Cat Hiccups: What You Need to Know

By PetMD Editorial on Mar. 23, 2016

By Cheryl Lock

Often we love our cats so much, we tend to attribute human emotions and actions to them. We’re convinced our cats can understand what we’re feeling, and we consider our furry friends to be smart, sensitive, cautious, outgoing — all the same conditions we might say about our human companions, as well.

But what about physical things? We know our cats can get sick like we do, be tired an equal amount, but where do the similarities end? For example, in humans, hiccups are a fairly common occurrence, nothing to be cause for concern. But can cats get hiccups? And if so, how common are they? “Cat hiccups are more common in kittens than adult cats, however, like humans, they can happen at any time or age,” says Dr. Al Townsend, a Baltimore-based veterinarian who worked at Eastern Shore Animal Hospital for 33 years and now serves as a staff veterinarian with WellPet.

What Causes Cat Hiccups?

Hiccups are generally caused when the diaphragm contracts involuntarily at the same time as the glottis closes. “This is caused by irritation of the nerve that runs to the diaphragm,” explains Dr. Oscar E. Chavez, BVetMed, MRCVS, MBA.

So what makes this involuntary action occur? Cats can have hiccups for a variety of reasons — much in the same way humans do — the most common being overeating or eating too fast. “Cats tend not to chew their food properly, thus causing them to swallow extra air, resulting in spasms in the diaphragm,” says Townsend.

Another common cause of hiccups for cats is hairballs. As the throat is trying to dislodge the fur, it can become irritated and hiccups can occur.

If a cat has been hiccupping for a prolonged period of time, especially if it’s an older cat, this could be a sign of a more serious problem, like asthma, a tumor or heart disease, or perhaps even parasites, foreign body ingestion or food allergies.

How Long Should ‘Normal’ Cat Hiccups Last?

Normal hiccups should last no longer than a day and usually go away on their own. “If a cat regularly gets hiccups after eating, that can be attributed to eating too much or too fast, but should still be monitored,” says Townsend. “Anything that seems to last a long time or become very frequent should be checked by a veterinarian.”

Are There Common Cures for Hiccups in Cats?

While there are a few things you can do to hopefully help alleviate your cat’s hiccups if they seem to be food or water related, Chavez warns pet parents from trying too many at-home therapies without consulting a vet. “General tips, though, include making sure your cat has plenty of food and water available, and giving the cat some calm, quiet time,” he said. “Some cats also prefer running water, so a tap or circulating fountain could be made available for them. Never attempt to force a cat to eat or drink.”

If the problem appears to be overeating, Townsend recommends feeding your cat smaller, spaced out portions, or raising her food bowl so it’s more difficult to reach, essentially forcing the cat to eat more slowly.  

Katie Grzyb, DVM, a veterinarian based in Brooklyn, also says placing an object—such as a toy—in your cat’s food bowl can also slow down the process of eating. “Make sure it is large enough that the cat cannot ingest it,” she says.

For hiccups that seem to be related to hairballs, try switching to a diet of specialized food to manage hairball issues, but consult with your veterinarian before making any big dietary changes. Grzyb recommends a natural, safe supplement called Laxatone to help get rid of hairballs in cats. Laxatone is available for purchase from many veterinary offices.

Should You Worry About Cat Hiccups?

Again, while some hiccups associated with feeding are common, they shouldn’t continue for more than a day. Those that do could be signs of larger problems, so if you notice your cat has sudden and chronic hiccups, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian to discuss treatment options.

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