Ask the Vet: Why Do Puppies Get Hiccups?

Dr. Ivana Crnec

Many puppies get hiccups, and as cute as they can be, they can cause new puppy owners to wonder about what causes them to occur so frequently compared to adult dogs. So what's up with puppies getting hiccups, and most of all, what can be done to reduce their frequency?

When puppies get hiccups, that often evokes giggles in many puppy owners, but why do puppies get hiccups in the first place? What causes that funny sound? Veterinarian Dr. Ivana discusses hiccups in puppies and their potential causes. 

A Closer Insight 

Is there anything cuter than a puppy? Well, yes, there is –that's a puppy having hiccups! Wait, but aren’t hiccups a human thing? Just like humans, puppies, adult dogs and many other mammal species can develop hiccups.

More often than not, the hiccups are self-limiting, transient and even helpful. However, if they are persistent, occur frequently or are accompanied by other more worrisome symptoms, it might be a good idea to play it safe and schedule a vet visit.

What are hiccups though and why do they occur? Hiccups occur when the diaphragm (the muscle separating the chest and abdomen) involuntarily constricts. 

The constriction of the diaphragm makes the glottis (the windpipe’s lid) close in an abrupt manner. The abrupt closing is what produces that well-known "hic" sound. 

When do hiccups develop? More often than not, hiccups occur when the puppy is:

  •  Eating or drinking too fast which leads to swallowing extra air
  •  Too tired, too stressed or too excited
  • Staying in a cold environment for a prolonged period of time. 

Why Do Puppies Get Hiccups?

Why do hiccups develop? Scientists cannot agree on the exact cause that triggers this peculiar phenomenon. There is a popular theory that hiccups are a remnant from the pup’s fetal development. 

It is a well-established fact that pups experience hiccups during their stay in the uterus. This theory suggests that during these early developmental phases, the hiccups serve as a way of testing the breathing muscles and their proper functioning – something like "test-driving the breathing process."

Another popular theory suggests that hiccups are the pup’s way of eliminating gases, thus, relieving an upset and irritated tummy.

It is a known fact that puppies are more prone to getting hiccups than adult dogs. The above described theory that hiccups are a leftover from the fetal development stage might explain why hiccups are more common among puppies.

Recently, veterinarians are favoring a new theory – pups are more prone to getting hiccups than adult dogs because they are more likely to engage in highly energetic, vigorous play sessions. When the pup is physically active, he or she starts breathing rapidly and that unusual breathing pattern triggers hiccups. This theory is supported by statistics suggesting that hyperactive pups get hiccups more often than calm and even-tempered pups.

As the pup grows he or she outgrows his/her hiccup episodes. Namely, over time, puppies experience hiccups less frequently and then eventually get hiccups on extremely rare occasions or even not at all. 

How to Stop Hiccups in Puppies?

There are several efficient ways of stopping those cute, yet annoyingly uncomfortable hiccups. These are the most popular approaches:

• Give your puppy a spoonful of maple syrup, karo syrup or honey. These sugary and tasty edibles help by coating the throat and soothing the irritation linked with the hiccups. Since dogs of all ages like sweet things, offering one of the above listed treats will serve as a good distraction. Once the puppy is distracted, it will calm down and its breathing will slow down thus correcting the breathing pattern believed to trigger hiccups. 

 Alternatively, if you do not have honey or syrups, offer a bowl of fresh water. Just make sure the puppy drinks slowly and calmly – swallowing too much air while voraciously drinking will aggravate the already bad situation.

• Keep your pup’s irregular breathing pattern under control. Do anything what makes your dog slow down and remain calm – from laying on the back and getting relaxing belly rubs through massaging the chest to going out on a mellow walk.

• Use slow feeding bowl. Gulping down on food is one of the most common causes of hiccups in puppies. To prevent their occurrence, make sure your puppy eat slowly. One way of achieving this is by using specifically designed slow feeding bowls. The same concept applies to water.

With that being said, it is time to say a word or two about what not to do when managing a hiccupping pup. There are popular misconceptions that startling the pup or pulling its tongue out will make the hiccups go away. Not only these approaches are inefficient, but they are likely to make the pup more uncomfortable than the actual hiccupping.

When Are Puppy Hiccups a Concern?

When are hiccups in puppies turning into a health concern? Hiccups should not be taken lightly in the following situations:

• When they last for more than 30, or even 60 minutes

• When they occur too frequently (daily or even several times per day), especially in adult dogs

• When they are accompanied by any of the following:

- Breathing issues (such as sneezing, reverse sneezing, coughing and heavy breathing) that are not related with strenuous exercise and physical activity.

-Gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea or constipation and loss of appetite.

If what your pup is experiencing fits into any of the above described scenarios, a vet visit is warranted.

Is It Really a Hiccup?

More often than not, hiccupping is mistaken with reverse sneezing. Reverse sneezing in dogs is the process opposite of regular sneezing –the medical term is self-explanatory. Simply put, reverse sneezing occurs when the dog breaths in air too fast and without control.

Differentiating between hiccups and reverse sneezing can be challenging, especially for first time puppy parents. If not sure whether your beloved furry baby is having a hiccup episode or a bout of reverse sneezing, use your smartphone to record the episode and then consult with your trusted vet.

Concluding Thoughts

Hiccups are not just normal – they are in fact, helpful and even alleviating. More common among pups than among adult dogs, hiccups are a temporary and usually a self-limiting condition.

However, sometimes when observing a pup with hiccups there might be more than what meets the eye. If your beloved pup is having particularly long or frequent hiccup episodes or is experiencing additional signs and symptoms, it is highly advisable to make a trip to the vet’s office and have your pup thoroughly examined.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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