Hiccups – we all get them sometimes, including our dogs! Dog hiccups are really cute. But what causes them and what does it mean when your dog has hiccups?
The vast majority of the time, hiccups aren’t a cause for concern and should only last a few minutes. The reasons why dogs get hiccups are the same as with humans. However, like in humans, if they are occurring too often and lasting longer than normal, they can become a nuisance and could be a sign of something more serious. So, how often is too often for a dog to get hiccups, what could it mean, and what we can do about it?
Are Dog Hiccups Dangerous?
Generally hiccups in dogs are not dangerous, or a sign of anything dangerous. The majority of the time, they will pass within minutes and can even be beneficial! Some experts say that if your dog has excess gas trapped in their stomachs, hiccups can help to relieve it.
Just like in humans, hiccups are caused by a spasm in the diaphragm, the primary muscle involved in breathing, located underneath the lungs. This also causes your vocal cords to close briefly, producing the ‘hic’ noise. And this can be triggered by several things…
Why Do Dogs Get Hiccups?
Here is a list of the most common reasons why dogs get the hiccups! Many of them are normal and won’t be a problem in the long run.
Eating Too Fast
The most common cause of hiccups is eating and drinking too fast. Sometimes when dogs eat or drink too quickly, they swallow lots of air along with their food and water. This irritates the diaphragm, causing spasms.
If your dog hiccups routinely after eating, it could be that something in their diet doesn’t agree with their system. Be on the lookout for signs of food allergy; itching, ear infections, inflamed skin or skin lesions, digestive issues, and weight and fur loss. If you suspect this to be the case, you should ask your vet to examine your dog and ask for advice on how to proceed.
Veterinarians often recommend giving your dog their meal in a slow-feeder bowl.
Excitement or Stress
Your dog’s emotions can also be to blame. The diaphragm contracts every time we breathe in, and when dogs get overexcited, they can breathe too quickly for their diaphragm to cope with. This makes it contract too quickly, causing hiccups.
The emotion could also be negative. Stress can cause a similar reaction of shallow, elevated breathing, resulting in hiccups. Although, it’s a far less common indication of stress than lip licking, panting, and yawning.
If your dog inhales or consumes an irritant, this can produce ‘reverse sneezing‘ which is often confused for hiccups as it sounds similar. Any irritation to the nose, sinuses, or back of the throat can trigger an episode of reverse sneezing. This could be nasal mites, foreign bodies, smoke inhalation, or most commonly, some kind of allergy to pollen or indoor cleaning products.
Why do Puppies Get Hiccups More Often?
Puppy hiccups are a lot more common than hiccups in adult dogs because all of the common causes listed above are things that puppies do regularly. Puppies tend to eat and drink very quickly because they’re used to being in competition with their siblings for food.
They are also much more excitable than adult dogs because everything is new to them, and they have a lot more energy! Similarly, they might be quicker to feel stressed by something than an adult dog, because it’s new. For example, puppies who have just started going on walks might find things like passing cars frightening.
Puppies may also be more likely to inhale an irritant because of their natural curiosity and lack of life experience and knowledge, whereas an adult dog will know what to avoid.
How to Stop Dog Hiccups?
Like with humans, dog hiccups are funny for the first 30 seconds. After that, they can start to get annoying for your dog. No one knows exactly how to cure hiccups, but the following methods are all popular things that people find get rid of them quickly.
Relaxing & Massaging
Try to relax your dog. Speak to them in a calm voice and ask them to sit up or lay on their back, whichever they find more relaxing. Then, gently massage their chest, throat, and stomach. This is a surefire way to calm your dog’s breathing down and stop their hiccups.
A drink of cold water helps to get rid of hiccups by relieving the irritation in the diaphragm, stopping the malfunction, and hurrying up the time it takes to go back to its regular movements and functions.
Add Something Sweet
For extra help, add something sweet to the water, such as honey. This will distract your dog long enough to calm their breathing pattern back to normal.
Alternatively, going on a calm, quiet walk will also distract your dog from thinking about their hiccups and help to regulate their breathing.
How to Prevent Dog Hiccups?
Most dogs aren’t all that bothered by hiccups, they might find it annoying at worst. That said, some dogs can get very frightened by them. So, in order to prevent dogs who fear hiccups from getting them, we need to eliminate the source of the issue.
If your dog’s hiccups have an emotional origin, try to calm them down when they get over-excited and be sure to comfort them when they are stressed. Of course, ideally, we’d like to take away everything that causes stress from our pets’ lives before the fact, but sometimes it’s just not possible.
If you think your dog’s hiccups come from eating too quickly, you could try feeding them smaller portions at a time or buying a textured ‘slow feeding‘ bowl that makes dogs eat their food slower. Alternatively, if you think anything irritates your dog’s sinuses, try to eliminate the issue if it’s possible or enquire with your vet about antihistamine medication.
When to Visit the Vet With Dog Hiccups?
If your dog’s hiccups occur frequently or last longer than an hour, they could be a sign of something more serious. Hiccups are caused by a disruption in the breathing pattern, so severe hiccups can be a sign of a respiratory problem. Such issues include asthma, pneumonia, pericarditis, stroke, hypothermia, and heatstroke.
Just like human asthma, dog asthma is caused by allergies; typically dust, smoke, and pollen. Overexposure and over-exercising may trigger an episode. Signs of asthma include:
- Heavy, labored, wheezy, or shortness of breath
- Lack of appetite
- Pale or blue gums
- Weight loss
If you think your dog is asthmatic, tell your vet about their symptoms and take them to be examined. Asthma is not curable but is very manageable. Treatment for asthma in dogs includes antihistamines, steroids, bronchodilators via inhaler or nebulizer, and in severe cases, injections and oxygen therapy.
Pneumonia occurs when the lungs become inflamed, usually through infection, either bacterial or viral, but can also be from inhaling a foreign body or fungus. Signs of pneumonia include:
- Appetite and weight loss
- Rapid, difficult breathing or wheezing
- Runny nose
If you think your dog has pneumonia, they need to see a vet as soon as possible. Pneumonia is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires a full examination and either antibiotic or antifungal medication, anti-inflammatory medication, bronchodilators, and expectorants. In severe cases, your dog may need to be hospitalized for fluid therapy, oxygen, and intravenous antibiotics.
Pericarditis occurs when the pericardium, the heart’s outer sac, becomes inflamed and swollen. It has many potential causes including trauma, hypothyroidism, infection, and cancer. This can put dangerous pressure on the heart and lead to heart failure if left untreated. Sings of pericarditis include:
- Bulging jugular vein
- Cold limbs and paws
- Pale skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Exercise intolerance
- Stomach bloating
- Weak or speeding pulse
- Weight loss
- Eventual collapse
If you think your dog has an inflamed pericardium, you need to take them for a full examination at the vets to diagnose and determine the root of the issue. The cause will dictate the treatment and could include antibiotics, chemotherapy, and surgery. Though pericarditis sounds frightening, the prognosis is generally good.
Strokes occur when there is a lack of blood flow to the brain or spinal cords, either from a blood vessel blockage or bleed. Brain tumors, blood clots, bacteria, parasites, and ruptures can all be causes or contributors in dogs. Strokes can happen suddenly and the signs can be subtle. At first glance, they can look similar to a stomach upset, the key is to watch the intensity and duration of the symptoms. Signs of a stroke include:
- Loss of balance
- Wandering in circles
- Strange eye movements
- Loss of control of bodily functions such as breathing, vomiting, or going to the toilet.
If you think your dog is having a stroke, they need instant veterinary examination and possibly take an MRI scan. Most dogs survive strokes, though they can take weeks to recover, and some experience permanent cognitive damage. Treatments include blood thinners & stabilizers. Older dogs or those who are already unwell are less likely to survive.
Getting too hot or cold can also affect and disrupt breathing, so conditions relating to dangerous temperatures can also cause hiccups. Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to temperatures around or below freezing (32°F). Signs of hypothermia include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Pale skin
- Shallow breathing
- Shivering or shaking
- Fixed dilated pupils (if severe)
Hypothermia is potentially life-threatening. If you think your dog has hypothermia, you must use blankets to keep them warm and seek veterinary help immediately for IV fluids, warm water enemas, and possibly an oxygen mask in severe cases.
Heat stroke, over-heating, or heat exhaustion occurs when dogs have excessive exposure to temperatures above 90°F and are no longer able to regulate their internal body temperature, especially when they are left in places with little to no air ventilation, e.g. cars. Signs of heat stroke include:
- Blood in urine
- Difficulty breathing
- Nose bleeds
- Severe panting
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Heat stroke is a potentially life-threatening condition and must be treated by a vet quickly. If you think your dog has heat stroke, move them to a cool place and give them a cool drink of water if they are conscious. Gently massage their joints to encourage circulation and dab their body with a sponge soaked in cool water (but not too cold) until you can take them to the vet. The vet will examine your dog, give them IV fluids, cool water enemas, and oxygen if necessary.
Hiccups in Dogs – FAQ
While dog hiccups are generally found to be cute, some pet owners will panic if they occur for too long, or too often. Here are some of your questions answered concisely. (And remember to consult a professional vet for advice tailored to your very own down!)
Your dog’s hiccuping is likely due to swallowing lots of air, probably from eating and/or drinking too quickly, over-excitement or stress. Alternatively, they could have inhaled an irritant or be allergic to something in your home or outdoors.
To get rid of your dog’s hiccups, you need to get them to relax their breathing. One way to do this is to ask them to sit up or lie down, whichever they find more relaxing, and gently massage their chest, throat, and stomach.
Giving them a drink will also soothe whatever has irritated their diaphragm; the cause of hiccups. For extra help, put honey in their water or take them for a gentle walk to distract them. This should help to calm your dog’s breathing back into a normal pattern.
A dog’s hiccups will typically only last for a few minutes. If they last for over an hour, check for any other symptoms that differ from their usual behavior and consult your vet if you’re worried.
It is not dangerous if your dog hiccups a lot. It’s only dangerous if their hiccups are recurrent or not going away after an hour, as this could be a sign of something else.
If your dog’s hiccups are constant and not going away, you should check for other symptoms in the lists above as it could be a sign of asthma, pneumonia, pericarditis, strokes, hypothermia, or heatstroke.
If you think your dog has any of these things, take them to see a vet as soon as possible.
Do you find it cute when your dog hiccups? What do you do to help them stop hiccuping? Let us know!