Humans and dogs alike can suffer from hiccups. While dog or puppy hiccups can be endearing to us, they can be annoying for your dog.
Here’s some insight on dog hiccups, from what exactly happens when a dog hiccups to why dogs get them and when you should be worried about them.
What Are Dog and Puppy Hiccups?
Hiccups in dogs and puppies are caused by rapid contraction of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a thin, strong muscle that separates a dog’s chest cavity from their abdomen. It’s the primary muscle involved in breathing.
When a dog breathes in, their diaphragm contracts and moves downward, making space in the chest cavity for their lungs to expand. When a dog breathes out, their diaphragm relaxes and moves up into their chest cavity as their lungs contract. Diaphragm movements are usually smooth and regular, but when the diaphragm suddenly spasms, the result is a hiccup.
A hiccup is a small spasm that can cause slight movement and a quick “hic” noise. Hiccups are involuntary, and once triggered, this reflex causes a contraction of the diaphragm followed quickly by closure of the vocal cords (specifically the glottis), which results in the "hic" sound. This contraction (or myoclonic jerk) of the diaphragm may repeat several times per minute.
Do Hiccups Hurt Dogs?
Although they can’t speak to us, we can tell from a dog’s reactions that hiccups do not hurt. They can be annoying when they last for long periods, but dogs tend to remain calm during these contractions, with no signs of stress, anxiety, or pain. Hiccups can last for only a few seconds to hours in rare instances, but they normally do not require any treatment.
Why Do Dogs Get Hiccups?
Unfortunately, researchers don’t know why humans or dogs hiccup. One theory is that hiccups are leftover mechanisms from when we were developing in the uterus. Fetal hiccups have been documented in many species. Some scientists believe that hiccuping in the womb could be a passive test of breathing muscles.
Dog hiccups are thought to be caused when a dog swallows too much air. This can happen when dogs eat or drink quickly, experience stress, engage in heavy play, become excited, and/or inhale something irritating or caustic. Severe anxiety or rapid breathing can also cause contractions in a dog’s diaphragm.
Why Do Puppies Get Hiccups?
Puppies are much more prone to hiccups than adult dogs. This is because they tend to ingest more air due to their higher levels of exertion and excitement. Puppies can also start hiccuping when they are tired, cold, or excited.
Another possibility is that puppies’ muscles are weaker, and their bodies are not fully matured, making them more prone to muscle contractions. It is normal for a puppy to hiccup, even daily, as long as the hiccuping only last for a few minutes and is not coupled with drooling, lethargy, coughing/wheezing, or hard swallowing.
How to Get Rid of Dog Hiccups
Most hiccup episodes last only a few minutes. If they last longer, or your dog seems agitated by them, you can offer them room temperature water or water with a small amount of honey, maple syrup, or Karo® syrup. Adding these forms of sugar can be a happy distraction that will hopefully help calm your dog’s breathing.
Sometimes the swallowing reflex can interrupt the hiccups. You can try to massage your dog’s chest and throat to stimulate swallowing.
Encourage walking or light exercise to help change your dog’s breathing patterns. If your dog likes tummy rubs, you can place them on their back and give a loving belly rub to try to stop the hiccups.
Do not offer your dog food or water when they are lying on their back, as this can lead to aspiration of unwanted material into the lungs.
Do not give your dog large meals or solid meals during violent hiccups, as this can lead to choking and aspiration pneumonia.
If you have a puppy that’s prone to getting hiccups because they eat or drink too quickly, try to slow them down. Offer small amounts of water in frequent sessions. Also, offer small amounts of food and then wait a couple of minutes before offering more food so they swallow less air while eating. You can also try one of the many slow feeder options that are designed to slow down fast eaters.
When Should You Worry About Dog Hiccups?
Dog hiccups usually go away on their own. In rare cases, they can be a sign of a more serious medical problem such as:
Foreign body ingestion
Nausea and upset stomach
Take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible if:
The hiccups last more than a few hours
Your dog seems to be in pain
Your dog is not eating or drinking
Your dog is drooling excessively
Your dog starts to vomit
The hiccups change to a wheezing sound
Your dog is having difficulty breathing
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