Getting the hiccups can be pretty annoying. You’ve probably noticed that it’s not just a human problem, it can occur in pets too. Generally, they’re just a little bothersome and will go away on their own after a short while. We are going to take a look at why they happen in puppies, and what can be done about them.

What are the hiccups?

During an episode of the hiccups, the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the thorax from the abdomen) contracts in an involuntary manner, this is known as a spasm. As it contracts, the glottis (commonly known as the vocal cords) at the back of the throat snaps shut. This causes a sharp, forced intake of air, which creates the hiccough sound that we are all so familiar with! In both people and pets, the spasms tend to be rhythmical and continue for a few minutes. 

What causes the hiccups?

We still aren’t exactly sure why hiccups continue to exist, as they appear to serve no obvious purpose in either humans or animals. The spasm might be related to some irritation of the diaphragm, perhaps by the stomach (which sits just a little behind it) or from the nerves that innervate (control) the diaphragm, but we still don’t know for sure. 

There are various causes associated with episodes of the hiccups in puppies. Often, they will get an episode of the hiccups because they have eaten or drunk too quickly (causing them to gulp down air at the same time), or because they have gotten too full. In some puppies, the hiccups will also happen when they get over-excited or stressed. Most of the time, they tend to stop as the puppy gets older, in adult dogs we don’t see them so frequently.

Although the hiccups are generally benign, if you notice that your puppy gets them very often, then it’s probably a good idea to get him checked out by your veterinarian. Occasionally, there may be an underlying problem that is causing them, but this is the exception rather than the rule. 

What to do if your puppy has the hiccups

If they happen in your puppy, the hiccups will probably just be a minor annoyance for a few minutes. They shouldn’t cause any great distress and the puppy should continue to breathe and behave normally in between. Unfortunately, during an episode there isn’t much you can do to help stop the hiccups. Stop any play and try to keep the puppy calm by talking to him and stroking him, especially if he seems worried. It’s a good idea to prevent him from eating until the episode has passed, so remove his food bowl temporarily. 

How can they be prevented?

Not all cases of the hiccups can be avoided. However, since they do tend to be associated with rapid eating and gulping air, there are some simple measures you can take to make them less likely to occur. Feeding small, frequent meals can help prevent the stomach from getting too distended. Similarly, feeding from a slow-feeder bowl that has ridges or nooks to get the food out from, can help to slow down a rapid eater. Slowing down the puppy’s rate of eating should help to prevent them from swallowing air at the same time. 

It’s also a good idea to let the puppy rest after eating, make sure that you don’t exercise him or play with him for about an hour or so afterwards. Rest will maximise blood supply to the gastrointestinal tract, helping effective digestion and absorption of food, and allowing it to move through the guts nicely. This gives the stomach some time to empty, thereby reducing the pressure on the diaphragm which sits just in front. 

Could my puppy’s hiccups be anything else?

Sometimes it’s not easy to tell the difference between coughing, regurgitation (bringing up undigested food), vomiting or reverse sneezing. hiccups are generally a soft, rhythmical sound that will often continue for various minutes. The puppy shouldn’t have any other signs of being unwell nor should they bring up any food or water. If you’re not sure whether what your puppy is experiencing is the hiccups or something else, book them in with your vet to be safe. 

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