A wide variety of mammals experience hiccups, including kittens, squirrels, otters, horses, porcupines, and yes, dogs. Of course, the mammal with the strangest remedies for hiccups is humans — you won't find any of the other animals on this list holding their breath and spinning in circles three times. Quite sensibly, dogs will simply wait for their hiccups to pass. But aside from this stark difference, dog hiccups and human hiccups are very similar.
Like human hiccups, dog hiccups are usually a mild annoyance, not a serious problem. Here's a look at what causes hiccuping in dogs, what you can do to help, and when you should be concerned.
What Causes Dog Hiccups?
For humans, dogs, and other mammals, hiccups originate in the diaphragm — the largest and most important muscle that supports the respiratory system. They can be caused by any number of irritants, including (but not limited to):
- Eating and drinking too quickly
- Feeling excited or stressed
- Swallowing too much air
- Sensing a sudden temperature change
Regardless of which irritant causes hiccups, the effect on your dog's diaphragm muscle is the same: The diaphragm contracts uncontrollably in a diaphragm spasm. The spasm causes a part of the vocal cords called the glottis (pronounced GLAH-tus) to close, which makes the "hic" sound we all know and loathe (or love in the case of cute little puppy hiccups).
Which Dogs Are Most Likely to Get the Hiccups?
Any dog can get hiccups, but it's significantly more common in puppies. There are a few theories as to why: Puppies might be more susceptible to hiccups because their respiratory and nervous systems are still developing. Or, puppies might get more frequent bouts of hiccups because they're more excitable than adult dogs, making them more likely to gulp their food or swallow air when they run and play.
Adult dogs can still get hiccups, but it doesn't happen as often. As your adult dog ages, hiccups could become slightly more frequent again — even though older dogs tend to be the least excitable age group. As dogs' respiratory and nervous systems undergo the natural aging process, they can become more sensitive to other irritants and lead to more frequent bouts of hiccups.
What About Short-Nosed Breeds?
If you have a bulldog, pug, boxer, Boston terrier, or other brachycephalic dog breed, you're likely aware of the additional health issues that the shortened nasal passages on these dogs can cause.
Any symptoms that affect the respiratory system — including sneezing, reverse sneezing, coughing, gagging, and hyperventilating — can be more common and more serious in short-nosed breeds.
Hiccups are connected to the diaphragm, the diaphragm is connected to the respiratory system, and yes, short-nosed dogs can experience hiccups more often. Short-nosed breeds are especially sensitive to dog hiccups that come from swallowing too much air due to excitement.
More frequent bouts of hiccups aren't necessarily a cause for concern, but short-nosed breeds can also be more susceptible to some of the more serious causes of dog hiccups, including heat stroke, which we'll cover below. If you have a short-nosed dog, pay close attention to the signs listed below so you can determine whether your dog's hiccups merit a vet visit.
What Can You Do to Treat and Prevent Your Dog's Hiccups?
Most incidents of dog hiccups will only last a few minutes and will pass on their own. So, you don't need to do anything. But, as pet parents who have experienced hiccups of our own, we know how annoying they can be. If you feel bad watching your dog hiccup, here are some gentle home remedies you can try:
- Give your dog water: Drinking water can help regulate your dog's breathing pattern, which helps return the diaphragm to its usual rhythm. Lead your dog to their water bowl, or offer them water from a small bowl or from your cupped hands.
- Try a spoonful of maple syrup or honey: These sweet syrups help coat and lubricate the vocal cords. They also serve as a sweet distraction, which can be enough to redirect your dog's breathing pattern. Let your dog lick the syrup off a teaspoon or add some syrup to their drinking water. Make sure any syrup you give your dog contains 100% pure maple syrup or honey. Some imitation maple syrups include additives like Xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
- Massage your dog's chest: Gently rubbing your dog's chest — like you would if you were petting them — can help soothe your dog's breathing and alleviate hiccups. Massaging in a slow, steady motion is key. If you're too exuberant during the massage, your dog could get more riled up, which could make hiccuping worse.
- Take your dog on a slow walk: This activity is a soothing distraction. Mild exercise typically requires a steady breathing pattern. By maintaining a slow pace in a familiar area, you'll keep over-excitement from exacerbating the problem.
While some of these solutions might look familiar from human hiccup folklore, all of the techniques we've outlined are safe for dogs. Other human hiccup relief ideas may not be safe for your pet or for you as the pet owner.
For instance, never try to scare your dog to relieve hiccups, because a scared dog can act erratically and accidentally injure you. You also shouldn't attempt to plug your dog's nose or ears, and you should never give your dog ice cubes to chew on when they're hiccuping — the hiccups can transform any solid food item into a choking hazard.
If you notice a pattern around your dog's hiccups — like they always get hiccups after they eat or when they play — you can take steps to help prevent these hiccups.
- Feed smaller portions: If you only feed a few bites at a time, your dog won't be able to gulp large amounts of food at once. This will make them less likely to get the hiccups after meals.
- Use a slow feeder: A slow feeder accomplishes the same goal as feeding small portions, but it allows you to be more hands-off at mealtimes. (You don't have to stand at your dog's bowl dishing out one spoonful of food at a time.)
- Take a time out: If playtime causes your dog's hiccups, consider taking periodic breaks to bring their energy level down. Stop playing with your dog for a couple minutes, then resume.
Any of these steps could help relieve or prevent your dog's hiccups. But, as we mentioned, a typical case of the hiccups will pass on its own and doesn't require intervention.
When to See Your Vet About Dog Hiccups
There are a few rare instances where dog hiccups could signify a more serious medical condition. If your dog's hiccups last more than a few hours or are accompanied by constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, or exercise intolerance (low energy levels and a lack of interest in exercise), talk to your vet.
Persistent hiccups that don't clear up on their own after a few minutes can be a sign of these conditions:
- Heat stroke: Dogs overheat more easily than humans. If your dog has been exercising in hot weather, their hiccups last more than a few minutes, and they are accompanied by dark red gums, excessive panting, or lack of coordination, go to your vet immediately.
- Pericarditis: This condition causes inflammation around your dog's heart sac, and it can be accompanied by persistent hiccups. If your dog has experienced frequent and long-lasting bouts of hiccups, and their hiccups are accompanied by lethargy, weight loss, difficulty breathing, or cold limbs and paws, contact your vet right away.
- Pneumonia: Because it's an infection of the lungs, pneumonia can affect your dog's breathing pattern and lead to persistent hiccups. If your dog also exhibits a cough, wheezing, a fever, or a runny nose, make an appointment with your vet.
- Asthma: This is another respiratory condition that can lead to hiccups. If your dog is also panting excessively or has pale gums, schedule an appointment with your vet so they can be tested for asthma.
Any time that your dog has hiccups for more than a few hours, it's cause for concern. Your typical case of dog hiccups, like your typical case of human hiccups, will only last for a few minutes.
So, Should You Worry About Dog Hiccups?
Hiccups are typically harmless. They're a sign that something has affected your dog's breathing pattern, causing their diaphragm to contract uncontrollably and leading to that "hic" sound we recognize from our own run-ins with the hiccups.
If your dog gets the hiccups occasionally and they last for a few minutes at a time, it's perfectly normal and you have nothing to worry about. If, however, your dog has persistent hiccups that last for a few hours or more, call your vet. On rare occasions, hiccups can be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
If you'd like to support your dog's immune system before a problem starts, try adding all-natural bone broth or a probiotic for dogs to their diet. And if you want to learn more about your dog's health, visit the Native Pet blog.