Often ignored dog hiccup reasons you can help your pooch to avoid

Hiccups are no fun. Think of all the ways we try to get rid of them, from the most absurd remedies to scientific ones. Now think of your faithful hound; a bout of hiccups can make them uneasy too. Dogs get hiccups just like us, and sometimes for the same reasons; however, understanding dog hiccup reasons can go a long way in ensuring the comfort and health of your pet. Whether it's your puppy having the first fit of hiccups, or your older canine being startled with one out of the blue, in this article, we help you stay on top of things.

How do hiccups occur in dogs?

No one is 100% sure of what triggers hiccups, but they seem to happen when the diaphragm is irritated in some way. Hiccups occur when the diaphragm contracts uncontrollably and repetitively. The diaphragm muscle regulates breathing in humans and dogs by contracting as we breathe in and relaxing as we breathe out. As the diaphragm contracts out of rhythm, each spasm closes the vocal cord suddenly and involuntarily, resulting in a sudden rush of air to the lungs.

We react with a ‘hic’ sound as the rapid intake of air (hic) provokes a quick and noisy closure of the glottis (up). Dog hiccups sound similar, and sometimes they are not audible. The characteristic bodily jerk and relax sequence is a result of the muscle spasm immediately followed by the closing of the larynx.

Fun Fact: One theory suggests that hiccups are an evolutionary holdover from our ancient amphibian ancestors who lived in the sea. Once a hiccup has started, it is kept going by a simple motor reflex that we may have inherited from an amphibian ancestor. The nerve controlling the reflex served a useful purpose in ancient tadpoles; it allowed the entrance of the lungs to stay open when breathing air and close shut when gulping water that was directed only to the gills.

Should hiccups in dogs be a cause for concern?

No. Most of the time, it is no cause for concern. Hiccups are part of a dog’s natural life, just like ours. Sometimes, puppy hiccups can even be helpful reflexes to relieve gas. Puppies experience hiccups more often than adult dogs due to their excitable and energetic nature. As their muscles and bodies are not fully developed, they are also prone to premature muscle contractions, particularly in the diaphragm. Although you might be distressed to see your puppy or dog hiccup, hiccups usually go away on their own.

If hiccups persist longer than expected, or you see your pooch in distress or pain, it's time to take them to the vet. Vomiting, excessive drooling, difficulty breathing, not eating or drinking, and hiccupping turned into wheezing are red flags.

Hiccups only last a few minutes, some episodes lasting 10-15 minutes. Anything longer is a cause for concern, and you should promptly take your dog to the vet.

What are the causes of hiccups in dogs?

Anything that upsets or aggravates a dog’s digestive or respiratory tracts can induce hiccups. Swallowing too much air is the most common cause of hiccups in dogs. It usually happens when they drink water or eat food too quickly. Over-excitement, stress, tiredness, energetic play, stomach gas, inhaling an irritant, or food intolerance can all trigger hiccups in dogs. Feeling cold or eating cold food can also cause hiccups.

Spicy foods and treats are a culprit too. Capsaicin in chilli can bring on neuron activity in the diaphragm, causing contractions that lead to hiccups. Dogs also tend to drink water faster after eating spicy food due to increased thirst. These foods also produce excessive stomach gas.

Frequent hiccups in puppies are caused by weaker muscles, especially muscles under the lungs and muscles between ribs and the diaphragm. When their bodies are not fully matured, they are more prone to muscle contractions. Some puppies can get daily hiccups, but as long as the hiccuping only lasts for a few minutes, and is not accompanied by drooling, lethargy, coughing, wheezing, or hard swallowing, it is perfectly normal.

Medications like corticosteroids, benzodiazepines, and antibiotics are also known to induce hiccups in dogs. These medicines can irritate the esophagus and cause acid reflux.

While normal causes of hiccups should not worry you, certain medical conditions that are more serious can also cause hiccups. These include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Esophageal tumors
  • Respiratory defects
  • Heatstroke
  • Pericarditis
  • Asthma
  • Parasites
  • Nausea and upset stomach
  • Diseases of the liver
  • Damage to the phrenic or vagus nerves
  • Neurological conditions like meningitis and encephalitis
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ingestion/inhalation of a foreign body

Sometimes, reverse sneezing can resemble a bout of hiccups. It can also be caused by over-excitement. It occurs when irritants such as pollen or nasal mites enter a dog’s soft palate. The irritation causes the soft palate muscle to spasm, narrowing the trachea. Dogs extend their neck as they try to expand the chest to breathe, but the narrowed trachea does not allow full breathing. They rapidly suck in air instead of blowing it out as they forcefully try to inhale through the nose. Reverse sneezing sounds like snorting or gagging with a honking sound.

How do you stop hiccups in dogs?

While a good scare is deemed a popular cure for human hiccups, giving your dog a fright will only make them more disconcerted. However, these home remedies can help your dog shake off the hiccups.

Calming breathing – A gentle tummy rub can help your dog’s breathing pattern come to normal. Steady breathing calms muscle spasms and offers faster hiccup relief.

Massage – Massaging your dog’s chest and throat area, especially the muscles between ribs, can help relax the diaphragm. The swallowing reflex can interrupt the hiccups. You can also help them with a soft ear rub, gentle petting, and some reassuring words.

Drinking water – Just like how we drink water when we have hiccups, the same remedy can help a hiccupping dog or puppy. Adding a little bit of sugar, maple syrup, or honey to sweeten the water encourages them to drink. Drinking water calms nerves, throat, and breathing. The sweetness is also a pleasant distraction. Ensure there is no Xylitol in the sweetener you use, which is harmful to dogs.

Milk - If you know the hiccups are a result of eating spicy food, give them some milk. Milk contains casein, a protein that breaks down capsaicin, the chemical in spicy food that irritates the diaphragm.

Exercise – A slow-paced walk outside can change irregular breathing and help stop the hiccups. It is also a great distraction that can put a stop to hiccups.

Things to avoid doing when your dog is having hiccups:

  • Avoid giving your dog solid foods when they are having hiccups. They can choke on these foods as well as develop aspiration pneumonia.
  • Do not give your pooch any food or water while they are lying on their back. It can cause choking, and particles can enter the lung.
  • Make sure not to force your dog to drink water if they refuse.
  • Pay closer attention to pet health to keep your dog in good physical and mental health.

How to prevent hiccups in dogs:

Prevention is always the better alternative, and here are some ways to keep the hiccups at bay:

Smaller portions – Pets get excited at mealtimes, and there’s not much you can do to calm them, but eating too fast can give dogs hiccups because they gulp down larger quantities of air with the food. Giving them smaller portions prevents them from scarfing down their food. Feeding them more frequently with less food ensures they do not acquire a large appetite for wolfing down meals. You can also use slow-feeding bowls. These are designed to make eating a little bit tricky, which slows down the pace.

Water intake – You can use water dispensers to slow down their drinking pace.

Low-grain food – Some dogs tend to hiccup when they eat high-grain foods like wheat, corn, or barley. Pay attention to their diet to understand what foods cause hiccups in your dog.

Rest after meals - Physical exertion and overexcitement right after meals can lead to an upset stomach and bring on hiccups. So let your dog rest before any exercises or activities that cause heightened emotions. An hour of rest after meals facilitates proper blood supply of the gastrointestinal tract to help with digestion and absorption of food, as well as for food to travel along the gut freely. When the stomach has time to empty, it reduces pressure on the diaphragm.

Interactive toys – Snuffle mats and puzzle toys help your dog’s natural foraging skills and slow down eating. Hide treats in them to discover on their own.

Regular visits to the vet – Ensure your pooch remains healthy by taking them to the vet for regular checkups. Vaccinations and de-worming reduce the risk of parasites, viruses, and bacterial infections that can also cause hiccups.

Regular exercise – A dog that gets to walk outdoors frequently develops a healthy immune system, lungs, and muscles. Offer them plenty of walks and a chance to stay active.

Understanding dog hiccups helps you stay calm and give your pooch a hand to shake them off. Sometimes, some TLC is all it takes. Nurturing a healthy pup or dog requires a healthy lifestyle. Exercising your dog regularly with outdoor walks is essential to their wellbeing. GoWalkies is your trusted dog walking app with real time tracking and updates from walkers. No more walkie-blues; let your hound have their day out, every day.