The Dang Dog Hiccups – Why it Happens and How to Stop Them!

Is it Normal For Dogs to Get Hiccups?

Dog hiccups are very much the same as human hiccups and are rarely a cause for concern. While less often seen in adult dogs, older pups can get hiccups too!

dog hiccups

Yes, dogs can get hiccups, and it is perfectly normal! Commonly seen in young puppies, they are an adorable rite of puppyhood. A few minutes of hiccups and then back to everyday life–none-the-wiser. 

The Causes of Dog Hiccups

Like in humans, hiccups occur when irritation occurs to the diaphragm, and it spasms. The diaphragm is a large, thin, dome-shaped muscle. It separates the thoracic cavity (containing the heart and lungs) and abdominal cavity (containing stomach, liver, kidneys, etc.).  The diaphragm rises and falls during a normal inhale and exhale of a dog’s breathing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFCzNhzYDVQ

The diaphragm receives its nerve supply from the phrenic nerve. This is a large, important nerve that originates from the spinal cord near the neck. The phrenic nerve receives and transmits information to and from the diaphragm. This assists in regulating a normal breathing pattern.

Irritation to the phrenic nerve or diaphragm causes an involuntary spasm of the muscle. Following this, the glottis (vocal cords) snaps shut and causes the telltale “hic!” sound. Hiccups are merely a sign that the diaphragm is functioning abnormally. Thankfully they are usually short-lived!

The exact causes of canine hiccups are not entirely known. Proposed triggers for hiccups in puppies and dogs include:

  • Eating or drinking too quickly
  • Excitement
  • Stress
  • Excessive barking

Gulpers and guzzlers of food and water ingest significant amounts of air. This leads to gastric dilation (a very bloated stomach), which then rubs on the diaphragm and causes irritation.

Similarly, shallow, rapid breathing disrupts the normal rhythm of the lungs. This then leads to irregular contractions of the diaphragm, and hiccups ensue. Excitement, stress, excessive barking, or panting can all cause shallow, rapid breaths.

Puppies and Dog Hiccups

Puppies are more prone to hiccups than older dogs. Their high-energy lifestyle makes them susceptible to gulping their food and being hyper-excitable. A puppy’s phrenic nerve and diaphragm are still immature and thus easily stimulated.

Puppies are culprits for rapidly consuming food and water compared to older dogs. They simply get so excited about the food they tend to gobble up lots of air with it. This resultant bloat then irritates their diaphragm and causes hiccups.

dalmation puppies on a feeding frenzy

Puppies also get excited to play! Hyperactive puppies have constant disruptions to their regular breathing pattern. This causes hypersensitivity of their phrenic nerve leading to hiccups. A calm puppy or older dogs are less likely to get hiccups.

Older dogs can still get hiccups, although less frequently than seen in puppies. Excitable adult dogs and quick eaters will still have commonplace hiccups occur.

How Can I Help My Dog When It Has Hiccups?

A majority of the time, hiccups are cuter rather than concerning. But frequent hiccups can become tiresome for both dogs and owners. When this occurs, owners can help their dogs cure their hiccups.

The main principle behind stopping hiccups is the return of the regular, calm breathing pattern. This can be achieved in a variety of ways!

A small spoonful of honey, Karo syrup, or maple syrup can work wonders for curing the hiccups. These syrups coat the dog’s throat. This soothes any irritation caused by constant hiccuping. They also change the dog’s focus onto something else, which can help slow down their breathing.

If no syrups are on hand, a small amount of water can also be used for a sip or two. Avoid large amounts of water, which can be rapidly drunk.

On a similar note, calming down an excitable dog can help to stop the hiccups. This can be done by massaging the dog’s chest to help relax the diaphragm. Alternatively, a nice quiet walk could suffice. Belly rubs, an ear rub, or general patting may not be enough to cure hiccups, but they’re definitely worth a try.

If hiccups commonly occur after a meal, the culprit could be due to fast eating and drinking. Slow feed bowls or feed enrichment toys can deter quick eating and help prevent hiccups. 

You can also try giving your dog a calming treat!

“Normal” Dog Hiccups Explained

Dog hiccups are a typical symptom of everyday life, especially seen in puppies. Most puppies will exhibit hiccups at some point during their first six months of life. As pups get older, hiccup episodes usually become less frequent. This is due to the development and desensitization of the phrenic nerve and diaphragm.

Some dogs do not produce a telltale “hic!” sound when they have hiccups. It is normal for dogs to have a sharp rise and fall of their chest but without sound. Episodes of hiccups usually last a few minutes and shouldn’t last more than an hour.

If hiccups occur with other symptoms, this may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.

When Should You Take Your Dog to The Vet?

In rare cases, hiccups can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Frequently occurring hiccups, in tandem with the following symptoms, should be investigated.

Prolonged episodes of hiccups with respiratory symptoms should be treated seriously. Coughing, sneezing, or panting unrelated to exercise can indicate an underlying condition. Exercise intolerance and heavy panting with repeated hiccups also warrant a veterinary visit.

Over-exertion on hot days can also trigger hiccups. This can lead to heatstroke, which is a severe and life-threatening condition. Dark coated dogs and brachycephalic dogs are most susceptible. This includes pugs, bulldogs, etc., due to their short muzzles and restricted airways. Excessive panting, shade seeking, and collapse require urgent attention.

Gastrointestinal diseases can also cause canine hiccups. Vomiting, diarrhea, or blood in feces are indications for a veterinary consult.

A dog that regularly hiccups during sleep but doesn’t appear to be dreaming is of concern. A vet visit should be made to assess for neurological conditions.

Risks And Health Concerns Associated With Canine Hiccups

Most hiccup episodes will resolve by themselves or respond to simple interventions. Health concerns associated with hiccups include:

  • Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchi)
  • Cardiac diseases such as congestive heart failure
  • Heatstroke
  • Parasites such as heartworm or roundworm
  • Gastrointestinal diseases such as esophagitis or gastroesophageal reflux
  • Synchronous diaphragmatic flutter
  • Damage to the phrenic nerve
  • Neurological conditions such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Neoplasia (cancer)

Respiratory Diseases

Frequent episodes of hiccups that last over an hour in tandem with respiratory symptoms should be treated seriously. Coughing, sneezing, or panting unrelated to exercise suggests an underlying respiratory condition. This includes pneumonia, asthma, or bronchitis. 

dog panting

Cardiac Diseases

Exercise intolerance and heavy panting with hiccups suggest cardiovascular defects. Congestive heart failure is a severe condition and requires prompt medical attention.

Gastrointestinal Diseases

Hiccups can also be an indication of a parasite problem. Worms such as heartworm and roundworm settle in a dog’s respiratory tract and wreak havoc. Investigation of prolonged hiccups paired with diarrhea or vomiting is critical.

Gastrointestinal diseases such as esophagitis and gastroesophageal reflux can also cause frequent hiccups. Esophagitis is inflammation of the esophagus, which irritates the phrenic nerve. Gastroesophageal reflux (similar to acid reflux in humans) can lead to esophagitis and thus cause hiccups.

Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutter

Synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF) is a condition that causes a dog’s diaphragm to spasm. This mimics hiccups and can be confused with “normal” hiccups. SDF is caused by low blood calcium levels in the body. Low calcium has a variety of causes and also has severe consequences in the body.

Neurological Diseases

Neurological conditions can also cause abnormal hiccups. This includes meningitis, encephalitis, or even traumatic brain injuries. This is due to a disturbance of nerve function and transmission of messages from the brain.

Damaged Phrenic Nerve

Damage to the phrenic nerve, which controls the diaphragm, can lead to hiccuping. Dogs suffering acute trauma such as dog attacks or being hit by a car can injure those nerves.

Neoplasia

Tumors of the brain, chest, or abdomen can also cause hiccups in dogs. Space occupying lesions from an internal mass can irritate the phrenic nerve or diaphragm itself. 

How to Know if Your Dog Has Hiccups

Hiccups in dogs can look similar to hiccups in humans. However, it can appear more dramatic and sometimes be frightening for owners. Hiccups cause the chest to vibrate forcefully. The quick breaths in and out also cause a rise and fall of the abdomen.

Other symptoms like coughing, vomiting, and seizures can be confused for hiccups. Although these usually have features that differentiate them.

Coughing causes a dog to open their mouth and expel air. This is louder than hiccups, more forceful, and can be followed by a gag or retch.

Vomiting is a more violent action than hiccups. Dogs will repeatedly heave with large abdominal movements and generally produce vomitus. Vomiting also has a retching sound rather than a telltale “hic!”.

Focal seizures can look similar to hiccups as both can affect a small area of the dog’s body and are rhythmic. However, focal seizures can have mentation changes, while hiccups don’t.

Why Do Dogs Get Hiccups?

Hiccups have been shown to happen in the fetus during gestation. Biologists propose that hiccups play a role in developing breathing muscles during pregnancy. After birth, this may be a residual action that never entirely goes away.

Hiccups don’t seem to do anything productive or protective for the body, unlike other reflexes such as sneezing, which expels irritants from the nasal cavity.

Stimulation of the phrenic nerve can cause hiccups. Irritation of the diaphragm from either the lungs or stomach can also lead to hiccups. Puppies are more prone to hiccups as their nerves and diaphragm are still developing.

Dogs get hiccups the same way humans get hiccups. Excitement, stress, panting, or eating/drinking too quickly are all causes of hiccups.

Dogs with sensitive stomachs can also be more prone to hiccups. Certain foods can increase a dog’s tendency to hiccup. This is due to their body’s reaction to food resulting in gas distension of the stomach. The bloated stomach then rubs on the diaphragm, causing irritation and hiccups.

Environmental irritants can also cause hiccups. This includes air fresheners, cleaning products, or cigarette smoke. Irritation to the respiratory tract alters the dog’s breathing pattern, and hiccups ensue. These irritants can also seriously damage a dog’s respiratory system, which is detrimental to overall health.

How Common are Dog Hiccups?

Dog hiccups are as common as human hiccups. They occur more frequently in puppies under six months of age, but older dogs can still get hiccups. They’re also more recurrent in dogs that are hyperactive about life, love to run around, and guzzle down all their food.

Hiccups should occur by themselves, last less than an hour, and not be detrimental to the dog’s life. Hiccups in tandem with other concerning symptoms always warrant a veterinary visit.