Seasoned pet owners have experienced the light “bounce” around their pet’s stomach, or the squeaky noise that indicates their dog or cat has a case of the hiccups. At first it can be strange or unnerving, appearing to be an involuntary twinge, but hiccupping is completely normal and rather common amongst pets. The reaction occurs when there is a spasm in the diaphragm, causing air to rush into the lungs and make the “hiccup” noise. (The word is an onomatopoeia, after all!) Below are the symptoms and causes of this bizarre physical reaction.

Signs of Hiccups

  • A bouncy spasm visible in the abdominal region
  • Light “chirping” or “squeaky” noise when they breathe, while the spasm occurs
  • Wheezing sound when breathing

Common Causes For Hiccups

Growing pains: Hiccups occur most often in puppies for roughly the first 8 months of their life while they dogs are maturing. Both puppies and kittens also tend to get hiccups because of how they drink their mother’s milk, gulping down substance and air simultaneously. This causes both bloating, tummy aches, and hiccups.

Hairballs (Cats only): When the cat is attempting to dispel the growing the hairball, air can get trapped or the hair can agitate the throat in the process, causing a hiccup-attack. Similarly, dogs (though hairballs are less of an issue), they love to chew random objects which can get stuck in their mouths or throats, causing irritation and the uneven breathing that leads to hiccups.

Overeating: Cats and dogs both tend to struggle with overeating, leading to obesity, one of the most common ailments in pets. Eager eaters enthusiastically devouring food, results in the morsels not be fully being chewed before it is swallowed, causing the animal to swallow plenty of air along the way.

Excitement: Meeting new people, running around and playing fun games, or exploring a new location can be very thrilling for pets. The combination of exercising and heightened excitement is a major cause of hiccups in domestic pets.

Emotional Stress: If the cat or dog is in some state of emotional distress, this can also cause hiccupping. Some circumstances which may trigger this reaction would be: if the pet is in a new place, or a new family member or pet has just arrived, or if the thunder and lightning are raging outside, or if the pet is a recovering abuse victim, etc.

Separation Anxiety: Another way nerves can cause hiccups, is through separation anxiety. If the animal is traumatized when left alone, this can give him an upset stomach, or shallow or uneven breathing, resulting in a case of the hiccups.

Hypothermia: When a pet’s temperature drops, either by falling into cold water, or suddenly being exposed to frigid weather, their breathing changes. Short, frantic breathing from hypothermia sometimes causes hiccups, which is another reason to be aware that pools, lakes, rivers and oceans are a serious summertime threats to pets.

*NOTE: A dog or cat’s cough is also sometimes mistaken for hiccups, though coughing is usually a more concerning symptom of an illness.

Dangerous Causes for Hiccups

Though it is uncommon, hiccups can indicate a legitimate health concern that is worth noting. When an attack of hiccups is sudden and severe, or if it is a chronic problem, the dog or cat may potentially be suffering from one of the conditions below:

  • respiratory defects
  • pneumonia
  • tumor
  • nerve damage
  • asthma
  • heart stroke
  • pericarditis

NOTE: A long-lasting case of hiccups causes contracting spasms of the stomach, which can lead to nausea and vomit. If your cat or dog has been battling the hiccups for over an hour, consider taking him to the vet.