Not even the most experienced dog owners can deny the cute factor of dog hiccups. Just like in humans, dog hiccups occur when the diaphragm involuntarily contracts, producing the distinct “hic” sound that we all know well. But what causes these hiccups? And can they be prevented? Is hiccup a breathing problem?
Hiccups in dogs are, in most cases, the result of everyday actions like eating too quickly. However, chronic hiccups, also known as intractable hiccups, are a sign of something more dangerous. To find out why your hound gets the hiccups, read on!
Risks of Dog Hiccups
Like people, dogs can get hiccups when the muscles that control their diaphragm contract. Short bouts of hiccups, also called acute hiccups, are not a cause for concern and have few risks. In fact, hiccups are sometimes beneficial for dogs, as they can help to relieve a build-up of gas in their stomach, as well as relieving some stomach irritation. It’s also thought that acute hiccups are more common in puppies due to their behavior in the womb. Puppies begin to hiccup before they are born. Theories suggest that puppies hiccup in the womb to exercise their respiratory system. As your puppy grows older, their hiccups will become more infrequent.
On the other hand, chronic hiccups are linked to several medical conditions, including kidney failure, pneumonia, lung tumors, and digestive problems. As well as this, chronic hiccups can cause health issues by themselves. If your pooch has chronic hiccups, your vet will describe them as “intractable hiccups.” Dogs with intractable hiccups are at greater risk of experiencing negative effects due to their hiccups. Your dog is more likely to be exhausted due to hiccups interrupting their normal sleeping patterns. If severe, intractable hiccups can also disrupt your dog’s eating habits. This may lead to weight loss if not addressed by a qualified vet.
Dog Hiccups vs Choking vs Coughing
Dog hiccups, choking, and coughing are three very different things. While hiccups are typically caused by stress, excitement or even eating too quickly, choking and coughing are a cause for greater concern.
Just like in humans, hiccuping is distinctive from choking and coughing. When your dog’s diaphragm contracts in a hiccup, the opening between the vocal cords abruptly closes. This causes the “hic” sound associated with hiccups. Your dog might also jolt slightly due to the force of the hiccup.
When your dog coughs, they might emit a dry hacking sound, as if they are trying to dislodge something from the throat. Fortunately, the occasional cough is not a cause for concern. Since your pooch explores the world with their nose and mouth, it’s easy for foreign materials like dirt and grass to enter the throat, causing a cough. However, a chronic cough can be indicative of kennel cough, tracheal collapse, pneumonia, or even heart disease.
Choking is a medical emergency. Unlike hiccuping, choking is caused by an object getting stuck in your dog’s throat, or wrapped tightly around the neck. Signs that your dog is choking include excessive drooling, extreme distress, face rubbing, and repetitive coughing. If the lodged object causes difficulty breathing, your dog might even develop blue mucous membranes and skin. If first aid doesn’t help your dog within one to two minutes, go to your vet as soon as possible.
Causes of Dog Hiccups
Most dog hiccups are not a cause for concern. If your dog has acute hiccups, it’s likely that an everyday action has triggered them – eating too quickly and over-excitement are just a few possibilities. However, in some cases, intractable hiccups indicate more serious problems with your dog. To rule out more concerning causes of dog hiccups, read on.
Eating Too Quickly
You might be familiar with how eating too quickly causes bloat, but it also causes hiccups! This is because your dog swallows more air while eating quickly. Due to sudden air intake, also known as aerophagia, your dog’s stomach distends and irritates the diaphragm muscle. The diaphragm responds to this irritation by contracting. It’s also worth noting that sudden temperature changes in your dog’s esophagus can trigger hiccups. If your dog quickly eats a very cold or very hot piece of food, their esophagus can become irritated. The main nerves involved with hiccups are the phrenic nerve and the vagus nerve, both of which happen to reside near the esophagus.
Veterinarians often recommend giving your dog their meal in a slow-feeder bowl.
Eating Certain Foods
Has your cheeky canine helped themselves to table scraps recently? Certain foods, especially dry foods, are known to trigger hiccups. Dry food can irritate the back of your dog’s throat and is more difficult to chew and swallow than soft food. Because of this, your pooch may swallow larger pieces of food, which can quickly distend the stomach. At the same time, your dog swallows more air when eating foods that are more difficult to chew. This adds to stomach distention, which irritates the diaphragm and causes hiccups. So, if your hungry hound is having a bout of acute hiccups, consider what they have eaten recently.
It’s normal for your dog to pant, especially when excited. However, an over-excited dog might pant excessively, causing a bout of hiccups. Not only is your dog taking in a lot of air, which irritates the diaphragm, but they also tend to take shallower breaths when over-excited too. Instead of breathing from their diaphragm, your over-excited pup pants from their chest, drawing in short, shallow breaths. These short, shallow breaths irritate the diaphragm further. If your pup is over-excited, be sure to encourage calm behavior with positive reinforcement. Over-excitement upon your arrival home can also indicate separation anxiety, so consider talking to your vet about your options.
Stress and excitement both produce many of the same responses in the body. In both responses, the heart beats faster, the body prepares for action, and cortisol levels surge. As well as this, your dog will pant heavily as part of their stress response. This increased intake of air irritates the diaphragm, causing acute hiccups. But what causes stress in dogs? Confusion and memory loss due to aging, fear, and separation are three of the most common causes of stress and anxiety in dogs. If your dog is frequently stressed, consider talking to your vet about your options. Your pooch may benefit from behavior modification training to help them to overcome their stressors.
Certain veterinary medications are associated with hiccups. Such medications include corticosteroids, antibiotics, opioid pain relievers, chemotherapy medications, and benzodiazepines. But why do medications cause hiccups? In short, some medications irritate the esophagus, resulting in a flare-up of acid reflux which irritates the stomach and esophagus even further. If your dog’s hiccups began after taking medication, consider asking your vet for advice. Persistent and intractable hiccups can affect your pup’s quality of life, so it’s important to work out the best treatment plan for your beloved pooch.
You already know that your beloved pooch shouldn’t try spicy foods. However, it can be tempting to even the most responsible owner. Even if your dog seems to enjoy spicy smells and begs for your spicy curry, don’t be quick to give in! While some dogs are more tolerant of spices than others, other dogs experience extreme discomfort. Along with stomach pain, diarrhea, excessive gas, and excessive thirst, your pet may get a bout of hiccups. This is because capsaicin, an ingredient in chili plants, activates neurons in the diaphragm that causes it to contract.
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.
Underlying Medical Condition
While short bouts of hiccups are no cause for concern, chronic, re-occurring hiccups may indicate an array of medical conditions. Acute hiccups that occur for a few minutes at a time may be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease. In contrast, persistent hiccups lasting more than 48 hours indicate a wider range of medical problems. These include, but are not limited to, esophageal tumors, lung tumors, pancreatitis, bronchitis, pleuritis, pneumonia, kidney failure, digestive problems, and stroke. Because the array of conditions is so extensive it’s important to get your pup with persistent hiccups checked over by a vet.
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 Prevent & Manage Dog Hiccups
Hiccups typically go away on their own. However, hiccups can be uncomfortable for your dog, especially if they continue for an extended period of time. To manage dog hiccups, you can offer a low-grain diet, cold water, exercise, or even a quick snack! With that being said, if your dog’s hiccups persist for an extended period of time, always seek veterinary advice to rule out any underlying conditions.
Dog foods with lower amounts of grain can be beneficial for preventing hiccups. Eating rice, bread, and grains may cause hiccups because they can swell in the stomach. This causes distention, which puts pressure on the diaphragm. As well as this, it helps to monitor what your pooch eats to find any other triggers of dog hiccups. Like in humans, some specific foods are known to trigger hiccups, so avoiding these in the future can help prevent these uncomfortable bouts.
Drinking water is known to help with hiccups in both humans and dogs. Some people swear by drinking a glass of cold water, whilst others find more success in drinking warm water. This is because water can help to relieve the irritation to the diaphragm, in some cases. Drinking water can also help to restore normal breathing patterns and reduce your dog’s temperature if they are over-exerted. So, if your pooch has acute hiccups, try offering a bowl of fresh, cool water!
Depending on the cause of your dog’s hiccups, some vigorous exercise may help to relieve them of these involuntary diaphragm contractions. In some cases, changing your dog’s breathing and heart rate are quick ways to interrupt a bout of dog hiccups. Exercise also does wonders for relieving stress and anxiety in dogs, which are both common triggers of dog hiccups. However, if exercise is what caused your pup’s hiccups, it’s better for them to get some rest to prevent further hiccups.
If eating is not what triggered your dog’s hiccups, a quick snack might just do the trick. Eating a small meal can help to reset your dog’s breathing patterns – as long as they don’t wolf it down in one go!
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.
Dog Hiccups: FAQs
Got any more questions or concerns about dog hiccups? Feel free to consult our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details! If in doubt about your dog’s health, always ask your vet for advice.
Rest assured that dog hiccups are completely normal for your beloved pooch. In fact, most dogs get hiccups a few times in their lives. These should only last for a few minutes to half an hour if caused by an everyday event.
With that being said, it is not normal for your dog to have chronic, persisting hiccups that interfere with their daily life. If your dog experiences hiccups for more than 30 minutes, consider asking your vet for advice.
Just like in humans, dogs experience hiccups when the diaphragm, a muscle under the lungs, contracts involuntarily. The resulting spasm is what causes the opening between the vocal cords to close, resulting in the characteristic “hic” sound. But what actions and conditions cause hiccups to occur?
Dog hiccups are caused by many things, including eating too quickly, dry foods, over-excitement, stress, medication, and even spicy foods. On the more serious side, dog hiccups are sometimes caused by underlying medical conditions. If your dog has chronic hiccups, consider if they might be suffering from kidney failure, pneumonia, lung tumors, and digestive problems. Hiccups are also a symptom of a stroke. Many reports of chronic hiccups following strokes and nervous system disorders are linked to lesions in the medulla and are also linked to increased morbidity. Because of this, getting your pooch medical attention is important if you suspect anything is amiss!
In most cases, acute dog hiccups only last for a few minutes to 30 minutes. In these cases, your dog’s hiccups are not a cause for concern, and the bout passes as quickly as it starts. However, if your pup’s hiccups last for more than 30 minutes, it’s time to consider what might be causing their hiccups. Keep an eye on your dog’s condition and note any concerning symptoms that develop.
In rare cases, hiccups may persist for over 48 hours. Any hiccups that continue for 48 hours are called persistent hiccups. When dog hiccups persist for more than one month, your vet will call them “intractable” hiccups. Intractable hiccups can be a sign of a wide array of diseases.
If your dog is coughing, it might emit a dry hacking sound, as if attempting to dislodge something from its throat. While this may sound concerning, coughing is a normal response by the body to relieve irritation in the airways. Your dog’s airways can become irritated by something as simple as dust or due to an object lodged in the throat. In the latter case, your dog is at risk of choking.
If your dog is coughing like something is stuck in its throat, choking could be to blame. Unlike coughing, choking is a medical emergency. But what causes choking? Your dog may choke on an object lodged in the throat or if an object is tightly wrapped around the neck. Chocking in dogs includes excessive drooling, extreme distress, rubbing the face, and coughing repeatedly. When untreated, choking can lead to collapse and unconsciousness. If first aid doesn’t help your dog within one to two minutes, go to your vet as soon as possible.
Hiccups in dogs which last for less than 30 minutes are not a cause for concern. These hiccups, also known as acute hiccups, are typically caused by everyday situations as harmless as eating too quickly or over-excitement. In contrast, hiccups that persist for more than one month, known as intractable hiccups, are a symptom of many different illnesses. If your dog experiences chronically hiccups, ask your vet for advice.