Ask a Vet: Puppy Hiccups and What to Do About Them

Veterinarian Dr. Marc Siebert, owner and medical director of Heart of Chelsea Animal Hospital in New York City, and one of his staff vets, Dr. Amy Crain, recently agreed to answer my questions about puppy hiccups and more. I first met Dr. Siebert in 2003 when I got my little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Buddy, who is still thriving under his care. Dr. Siebert is the loving owner of Barry, the Boston Terrier pictured above. “I named my dog after an Allan Sherman song, “Barry Is The Baby’s Name,” said Dr. Siebert. “But don’t write that.” (After persuading him to let me include that, I learned that Allan Sherman was a 1960s Jewish folk singer,  who also sang the more famous tune, “Hello Muddah Hello Faddah.”)

Dr. Crain has also tended to my still puppy-like Buddy for nine years. I know Buddy loves her because he slobbers her with kisses. My Bud has a tendency to sneak bacteria-ridden food off the dirty Manhattan pavement, or swallow objects that were never meant to be eaten. Therefore, the Buddster and I are no stranger to vet visits, x-rays and antibiotics.

Dorri Olds: Is it cause for alarm when a puppy gets the hiccups?

Dr. Marc Siebert: Puppy hiccups are normal and usually stop on their own. Puppies get them just like babies do. A hiccup is an abnormal contraction of the diaphragm — it’s a spasm of that muscle. Just like when you get a Charlie horse spasm in your leg and it goes away in a minute or two. Hiccups are like that.

What’s happening when a puppy hiccups?

Just like with humans, when the puppy breathes in, the diaphragm contracts. This pulls the lungs down. Then, while breathing out, the lungs deflate. A hiccup is an abnormal spasm of that muscle caused by an abnormal amount of air getting into the esophagus. How does that happen? From drinking water too fast or eating too quickly.

What else can cause hiccupping?

Dr. Amy Crain: It could be from the upper GI tract; a stomach disorder like gastric reflux, or an upset stomach could be the culprit.

Can a puppy get hiccups from being overly excited?

Dr. Crain: Yes, playing too hard, getting too excited. Hiccups can also be caused by nervousness, anxiety, or any other emotional distress.

How can you tell when you should take the puppy to the vet?

Dr. Siebert: If your dog has frequent or persistent hiccups, it may be an indication of a more serious cause, such as asthma, pneumonia, pericarditis, stroke or hypothermia, so it is important to see a vet if your puppy's hiccups persist.

Do you remember when I called about weird inhaling gasping noises that Buddy was making?

Dr. Siebert: Yes, those were reverse hiccups, or more commonly called reverse sneezing, sound like fast deep inhales or rapid snorts. The exact cause isn’t known but it’s most likely due to sinus irritation, an allergy, or a dog trying to clear mucus out. It can also happen from over-excitement. It sounds alarming but is hardly ever cause for concern.

What can an owner do about reverse sneezes?

Dr. Crain: Calming the puppy down is always a great place to start. You can rub the dog’s sides and back and try softly blowing in the puppy’s face.

Dr. Siebert: Certain breeds have more breathing problems than others.

Which breeds?

All short-nosed, flat-faced dog breeds tend to have breathing issues: Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese, Shih Tzus and Boxers.

Do you have favorite dog breeds that you can recommend as pets?

Dr. Siebert: I never met a Cavalier I didn’t like.

You’re just saying that because of Buddy!

Dr. Siebert: No, it’s true. Cavaliers are always sweet. Poodles are loyal and smart. Dachshunds are friendly and outgoing; they always want to be on your lap. English Bulldogs are easy going, happy and carefree [Smiles at Barry]. Labradors are brilliant.

Now, just for fun, do you have any favorite dog books or movies to recommend?

Dr. Siebert: My favorite movie is “My Dog Skip.” It’s a tearjerker and every time I see it, I cry. As for books, the best dog training book is “How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend: The Classic Training Manual for Dog Owners.”

Dr. Crain: There’s a great movie starring Richard Gere, Joan Allen and an Akita Inu pup. It’s called, “Hachi: A Dog's Tale” and it’s about a lovable lost dog and is based on a true story.

For more advice on puppy hiccups and raising puppies visit the Heart of Chelsea Animal Hospital website.

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