Hearing your puppy hiccup for the first time can be one of the most adorable sounds. That little high-pitched squeak sounds just like our hiccups and reminds us of how similar we can be to our pets. However, there may be times when those hiccups worry you, such as in cases where they don’t go away quickly or when your dog seems distressed. Learn about what causes hiccups in pups, when to contact your vet, and things you can do to keep your pup safe.
Why Do Dogs Get Hiccups?
Hiccups are caused by a contraction of the muscles used in breathing, specifically the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, which sit between the ribs. When these muscles contract suddenly, air is pulled into the lungs and the vocal cords close, causing the sound we call a hiccup.
Hiccups may occur for many reasons. The most common reasons are spontaneous and usually resolve quickly on their own. Other likely causes include things that expand the stomach, such as a big meal or a large gulp of water, as well as irritation of the esophagus and/or stomach as seen in certain diseases like esophageal reflux.
More unusual causes would include anything else that distends the belly, including pregnancy, a tumor, an enlarged organ, or even excess gas. Conditions that irritate or damage the regions of the brains and/or nerves responsible for contractions of the diaphragm and other related muscles could cause hiccups too. Examples of this would be an injury or tumor in the brainstem, injuries to the spinal cord in the region of the neck, and/or damage to the nerves that stimulate the diaphragm and intercostal muscles.
One final unusual cause would be the virus distemper encephalitis, which can cause myoclonus, or these kinds of spontaneous muscle contractions. Distemper is one of the viruses dogs are commonly vaccinated against in their core vaccine series.
Treatment for Hiccups
Most of us have probably heard some funny remedies for hiccups over the years, however these are largely unproven and unlikely to be effective. The good news is that in most cases, no treatment is needed because hiccups tend to resolve quickly on their own and are not a cause for concern.
Some reasons to see your vet about your dog's hiccups include:
- Your dog has hiccups that last more than 24 hours straight
- Your dog is having recurrent bouts of hiccups
- Your dog seems distressed, or
- Your dog seems otherwise ill, such as experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, not eating, acting lethargic, having seizure-like activity, and/or having other visible muscle twitching.
These would be signs of some of the conditions mentioned above and should be evaluated and treated by a veterinarian.
Treatment will vary depending on your vet’s findings and diagnosis. Since hiccups could be a symptom of another underlying problem, the treatment will be aimed at resolving the primary problem. Additional diagnostic tests such as chest x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, and/or bloodwork may be part of the work-up your vet recommends.
If the suspicion is that the hiccups are being caused by irritation of the esophagus and/or stomach, medication can often be prescribed to help resolve this. If medication is unsuccessful, endoscopy may be recommended to take a closer look at the walls of the esophagus and stomach. Evaluation by a veterinary neurologist may also be considered. Other conditions may also be treated with medications and in more unusual cases, surgery may be necessary.
How To Prevent Hiccups in Dogs
Since hiccups can be a normal occurrence in many cases, there is usually nothing that needs to be done to prevent them. For dogs that seem to get hiccups often, especially after eating or drinking, it may be a good idea to use some techniques to slow them down. There are special bowls and treat dispensers that make your dog work a little harder for their food and this prevents them from scarfing down all their food too quickly. Water can be offered in smaller quantities or with an automatic dispenser to prevent your dog from drinking too much too quickly.
Some of the more unusual causes for hiccups are also very difficult to prevent since they are caused by spontaneous disease. As always, it is important to make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date to prevent serious illnesses such as distemper encephalitis. In breeds that may be at risk for neck and back injuries, such as the beagle, dachshund, shih tzu, Pekingese, Yorkie, and Chihuahua, make sure to take precautions to prevent injury. This includes using a harness instead of a neck lead to prevent pulling on their necks, and to train them not to jump on and off the furniture to prevent those high-impact landings.
Luckily for most pups, hiccups are just a fleeting nuisance and tend to go away quickly, so be sure to record a quick video of those cute little squeaks before they’re gone for good.
Chang, Full-Young and Lu, Ching-Liang. Hiccup: Mystery, Nature and Treatment. Journal of Neurogastrenterol Motility, Vol. 18, no. 2, 2012, pp. 123-130., doi:10.5056/jnm.2012.18.2.123
Lowrie, M and Garosi, L. Classification of Involuntary Movements in Dogs: Myoclonus and Myotonia. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Vol. 31, no. 4, 2017, pp. 979-987., doi:10.1111/jvim.14771
Hakozaki, T , et al. Cervical Intervertebral Disc Herniation in Chondrodystrophoid and Nonchondrodistrophoid small-breed dogs: 187 cases (1993-2013), Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 247, no. 12, 2015, pp. 1408-11., doi: 10.2460/javma.247.12.1408