What Causes Dog Hiccups?

Dogs make a great deal of vocalizations, each with their own specific meaning: growling to indicate aggression, whimpering to indicate fear or need, barking to indicate excitement. These sounds are important to communication among fellow dogs, humans, and other animals in their territory, and they’ve been a part of the canine makeup throughout history. There’s one unusual sound, however, that closely mimics their human caregivers in a surprising way: the sudden, startling, “hic!” of dog hiccups.

This blog post will cover the dog hiccup causes and useful tips to help alleviate your pet from his pesky problem.

Can Dogs Get Hiccups Like People Do?

Even though human and canine anatomy is very different, certain processes work the same – including the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a special muscle that keeps the thoracic cavity, where the heart and lungs reside, separate from the abdominal cavity that houses the liver, stomach, and intestines. This barrier is important, because it gives all of these organs the space and environment they need to work in their best capacity. In dogs, with their typically-limited body capacity as compared to humans, it’s very important indeed. So what does the diaphragm have to do with hiccups in dogs? Believe it or not, it’s where they stem from.

Just as our arm or leg may get a sudden cramp when muscles are overused or aren’t working the way they should, the diaphragm can go into a spontaneous spasm. This spasm temporarily snaps the glottis, a space found between the vocal cords of both humans and dogs, shut, issuing that familiar “hic!” sound. Just as we can’t mentally will spasms like a charley horse away, hiccups can be very persistent and hang around for a long time.

Why Do Dogs Get Hiccups?

There’s no one reason why hiccups occur in any animal, but in dogs, hiccupping has a unique and unusual tie to age. Puppies are far more likely to have hiccups than their older peers, and scientists aren’t sure why. Some speculate it may be because their bodies are still developing, and others believe it’s a holdover from the womb, when hiccups represented the canine fetus trying out its breathing muscles. These are all just educated guesses from canine experts – while medical science can easily explain what happens during a bout of hiccups, there’s really no useful cause for them in humans and canines alike.  

Humans get hiccups for a variety of reasons, but more often than not, they strike due to particular eating or movement habits. Specifically, eating or drinking too fast can trigger spasms in the diaphragm muscle, even well after a meal or beverage is finished. Dogs are very similar, and dogs that are prone to hiccups are often “fast eaters” that wolf down their food a little too quickly.

If your dog is a fast eater or drinks water too fast, try these simple solutions to reduce hiccups:

  • Try special dog bowls with raised and lowered portions, intended to slow down eating and drinking speed in dogs of all ages.
  • Feed your dog a few smaller meals throughout the day, rather than big portions once or twice, which could encourage them to eat too much too quickly.
  • Remove potential environmental stressors during mealtime, such as other pets that may bully or steal their food, leading to fast eating behaviors as a defense.
  • Use a larger dog-friendly water bottle, which will naturally slow down their drinking speed and limit how much they drink during each swallow.
  • If you find that your dog is particularly enthusiastic about eating large portions of wet food, supplement or replace with dried kibble to help keep a reasonable pace during meals.

Hiccups can also happen because your dog plays a little too enthusiastically – while exercise is great and important to your dog’s overall health, as a pet parent you’ll need to make sure they aren’t overexerting themselves. If your dog comes back from a run or play session with hiccups, it could mean that he’s pushing himself a little harder than he ought to be. Try calling him back or bringing him in a little sooner than usual; this may help your dog avoid persistent hiccupping.

Will Scaring My Dog Cure Hiccups?

Humans find hiccups annoying and disruptive enough that the list of anecdotal cures grows at a seemingly exponential rate. It’s only natural that we would want to help our canine companions shake off the hiccups too, but don’t pull out that Halloween mask just yet: scaring or startling a human may stop hiccups, but in dogs it’s more likely to stress them out and make them upset, even if it does cure them.

The idea of “scaring hiccups away” comes from a sudden and insistent engagement of the part of our brain responsible for complicated thinking –  e.g., will this unknown thing hurt me, should I defend myself, should I run, and so on. When a person is startled or jostled significantly, this part of the brain leaps into action, hopefully short-circuiting the nerves causing the diaphragm to spasm in the process.

Thankfully, however, this same process can be replicated in a less disconcerting way: the next time a friend has hiccups, look them directly in the eyes and ask them in a serious tone to spell their middle name. The unexpected question has an easy response of course, but it forces the individual to think critically and shift mental gears suddenly. Many times, this stimulation is all that’s needed to short circuit the cycle of annoying hiccups.

Obviously, your dog isn’t capable of spelling their middle name – even if they have one – so you’ll need to get creative without stressing them out. Some simple suggestions include:

  • Stand up suddenly, make a noise, and rush into another room
  • Try opening a lower cupboard and begin frantically looking for something

Your dog’s natural instincts will likely kick in, making them intensely curious and anxious to help by following you – so anxious, in fact, that they may lose their hiccups in the process. If this doesn’t work, try having someone sneak outside and knock or ring the doorbell as another form of distraction to help curb their bout of hiccups.

How Do I Stop My Dog from Hiccupping?

If the “what’s in the other room?” trick fails to help your pup shake his hiccups, it’s time to try something else. Thankfully, there’s more than a few ways to help a dog stop having hiccups. Below, a few more tips worth trying if your pooch is suffering from a stubborn case of the hiccups:

  • Physical Touch: Hiccups often occur when a dog is overstimulated, so helping him focus on something else can be helpful. Encourage your pup to lie down and rub his belly with a slow, rhythmic motion to help calm and slow his breathing. “Switching gears” this way is often all it takes to chase hiccups away.
  • Offer Water: If you’ve ever beaten the hiccups with a long drink of water, you know the power of H2O against diaphragm spasms. Give your dog fresh, cold water and watch him closely to see if this stops the hiccupping.
  • Try Something Sweet: Because hiccups are involuntary, it’s important not to give your dog anything chewy or hard, such as a rawhide bone, that can choke them during a bout of hiccups. Some pet parents say they’ve had luck giving their pup a little (less than a teaspoon) of karo syrup dissolved in lukewarm water. They report the unusual sweet taste can disrupt the hiccups in dogs – just don’t overdo it on the sugar, and never use any products containing the sugar free sweetener xylitol, as this can be harmful or even deadly to dogs.

Do Hiccups Hurt Dogs?

Bear in mind that normal hiccups are the same in both dogs and humans – annoying, but typically not harmful unless other signs or symptoms are present. The diaphragm spasm mechanism typically subsides on its own when given enough time, so if your pup has hiccups, try giving him a while to see if they subside. While they might be distracting for you and your dog in the interim, dog hiccups are not harmful or painful on their own. There are, however, a few special situations where hiccups could be a sign of another serious medical concern, so if your dog appears to be in discomfort or hiccupping frequently, take these steps:

  • Take note of how long the hiccups have lingered: Having hiccups for hours at a time is unusual and concerning, and could point to a respiratory issue. The hiccups may be a signal that something is wrong with the glottis, lungs, or esophagus in your dog.
  • Think about any recent changes in diet: Some canine experts say that grain-based dog foods can actually cause more frequent hiccupping. Look for high-quality dog foods whenever possible and use canine supplements for balanced nutrition and well-being.
  • Try listening to your dog’s lungs: If your dog will allow it, place your ear against the side of his chest and listen to his breathing as he’s lying down. If you hear high-pitched wheezing or crackling, there’s a good chance they have some kind of internal infection or illness in the lungs causing the hiccups.
  • Watch your dog’s other behaviors: Are they avoiding exercise or movement? They may have an injury that they’re concealing to avoid showing weakness to nearby predators. If they yelp, snap, or move away when you touch or gently press on an area of their body, there’s a greater chance this is the real problem. If this is the case, you are going to want to treat your dog’s pain as soon as possible.
  • Consider your dog’s age: Frequent hiccupping bouts in older dogs are unusual, and even if no other discomfort appears to be showing, worth mentioning at your next vet checkup. This is especially important if the hiccups don’t appear to be related to common causes like fast eating in dogs or overexertion during play.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has The Hiccups?

Finally, make sure that your dog actually has the hiccups – because dogs can and do make a wide variety of sounds, you may think they have hiccups when they don’t. These are common dog behaviors that may be easily mistaken for dog hiccups:

  • Coughing: Dogs can cough for a variety of reasons, and over-enthusiastic water drinkers do so often. Because of the mechanism used to drink – curling the tongue and quickly “scooping” the water into the mouth – some of it can splash into the nose and throat, causing a bout of canine coughing. Dogs may also cough if they have an illness, particularly if it’s one that hasn’t yet manifested obvious outward signs like a runny nose.
  • Chuffing: This short, breathy exhalation is used to convey mood and emotions in dogs. Think of it as a quiet, closed-mouth “woof” that can mean anything from “I sense a threat nearby but I’m not ready to full-on bark at it yet”, to “Hey, that’s mine! Get away from it!” Chuffing differs from hiccups in that it doesn’t repeat in a rhythmic fashion.
  • Whining: Not all canine whines make it to the high-pitched, ear-annoying phase – sometimes a dog will “pre-whine” at a nearly sub-vocal level, which pet parents can mistake for a hiccup. This is a particularly easy vocalization to mistake for hiccups, as a dog will whine on an inhale and exhale, making it sound rhythmic. If your dog has been put in “time out” or is staring longingly at your dinner while making the sound, it’s likely just a whine.
  • “Reverse Sneezing”: This behavior is particularly common in brachycephalic, or “flat faced” breeds like boxers and pugs. It’s thought that the shape of the skull lends itself to the unusual sharp inhalation, which is sometimes accompanied by a vigorous shake of the head. If your dog has gotten into a dusty corner or a pile of pet hair just before the sound, chances are it’s just an equally-harmless canine reverse sneeze.

Summary

As this article has reviewed, hiccups are a common occurrence, and they happen to canine companions as much as they do to humans; in both cases, it’s very rarely anything serious. So if your adult dog is frequently hiccupping, try adjusting his diet, schedule, or exercise routine, and toss in a belly rub or two – even if it doesn’t fix the hiccups, they’re sure to appreciate it. If your pooch is struggling with a bout of hiccups, break out the camera and get ready to melt hearts on social media – there’s nothing to worry about.


Sources Cited:

  1. Ripley, Katherine. “Can Dogs Get Hiccups?” America Kennel Club (AKC).org, July 19, 2017, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/can-dogs-get-hiccups/. Accessed December 27, 2018.
  2. Travis, Helen Anne. “Dog Hiccups: What You Need to Know.” PetMD.com, (no publish date), https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/dog-hiccups-what-you-need-know. Accessed December 27, 2018.
  3. Miller, Ron. “How to Cure Dog and Puppy Hiccups.” The Dogington Post.com, April 25, 2012, http://www.dogingtonpost.com/how-to-cure-dog-and-puppy-hiccups/. Accessed December 27, 2018.
  4. Ward, Ernest, DVM. “Hernia – Diaphragmatic in Dogs.” VCA hospitals.com, (no publish date), https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/hernia-diaphragmatic-in-dogs. Accessed December 27, 2018.

 

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