Why Your Dog Is Hiccuping, And What To Do About It

why do dogs get hiccups
© Javier Brosch/Shutterstock.com

Written by Sharon Parry

Updated: October 13, 2022

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Have you heard your dog hiccupping and felt a bit worried that they may have something wrong with them? We know that we humans can get hiccups if we eat or drink something too quickly but why do dogs get hiccups? We explain, here, all the possible causes and tell you when you should and should not be worried about your pooch.

What Do Dog Hiccups Sound Like?

According to veterinary experts, your pooch might hiccup if it has wolfed down a scrumptious breakfast way too fast, chugged coconut water at speed, engaged in a rather vigorous recreational session, or sniffed something likely to irritate its airways. It is a sudden and repeated spasm of the diaphragm which is the sheet of thin muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. As the diaphragm contracts, the body makes the distinctive “hic” sound that we are all familiar with.

Dogs can also have silent hiccups where you will see the diaphragm in repeated spasms but there will be no sound. Some dogs burp quite loudly at the same time as hiccupping. If you are not sure if your dog is hiccupping, check out some YouTube videos of dog hiccups so you know what to look out for.

It is important not to confuse retching or even a seizure with hiccups. Retching usually means that your dog is going to vomit and a seizure is a medical emergency. Dogs can also do reverse sneezes and inexperienced dog owners can confuse these with hiccups.

Why Do Dogs Get Hiccups?

Dog hiccups are very normal and most dogs get them at some point. Usually, it is nothing to worry about and will soon pass. Here we’ve detailed the most common causes of hiccups and how you can avoid them in the future.

Eating too quickly

Some dogs are just plain greedy and gulp down their food as fast as they can. Many Labrador Retrievers have this problem but they are not the only breed that does this. When a dog eats too fast, they swallow loads of air which makes their gut expand. This presses on the diaphragm and triggers hiccups. The medical term for swallowing a lot of air is aerophagia. Whilst hiccups may not be a serious medical problem, some of the other consequences of eating too fast are. These include choking and bloat.

Prevention: Make your dog eats slowly by putting their food in a slow feeder bowl. You could also use interactive toys to feed them kibble. Some owners hand feed their dogs as they are training them. This is a highly effective way of building engagement as well as slowing down eating.

Some dogs eat too quickly because they have a medical condition like Cushing’s Disease which needs to be treated by your vet. They may also be unsatisfied with the food that you are giving them so consider swapping to a premium commercial dog food that will make them feel fuller for longer.

why do dogs get hiccups
The hiccups can be caused by playing too excitedly. In most cases, it is not a problem if your dog gets hiccups.

©Mary Swift/Shutterstock.com

Drinking too quickly

In the same way, drinking too quickly results in excess air in the abdomen which presses against the diaphragm. This can cause hiccups.

Prevention: Make sure that your dog has a constant supply of freshwater so that they never get thirsty enough to need to gulp down water. Some dogs do not like plastic bowls so you may want to try a stainless-steel dog water bowl or even a water fountain. For when you are out and about, collapsible travel bowls are very useful.

Excessive thirst in dogs can be a sign of Cushing’s disease but also of diabetes or liver disease and these need to be treated by your vet. If your dog has diabetes, it may need special diabetic dog food. Also, dry food makes dogs more thirsty. If you are concerned that your dog is getting dehydrated you could transition them onto wet food.

Eating hot or cold food

Dogs prefer their food to be around body temperature. They are not always sensible enough to know not to eat things that are too hot or too cold though. The extremes of temperature cause irritation to the pipe that leads from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus) and the nerves around it. This can trigger hiccups.

Prevention: Serve your dog food that is roughly at body temperature. If you are giving them cooked food, let it cool before you put it in their bowl. Food that has been stored in the refrigerator should be allowed to reach room temperature before your dog eats it.

Over excitement and anxiety

Dogs who are stressed, anxious, or too excited have faster heart rates. They also have higher levels of cortisol which is a hormone associated with stress. Cortisol irritates the diaphragm and can make it go into spasms. An excited dog also breathes quickly using only their chest muscles and not its diaphragm. This increases the chance of getting hiccups.

Prevention: Identify what is causing your dog stress. If it is caused by being left alone, you could distract them with toys. You could also try some calming treats to make them feel more relaxed. Some dogs need to be treated by a vet for anxiety.

Excessive gas in the stomach

Some diets result in a lot of gas in the stomach. Is your dog very gassy? This may be the cause of the hiccups. They are a way for the body to get rid of the excess air. If your dog is also burping and blowing off a lot, this could be the cause.

Prevention: You may need to change their diet. Perhaps they have a food sensitivity that is making them produce a lot of gas? A food that is designed to support delicate digestion may help.

Eating spicy foods

Dogs that have eaten highly spiced food often get hiccups. This is often due to the production of gas and irritation of the stomach. Spicy food also makes dogs gulp water which causes hiccups. Any food that contains chili, is likely to contain capsaicin which increases nerve activity in the diaphragm and triggers spasms.

Prevention: Don’t feed human food to your dog unless you are certain that it is safe. There are many human foods (including chocolate) that cause bad reactions in dogs and some can be deadly.

Medical treatment

If you noticed that the hiccupping started just after your dog was prescribed some medication by your vet, this is a likely cause. Several common veterinary medications including antibiotics for infections, corticosteroids, and benzodiazepines can trigger hiccups.

Prevention: Never stop giving prescribed medication to your dog without talking to your vet first. If the hiccups seem to be excessive, have a chat with your vet about it.

Illness and disease

It is rare for hiccups to be caused by an illness, but it can happen. Conditions that affect the lungs and chest can cause hiccups and this includes bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and respiratory defects. They can also be a sign of pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart) or a tumor in the esophagus (food pipe). They can even be triggered if your dog swallows a foreign body (such as a sock) and it lodges in their stomach. Dogs with heatstroke may also develop hiccups.

Prevention: These conditions require treatment by your vet.

why do dogs get the hiccups

Sometimes when your dog gets the hiccups, the only thing to do is to take it to the vet for treatment.

©TercoPics/Shutterstock.com

How To Stop Dog Hiccups

If your dog’s hiccups are lasting more than a few minutes and you want to help them to stop, here are a few things that you can try:

Calm your dog down

Try to get your dog to calm down and regulate its breathing. You can do this with a chest rub or a tummy tickle and by taking them to a quiet place. You should also talk to them in slow, calm, and reassuring tones.

Encourage them to swallow

As in humans, the swallow reflex can interrupt the hiccup spasms and return the diaphragm to normal. You can encourage this by gently massaging your dog’s throat and chest.

Drinking water

Drinking a small amount of room temperature water can help. Try to avoid frantic gulping by giving them a small amount of water at a time.

Sweet liquids

Adding a small amount of honey or maple syrup to some water will encourage your dog to drink and distract their attention. This can disrupt the hiccups. However, never give them a sugar-free product that contains xylitol, as this is toxic for dogs.

What Not To Do When Your Dog Has Hiccups

If your dog has hiccups and is laying on its back, do not give them food or liquids. They could aspirate them (breath them in) during the hiccup spasm. The food/liquid can end up in the lungs where they cause inflammation and breathing problems.

Do not try to feed your dog when they have hiccups. If they have a hiccup spasm as they are swallowing, they could choke or aspirate the food.

When To Worry About Dog Hiccups

Most of the time, dog hiccups are nothing to worry about and can be considered one more goofy and funny thing that your dog does. Rarely, they can be a sign that something is wrong. Here are the warning signs that suggest that you should get in touch with your vet. It’s a good idea to record a video of your dog having the hiccups and any other symptoms in case they have stopped by the time you get to the vet’s surgery.

  • Hiccups that last more than an hour or so
  • Signs that your dog is in pain
  • Hiccups when your dog refuses to eat or drink
  • Hiccups with excessive drooling
  • Vomiting and hiccups
  • Hiccups with wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Hiccups in dogs that have other underlying health conditions such as diabetes

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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