Causes of Dog Hiccups and How to Get Rid of This Pesky Condition

Published December 2, 2021
Funny playful happy smiling pet dog puppy running

Puppy hiccups are an adorable sight, but could these cute little "hics" be a cause for concern? Most dog hiccups are harmless, but in some cases, this could be the sign of a larger problem. Discover why your dog may be hiccupping, how you can help stop them, and when you should be worried.

What are Dog Hiccups?

Similar to this condition in humans, hiccups are caused by involuntary contractions or spasms of the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates your dog's chest cavity from their abdomen. This spasm causes the vocal cords to quickly close, which creates the "hic" noise. The purpose of hiccups and why they happen is still unknown, but many experts have theories.

Hiccups can be frightening for a dog because they're an unusual sensation and something they can't control. The good news is that dog hiccups are generally harmless and should stop on their own.

Causes of Dog Hiccups

Several different scenarios can trigger hiccups in dogs.

Puppy Eating Dog Dry Food From A Bowl
  • Eating or drinking too quickly
  • Eating or drinking too much
  • Excitement
  • Vigorous play
  • Overexertion
  • Stress
  • Medical conditions

Dogs Most Susceptible to Hiccups

Any dog can get hiccups, but they're most commonly seen in puppies. Rapid changes in their little growing bodies could contribute to these spasms. Young dogs are also typically the ones who are most likely to gobble down food too quickly and might swallow air while eating. Some experts speculate that hiccups could be a way for nursing mammals to expel excess air from their stomachs while feeding, which might explain why it happens in puppies.

Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, French Bulldogs, and English Bulldogs could also be at higher risk for hiccups. These dogs have naturally restricted airways, which makes them susceptible to overexertion. If a dog plays too hard or becomes too warm, they can develop hiccups.

Hiccups Vs. a Reverse Sneeze

Sometimes, reverse sneezing can be confused with hiccups. A reverse sneeze is characterized by rapid air intake through the nose, which creates a snorting or honking noise. These bodily functions are similar in that they are both caused by involuntary spasms, though the triggers and solutions may vary.

Solutions for Hiccups

The traditional methods we use to stop hiccups don't work on dogs. You can't instruct them to hold their breath (this isn't safe for dogs) and scaring them certainly won't help. The best way to support your pup through hiccups is to help them relax.

Girl petting puppy lying on the grass
  • Lead your dog to a quiet area and encourage them to sit or lay down.
  • You can gently rub your dog's chest to help normalize their breathing.
  • Offer them some water, but don't force them to drink it if they're not interested.

If your dog appears in distress, is having difficulty breathing, retching, or if the hiccups don't stop after a few hours, it's important to see your veterinarian.

When Dog Hiccups May Indicate a Problem

In almost every case, hiccups are harmless. Your puppy or dog will stop hiccupping as abruptly as they started. But occasionally, this could indicate a medical problem.

  • Digestive issues: Chronic hiccups, meaning hiccups that last for an extended period of time or that occur frequently, could point to gastric troubles. You'll also likely see vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or weight loss with these conditions. See your vet to address these concerns.
  • Respiratory problems: Hiccupping could be a symptom of an issue with your dog's lungs or respiratory tract. If your dog also tires easily after physical activity, coughs, or experiences frequent bouts of reverse sneezing, it's a good idea to see your vet. Asthma, pneumonia, or certain types of infection can cause these signs. Hiccups coupled with difficulty breathing warrant urgent attention.
  • Worms: Parasites, including heartworm, or worms in the intestinal tract or respiratory system, can lead to hiccups. Make sure your puppy is dewormed regularly, as some worms can be passed down from mothers to puppies in the womb.
  • Bloat: When dogs eat quickly or take in large amounts of air or water, they can experience gastric dilation-volvulus, known as GDV or simply canine bloat. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate surgery. Large breeds and deep-chested dogs are at higher risk for this condition. Dogs with bloat won't necessarily hiccup, but they can have abdominal contractions and appear as though they're trying to burp or retch.

Avoid Dog Hiccups with Preventive Measures

Although you might not have the ability to prevent all incidents of hiccups, especially in growing puppies, it's possible to minimize your dog's risk. Use a slow feeder to prevent your dog from eating too quickly and keep at-risk breeds from overexerting themselves. If your dog does develop hiccups, keeping them calm and relaxed will help with resolution. In cases of chronic or prolonged hiccups, see your veterinarian to rule out any underlying problem.

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Causes of Dog Hiccups and How to Get Rid of This Pesky Condition