Are you sometimes awakened by the sound of your dog hiccupping—making hiccup noises as he sleeps?
Are you concerned that this hiccupping (or what seems like hiccupping) could point to a larger health problem?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should first know that you are definitely not alone.
Many pet owners have expressed concern regarding this issue, and you might be relieved to know that this hiccupping behavior is actually fairy common.
To help you make more sense of this topic, in this article, among other information, we will explain what typically causes hiccups in dogs and clarify some of the reasons why they might engage in this involuntary action while sleeping.
We will also point out some of the underlying health conditions that may lead to frequent hiccupping.
Dogs and Hiccups
If you were to type the question, “can dogs get hiccups” into Google or your favorite search engine, you would undoubtedly encounter hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and web pages poised to answer this question for you.
And the answer on all of them (if they are reputable sites) would be a resounding YES.
Just like their human owners—and for many of the same reasons—dogs can indeed come down with a case of the hiccups.
So what causes hiccups in dogs (and humans)?
Well, the official medical answer, at least according to veterinarians (and doctors), is that hiccups are caused by “involuntary contractions of the diaphragm.”
In anatomical terms, the diaphragm is an active muscle that can be found between the bottom of the chest cavity and the top of the abdomen.
We call this an active muscle because it moves every time we take in air. Inhaling forces the diaphragm downward to allow oxygen to fill the lungs, and as we exhale, the muscle moves back into place between these two cavities.
In rare cases, however, air can become trapped in the space between the chest and the abdomen, causing the diaphragm to contract abnormally and leading to hiccups.
In addition to the above-described medical reason for hiccups, there are also several circumstances and events that can often lead to the onset of a hiccup spell in our four-legged friends.
These circumstances, which collectively cause the normal breathing pattern to be disrupted, include:
- Excitement. When dogs become excited, they can sometimes forget to breathe normally, and this abnormality can lead to a case of the hiccups.
- Stress. Just as excitement can cause breathing to be cut short or interrupted, so too can a stressful situation.
- Eating. Many dogs are so excited and ravished when they begin to dig into their morning or nightly meal that they forget to breathe. This interruption can cause air to become trapped and the result is involuntary movement of the diaphragm.
These are just a few of the many reasons that may cause a dog to hiccup when awake.
Next, we will dig into the more pertinent issue of hiccupping while asleep.
Dogs, Hiccups, and Sleep
Now that we understand some of the biological and behavioral reasons for hiccups in dogs, let’s tackle the subject as it relates to sleep.
Oftentimes, as we pointed out in the introduction, a dog may begin hiccupping in his sleep.
This can be brought about by vivid or disturbing dreams, by an underlying health condition, or sometimes because of air shortages caused by snoring or breathing difficulties that trigger movement of the diaphragm.
Sleep in dogs is a time for the body and mind to rest and recharge.
It is also a period of reset—a time to reestablish the natural order and give the bodily systems an opportunity to retune after a long day awake.
And for dogs that are prone to excitable, nervous or stressful energy, and for the pooches that tend to gobble their food as if it’s their last meal on this earth, sometimes sleep cannot come quick enough.
The emotional, lively or even anxious moments of the day, coupled with rapid and reckless eating, can all cause air (gas) to become trapped underneath the diaphragm.
Usually, that air will escape naturally during the night through belching or flatulence, but sometimes it can trigger movement of the diaphragm and the resultant hiccupping.
This is especially true when a dog reaches the deepest phase of sleep—a phase known as REM sleep.
For dogs that are prone to fitfulness, either while awake or asleep, REM sleep can be a welcome miracle, one that allows air to escape and gives the body a chance to recharge.
While sleep hiccups can affect every breed of dog at any age, the behavior is much more common in puppies.
This should not be surprising given the information you have read thus far.
Puppies are definitely more susceptible to excitable and/or anxious behavior, and they are twice as likely to nosh their food quickly without a single thought given to the necessary practice of breathing.
As a result, trapped gas, which may present as hiccups, is far more likely to plague the younger set.
Underlying Conditions That Can Cause Hiccups in Dogs
When your sleeping dog comes down with a case of the hiccups, in most cases there is absolutely no cause for concern.
Most hiccupping is 100-percent normal and does not represent anything more than the obvious.
So when should you become concerned about hiccupping in dogs?
Well, if the hiccups become a nightly ritual rather than a one-off occurrence, it could point to some type of underlying health issue.
Some of these health issues include:
- Gastrointestinal disorder. There are scores of stomach and intestinal disorders, many of which lead to vomiting and diarrhea, that can also bring about hiccups.
- Parasitic infection. Hiccups while sleeping can sometimes be caused by intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms and tape worms.
- Respiratory problems. Conditions ranging from bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, to even heat stroke, may present with nightly hiccups.
While the occasional bout of hiccups at night is usually benign and requires no action on your part, chronic hiccupping can definitely point to an underlying health issue—one that should be immediately brought to the attention of your vet.