What to Know About Your Puppy’s Hiccups
In addition to being adorable, it’s nothing to worry about.
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It can start when your puppy is napping after a big meal or when your dog settles down after some excitement outside. A quiet “hup” accompanies rhythmic jerks of their chest and belly. Your dog may look a little confused or may not even notice this weird motion at all. It may look like a hiccup to you, but is that even possible in dogs?
Can Dogs Get Hiccups?
Just like people, dogs can get hiccups. Hiccups occur in dogs of all ages, but puppies seem to be more prone to them. No one seems to know why, though. Theories include increased swallowing of air with excitement (and when isn’t a puppy excited?), overeating, and rapid growth causing nerves to stretch. No matter the cause, puppy hiccups are pretty darn cute, even though they can be annoying.
Causes of Dog Hiccups
In a hiccup, some of the rib muscles and the diaphragm, which is the big muscle that separates the belly from the chest, contract suddenly and involuntarily. The diaphragm does most of the work of breathing, so a sharp contraction that quickly changes airflow is bound to cause a little sound.
Hiccups are a reflex action that is triggered by irritation or stimulation of one of the nerves in the hiccup pathway. The anatomy can get a little complex, but basically there are nerves running from the stomach and diaphragm to the spinal cord, then to the brain. The signals from these nerves are processed in the brain, then sent back down to nerves controlling the vocal cords and diaphragm.
A problem anywhere along this pathway can cause hiccups, but the most common cause is thought to be stretching of the stomach with food or gas. When a hiccup is triggered, the diaphragm tightens and the vocal cords slam shut, meaning that the sudden inhalation is cut off with a sharp “hup.”
Should You Be Worried About Dog Hiccups?
In general, hiccups in dogs are bothersome, but not worrisome. Hiccups usually go away on their own within an hour or two. Puppies will have hiccups more frequently, but usually grow out of regular episodes once they reach a year of age.
Older dogs can have the hiccups too, but this isn’t a concern unless they are intractable (lasting more than a couple of days) or occurring very frequently. As long as the hiccups resolve on their own and don’t happen too frequently, they shouldn’t be a big worry. If you’re concerned that your dog’s hiccups aren’t resolving like normal, you should see your vet for a check-up to make sure there are no underlying issues.
How You Can Prevent Dog Hiccups
There’s no surefire way to prevent hiccups in dogs. Suggestions usually revolve around getting your puppy to eat more slowly, often by spreading food on a sheet pan or using a slow-feed dog bowl. This can reduce air swallowing and limit stretching of the stomach. Smaller, more frequent meals can also be tried to see if they help.
If a dog has developed hiccups, you can try putting them onto their back and rolling them side-to-side to help the hiccups resolve. Like most recommendations for stopping hiccups in people, your mileage may vary with this. If nothing else, your dog will probably appreciate the extra attention.
When Something Is More Serious Than Hiccups
A few other conditions can possibly look like hiccups, or hiccups can sometimes have a more nefarious cause. Some conditions that can look like hiccups include the following:
Reverse sneezing: Caused by irritation in the back of the throat, reverse sneezes are usually louder and more dramatic than a hiccup, but they have a similar rhythmic motion and are also usually benign.
Reflux esophagitis: Similar to heartburn in humans, the lower part of a dog’s esophagus can be irritated by acid from the stomach, causing hard swallowing and head bobbing that can look like hiccups.
Distemper encephalitis: Practically nonexistent in vaccinated dogs, distemper can cause neurological issues that include rhythmic muscle twitching.
Myoclonic seizures: Seizures can show up in strange ways, and one of the weirder ones is intermittent rhythmic muscle twitching.
In addition to these sometimes-scary conditions that imitate hiccups, hiccups can be triggered by medical problems as well. A tumor or injury anywhere along the nerve pathway controlling hiccups can set off episodes. A hernia that allows the contents of the abdomen into the chest cavity can irritate the nerves controlling the diaphragm and result in hiccups. These are more serious issues that can be found by your veterinarian if your dog has intractable hiccups. Fortunately, these are very uncommon causes of hiccups in dogs.
Hiccups are a perfectly normal and expected part of your dog’s life. While there are some bad things that can cause protracted hiccups, the overwhelming majority of these events are benign. So, feel free to take some cute videos of your puppy’s hiccups while you can.
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Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM
Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM is a small animal veterinarian based in North Carolina who has practiced emergency medicine since graduating from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. His primary interest areas include pain management, cardiology, and the treatment of shock.
He is a member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, American Veterinary Medical Association, and American Medical Writers Association. In addition to his clinical work, he writes pet health articles to help provide accurate information for both new and experienced pet parents. When he’s not working, he enjoys cooking, traveling, reading, and going on adventures with his dog.