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Why do puppies hiccup?


When does a hiccup go from cute to concerning?

What even is a hiccup?

And why do puppies hiccup, anyway?

If you’ve ever asked yourself one or more of these questions, you’re not alone. Especially if you’re new to puppy parenting, there’s a lot to learn and a lot of changes in a short period of time. Don’t worry—we’re here for you.

To understand why puppies hiccup (a lot, at night, after eating, when they wake up, and so on), it’s helpful to learn what a hiccup is in the first place.

What is a hiccup?

At some point, all of us have experienced a sudden and sometimes painful “hic.” So what’s up with hiccups?

Hiccups are involuntary contractions of the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen.

EXPERT TIP: If your dog is ever in a car accident it’s wise to have them checked out by a veterinarian… even if they seem completely fine. Sometimes accidents can cause tears or damage to the diaphragm, increasing the risk of abdominal organs encroaching on the chest cavity.

To get even more technical, hiccups are myoclonus. This is a fancy way of saying they’re a quick, involuntary muscle jerk of the diaphragm. An especially big hiccup may also involve the intercostal muscles between the ribs.

Before we discuss the diaphragm, it’s important we be clear that hiccups are, for the most part, totally normal. Everybody hiccups.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive into the diaphragm.

Diaphragms are best known for their role in allowing our dogs—and us—to breathe, but did you know the diaphragm is also a barrier between the chest and abdominal organs? Your dog’s lungs prefer to be kept separate from the liver and stomach.

The mechanisms of a hiccup stay the same across a dog’s lifespan, but interestingly enough their prevalence seems to change based on factors like age and time of day.

Next, let’s tackle a few of the most frequently asked puppy hiccup questions.

Why do puppies get hiccups?

It’s safe to say no one really has the answer to this question (yet, anyway), but there are a couple theories as to why puppies get hiccups more than adult dogs. We’ll address those in a minute.

Remember: hiccups are a normal part of the growing process, and episodes—despite often only lasting a few minutes—tend to become fewer and farther between over time.

Why do puppies get hiccups a lot?

Puppyhood is a time of rapid growth, both physical and mental. The diaphragm and other organs responsible for breathing are early in the queue to support this critical function. However, there is research to support that the phrenic nerve (a special nerve providing motor control over the diaphragm) may be immature during the early stages of puppyhood. Because of this, the nerve may be more easily stretched or irritated, leading to an increase in hiccup episodes.

Why do puppies get hiccups after eating?

This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to puppies. Imagine this: you’ve just finished a special Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and are relishing in the feeling of a full belly, when suddenly a bad case of the hiccups hits. Sound familiar?

EXPERT TIP: If your puppy is teething and their gums are sore, they may chew even less than usual. This may explain an otherwise mysterious onset of hiccups!

There is reason to believe that, like humans, the same things that irritate your puppy’s diaphragm may also cause hiccups. This includes eating too quickly, eating too much, or even eating certain foods.

You may have a hiccup-prone puppy on your hands if they inhale food in the blink of an eye, often forgetting to chew what they’re eating.

Whatever the cause, an irritation to the stomach or throat after a meal can also irritate the diaphragm, which in turn may bring on a bout of the hiccups.

Another food-related cause of the hiccups may be a full stomach after a big meal, given its proximity to the diaphragm.

Why do puppies get hiccups when they wake up?

EXPERT TIP: If you’re also a parent to little humans, you’ll likely find the same theory applies to your children, too. Like kids, puppies tend to outgrow their frequent hiccup episodes.

When your puppy wakes up from a sleep, do they immediately launch into a big stretch and excitedly bound around the house ready for some snuggles or stimulation?

Just like how eating too fast can trigger the diaphragm, a deep downward dog stretch or even general excitement can also bring on hiccups. Puppies tend to inhale a large amount of air somewhat suddenly when they’re playing, vocalizing, eating… pretty much anything that may tickle their phrenic nerve. This movement jerks the diaphragm down, prompting a hiccup (big or small).

Why do puppies get hiccups at night?

Another quick anatomy refresher: dogs have 13 ribs. Floating ribs are a physical characteristic of their last rib which, unlike the others, does not extend all the way around to the front part of the ribcage. These little ribs are therefore much more mobile and flexible than the others.

Some call it an old wive’s tale, but it’s possible that since a puppy’s 13th rib is more mobile at its anchor, it may rub against the diaphragm and trigger hiccups when they lay on their side. The jury’s still out on this one.

When should I be concerned about puppy hiccups?

Even though puppy hiccups are common, there does come a point where they may be cause for concern. If hiccup episodes are happening more than five times a day, or your pup is being startled awake by hiccups, it’s best to book in with your family veterinarian. Nobody wants to be dealing with a grumpy, sleep-deprived puppy, but worse than that is the possibility of other, more serious conditions like a sliding diaphragmatic hernia. This happens when your puppy is in the womb; the diaphragm doesn’t completely close, creating an opportunity for the stomach to sneak its way into the chest to pay the diaphragm an unwanted visit.

As we mentioned earlier, the older your dog gets, the fewer the bouts of hiccuping they should experience. Consult with your veterinarian if things seem out of the ordinary; your vet may recommend a gastrointestinal workup or a neurological exam.

Puppy hiccup remedies

EXPERT TIP: If you’re not sure which slow feeding accessory is right for your puppy (and you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of options), spare yourself the stress and subscribe to Waggle Mail Puppy packs. Our monthly puppy subscription boxes are filled with vet-curated and milestone-specific products that will help your puppy feel and feed their best.

Did you know there are things you can do from home to help manage puppy hiccups? Here are a few that get our stamp of approval:

  1. If your puppy will cooperate, try putting them on their back and gently roll back and forth a few times. If this works, the extra belly rubs are a bonus.
  2. Put ½ tsp of sugar under or on the back of your puppy’s tongue. Watch out for their little chompers!
  3. Slow down their eating with a maze bowl, treat ball or treat cube, or by elevating their food dish so they need to extend their neck more to eat.
  4. Separate meals into smaller portions and try feeding more frequently throughout the day.

Like what you read? Share it with a fellow puppy parent! While you’re at it, subscribe to Waggle (e)Mail for even more tips, techniques, and treats for puppy parents.

Signature of Dr. Christine Beck, DVM, BSc, Veterinarian; Founder and Operator of Waggle Mail

Dr. C. Beck
Registered Veterinarian, Founder & CEO

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