Hiccups or hiccoughs can occur for no apparent reason. They are usually short lived and disappear all on their own within a few minutes, without the need for any treatment.
But why do dogs get hiccups?
Although the reasons our dogs get hiccups is unclear there are a number of theories as to why they occur, especially in puppies and young dogs.
What are hiccups?
Hiccups can occur in any animal that has a diaphragm. The diaphragm is a large muscle primarily responsible for our ability to breath in. It sits at the base of the chest and separates the chest cavity from the stomach cavity.
Hiccups occur when the diaphragm suddenly tightens. As your diaphragm contracts it causes a quick intake of breath. This air is stopped when the opening between your vocal cords, called the glottis suddenly closes, creating the distinctive ‘hic’ sound as it does.
What causes hiccups?
It’s quite normal for dogs to experience short bouts of hiccups, especially when they are young and is usually nothing to worry about.
Some of the factors that may contribute to bouts of hiccups are:
- Eating too quickly
- Swallowing air
- Sudden change of stomach temperature (like eating something icy)
- Stress, fear or excitement
- Too much or too little liquid
- A diet too rich in grains
- Eating too much
- Some medications
One interesting theory is that hiccups are growing pains that puppies go through as they mature. As most episodes of hiccups decrease as a dog gets older it may be true.
Another is that hiccups exercise the lungs and strengthen the oesophageal muscles and that it is a behaviour left over from when the puppy is in the womb.
Both theories may be right as bouts of hiccups tend to decrease as a dog gets older and usually stop by the time the dog is a year old.
How to stop hiccups
Generally if your dog is having a bout of hiccups and doesn’t appear to be distressed, you don’t need to do anything. Hiccups usually don’t last longer than half an hour with most cases disappearing on their own after a couple of minutes.
If you can’t bear to wait or it looks like your dog is uncomfortable then you can try any of the following.
- Offer your dog some water
- Gently massaging your dog’s chest
- Keeping your dog calm
- Giving your dog a small piece of food
- Offering your dog something sweet, like honey
- Slowing down the way your dog eats it’s meals
- Distract your dog. Play a game or take your dog for a short walk
- Change to grain free food
- Rolling your dog onto it’s back
Although it’s common that when we get hiccups to try to scare them out by making the person jump. Please never try this with your dog, especially a puppy.
Most dogs won’t be bothered by having hiccups but they soon will be if you frighten them every time they have a bout.
It’s much safer to leave them to it or try one of the ideas above. Remember that hiccups tend to only last a few minutes so they uncomfortable for long.
When is a hiccup not a hiccup?
It’s common when puppies are young to mistake coughing or reverse sneezing for hiccups. Reverse sneezing can look and sound quite distressing as your dog or puppy will begin breathing rapidly and may gag, throw their head backwards and make a honking sound.
Reverse sneezing is your dog’s way of trying to get rid of irritants from the throat or nasal passages. Just like hiccups it will be a short lived episode and is nothing to worry about (although prolonged or repeated bouts may require a trip to your local Vet).
Occasional coughing is a normal as well. Your dog sniffs a lot and sometimes that sniff will lead to your dog inhaling dust, irritants and sometimes viruses.
If your dog has the odd bout of coughing for a short period of time then it’s a completely normal part of their doggy experience.
When to visit the vet
Despite hiccups being a normal part of development for your dog, there are times when it’s advisable to take your dog to the vet.
If your puppy suffers from frequent bouts of hiccups that are not related to any of the possible causes above. Or the hiccups last longer than 30 minutes then it’s wise to take them to be checked out by your Vet. Hiccups can be an indicator of the following conditions:
- Intestinal worms
- Respiratory disease
- Heart disease
- Kennel cough
Why do dogs get hiccups?
Dogs get hiccups for all the same reasons that we occasionally do. Although much more common in puppies than adult dogs, hiccups can occur for no apparent reason.
If you want to try to prevent them, then there are things that you can do, especially if your puppy gets them around meal times. Slowing their eating with smaller more frequent meal-times, or make them work for it (through training or using toys like a kong). In addition, keeping them calm can be particularly effective.
As long as the hiccups are short lived and your dog doesn’t seem to be in any distress then they are are best just ignored until they go of their own accord.
If you have any doubts as to whether your dog’s hiccups are normal then don’t hesitate to contact your Vet but for most of your dogs, they will just be a short and trouble free inconvenience.