Hiccups are an annoying but perfectly normal part of life. If you've never had hiccups (which is highly unlikely), they can best be described as a sudden, sharp intake of air that occurs as a spasm. They're unpredictable, uncontrollable, and untreatable.
Usually, hiccups occur in humans after eating or drinking too much, and there's no quick way to get rid of them. You just have to ride 'em out and wait until these spasms pass on their own. Old wives' tales like giving someone with hiccups a fright to cure them, holding your breath, or drinking water have little to no scientific basis and aren't always helpful.
But what about when your dog or puppy gets them? Is it normal for dogs to get hiccups? When should you start worrying?
Why do dogs get hiccups?
Much like in humans, dog hiccups result from a spasm in the diaphragm, a domed muscular strip that lies beneath the lungs. These spasms cause jerking of the opening between the vocal cords and causes the familiar 'hic' sound.
No one really understands why humans and dogs hiccup, but there are some theories around what causes hiccups. Dog hiccups can be caused by eating or drinking too quickly, getting overly excited, over-exertion from playing, stress and anxiety, or gastric problems like gas or upset.
A few theories postulate that hiccups are a residual reflex from when the fetus develops within its mother's womb and is a way to prepare and test out the muscles involved in breathing.
This theory may explain why puppies experience hiccups more than adult dogs.
Puppy hiccups: why do puppies get hiccups?
Another theory regarding puppy hiccups is that they're one way for your pup to relieve any discomfort in their tummy or relieve gas.
It's also likely that puppies get hiccups more often than grown dogs because they tend to get a little overexcited at mealtimes and scarf down too much food too quickly. Also, puppies are prone to bursts of movement or excitement, which may affect their breathing.
As your puppy gets older, the frequency of hiccups should decrease.
My dog has hiccups: how can I help?
Wondering how to get rid of dog hiccups? Just like in humans, there's no natural remedy for dog hiccups. Some home remedies for humans include holding your breath or being startled, but there's no real scientifically proven way to get rid of hiccups.
Your dog's hiccups will more than likely go away on their own, so there's no need to try to give your dog a fright and traumatize them. Usually, hiccups will pass after a few minutes, but there are things you can do that may provide some relief.
Tummy rubs – getting your pooch to lie on their back and giving them a good tummy rub can help their breathing return to normal and offer some relief from the hiccups.
Water – as with humans, drinking water may help. Make sure your dog has access to fresh water, but keep an eye on them, so they don't drink too much or too fast.
Soft food – if your dog has aggressive hiccups, avoid feeding them hard treats or food that requires a lot of chewing until the hiccups have passed to prevent the risk of choking. Instead, stick to soft snacks until the hiccups have passed.
Light exercise – a gentle walk can help change your dog's breathing and relieve the hiccups.
Distractions – adding sweetness to their water can be a pleasant distraction that can potentially help relax your pup's breathing. Adding something like tiny amounts of honey to their water can help with the added benefit of soothing your dog's throat. Be careful to check ingredient labels for Xylitol, a common sugar substitute that is extremely harmful to canines.
While hiccups, especially in puppies, seem to spasm the entire little body, your dog is probably less bothered by them than you are. Hiccups don't hurt your dog and are perfectly normal.
Dogs and hiccups: when to worry
If your dog's hiccups change to a wheezing sound, or if your dog seems to be having difficulty breathing or their breathing becomes irregular, it's best to get the problem checked out by a qualified veterinarian.
In very rare cases, hiccups in dogs can be a sign of something more severe. If your pup has hiccups that last longer than a few hours or recur frequently, it may be time to call your veterinarian.
Regular and extended bouts of dog hiccups accompanied by reverse sneezing, coughing, or heavy breathing (not related to exercise) can signify potential pneumonia, asthma, or pericarditis.
Heatstroke is another serious condition that can be triggered by overexertion, particularly on hot days. That's why you should always be careful during hot weather and follow heat safety tips. Usually, heatstroke is more common in dogs with a dark coat and breeds with short muzzles, like French and English bulldogs and Chinese pugs. If your pup is highly active on a hot day and presents with hiccups that don't pass, it's time to call the vet.
Parasites can also cause hiccups accompanied by other gastrointestinal symptoms, like constipation, diarrhea, and vomiting. Other signs to look for are a decreased appetite and lethargy.
It's common for first-time dog owners to be concerned by common occurrences like hiccups. Many vets get frequent calls from new dog parents asking about all kinds of things. When it comes to the health and well-being of your pet, it's always better to err on the side of caution and reach out for advice if you're concerned about anything.
Preventing dog hiccups
While there's no way to prevent hiccups in dogs altogether, there are some things that you can do to decrease the chances of your dog getting hiccups.
Dogs and pups most often get hiccups from eating or drinking too fast. If your dog is a little over-enthusiastic at mealtimes, there are some things you can do to slow them down and prevent them from gobbling down their food or water too quickly.
Less food more often: keeping portions small and more frequent can help to pace your pup's food. Not only does this shorten that gap between food times and prevent your dog from getting too hungry, but it also limits the amount of food available to gobble.
Slow feeders: these handy gadgets are designed to regulate your dog's consumption and slow them down. A slow feeder bowl might have ridges, pockets, and raised elements to force your dog to take their time instead of hoovering up their food in a hurry. These fun bowls also make mealtimes interesting for your pooch.
Puzzle toys: these stimulating interactive toys come in various shapes and sizes to challenge and entertain dogs and puppies while rewarding them with a snack on success. A decent puzzle toy not only ensures that your dog remains stimulated and challenged, but it can be used to slow down mealtimes too.
Snuffle mat: much likes puzzle toys, snuffle mats tap into your dog's natural instinct to forage and sniff out food. These mats are great for slowing down mealtimes and stimulating your pooch at the same time. You can also use a snuffle mat for dog training, making it a win-win solution for some dog owners.
Another way to prevent hiccups in dogs is to take your dog for regular check-ups at the vet. Ensuring that your dog is up to date with their vaccinations and deworming can help prevent hiccups by keeping parasites at bay.
It's also essential to build a strong relationship with your vet. Having a treatment history with one vet can go a long way to spotting issues early on. Regular visits also allow you to ask any questions or address any concerns you may have about your dog, however small or seemingly trivial.
Final thoughts on dog hiccups
Hiccups are perfectly normal in dogs and frequently occur as a result of eating or drinking too quickly. Puppies experience hiccups on average more often than their adult counterparts, mainly due to their excitable nature and enthusiasm.
For the most part, dog hiccups are not harmful and pose no cause for concern. Still, hiccups that occur frequently or last for longer than an hour or two should be investigated, as this may be an indication of a more serious underlying condition. The sooner these concerns are addressed, the better.
Like in humans, there's no way to cure hiccups in dogs, but there are some ways to provide relief. If your dog frequently experiences hiccups due to eating or drinking too quickly, there are some things you can do to slow down mealtimes, thereby preventing hiccups. Slow feeders, puzzle toys, and snuffle mats can deliver meals at a slower pace while also stimulating and engaging your dog's natural instincts to forage and work for their food.
As always, if you're at all concerned about your dog's health, it's always better to reach out to your veterinarian for advice.