behavior eventually.
Some dogs might try to eat your hair because they are bored and need more physical exercise and mental stimulation.
Dogs need to have all of their needs met for them to have a happy, fulfilled life, so make sure you give them plenty of activity and variety for plenty of happy doggy days.