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Can Cats Get Hiccups? (When? Why?)

Updated November 6, 2022
Can Cats Get Hiccups? (When? Why?)

Hiccups aren’t a uniquely human affliction – cats can get hiccups, too. But are cat hiccups normal? Not really.

Some cat hiccup causes are relatively harmless, while others require urgent veterinary intervention.

Hiccups may appear hilarious, but only until they affect us. Then, they become plain annoying and even frustrating. Cats don’t enjoy them either, so the owner’s job is to help their pet stop hiccupping.

Cat hiccups look different from human hiccups. A person who has never witnessed this phenomenon can easily confuse it with gagging.

If your cat has hiccups, consider whether it displays other behavioral or physical abnormalities and note how long the hiccupping last.

How Hiccups Occur

Understanding how hiccups occur helps to understand why they affect cats. Hiccups in cats and humans work the same way. They occur in the diaphragm, the muscle between the lungs and stomach.

In normal circumstances, the diaphragm pulls down when you inhale air and returns to its usual position when air is exhaled. But if something irritates the diaphragm, it can spasm, making you rapidly suck air into your throat.

The air hits the voice box, creating the distinct “hic!”. However, cat hiccups look a bit different from human hiccups. Unlike humans, cats don’t typically make the “hic!” sound but more if a “gulp” or “chirp.”

A cat with hiccups looks like it is about to gag a hairball, making spasmatic head motions. At first, you can easily confuse hiccups with a hairball problem, but hiccups are persistent and don’t necessarily occur due to hairballs.

Hiccup causes in cats (and humans) are both physiological and emotional. The actual diaphragm irritation doesn’t happen in the muscle but in the nerve connecting the diaphragm to the brain.

Cats can get hiccups because of overeating, hairballs, anxiety, stress, gastroenteric upset, diabetes, and numerous other reasons.

Sometimes, cats even get hiccups from purring because it produces more saliva that irritates the trachea.

In other words, hiccupping is a neurological problem that affects the respiratory system. Hiccups can occur due to severe central nervous system disorders like encephalitis, stroke, and brain injuries.

Usually, hiccups are temporary, but sometimes, they stick around because of nerve damage aggravation. So, while hiccups are usually not a big cause for concern, they sometimes require urgent medical attention.

Overeating

The most common reason for a cat hiccupping is eating too much or too fast. Some kitties are gluttons and will wolf down their food without even chewing it properly. Consequently, they swallow too much air, which causes hiccups.

Cats overeat for numerous reasons. Some felines are naturally food-motivated, while in others, overeating signals a medical condition. If your cat has always been crazy about food, there’s nothing to worry about, but you should deal with this habit regardless.

However, if your cat started eating more than usual or too fast all of a sudden, have it checked by a vet because it could be a symptom of diabetes, hyperthyroidism, bowel disorders, intestinal parasites, pancreatitis, or cancer.

Sometimes, overeating is a psychological problem triggered by loneliness, boredom, anxiety, stress, or fear.

If your cat started eating too much after moving houses, getting lost, or getting acquainted with a new pet in the house, this is the most plausible reason.

Some cat breeds love to eat more than others, including Persian, Burmese, Turkish van, Ragdoll, Bengal, and British shorthair.

Cats that live together with other cats often eat too fast because they are concerned someone will take away their food.

Assuming your cat doesn’t suffer from a medical condition, feed your cat in smaller servings more times a day. You can get an automatic feeder if you don’t work from home.

Free-feeding often leads to overeating because not all cats can understand when they’re full. Reevaluate how much your cat eats daily – some owners don’t even realize how much they’re overfeeding their pets.

Ensure that your cat gets enough nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. If your pet’s diet is deficient in particular nutrients, your cat may be trying to replenish their levels by eating more.

Consider a slow-feeding bowl if your cat eats too fast and gets hiccups. Such bowls also provide extra stimulation for cats that overeat out of boredom.

If your cat is overeating because of stress, help your furry friend regain its emotional well-being by giving it more attention. Play with your cat daily, pet it, and reduce exposure to triggers.

Get an individual bowl for every cat in your household to prevent your pets from stressing when eating. Felines are territorial animals and can begin a fight because of food.

If you notice any other abnormalities in your cat’s appearance or behavior, such as lethargy, weakness, and loss of interest in play, bring your pet to a vet.

Hairballs

Hairballs are a widespread issue among longhaired cats or kitties with an overgrooming habit.

Although they are common, they are not to be taken lightly. In normal circumstances, hair passes through a cat’s gastroenteric tract without any problems.

Sometimes, hair gets stuck in a cat’s throat, and when the cat tries to expel it, the hair irritates the diaphragm nerves.

If your cat has a known hairball problem, the solution to hiccups is to deal with excessive hairball accumulation.

Brush your cat regularly to remove dead fur stuck in its coat. The less hair ends up in your cat’s gastroenteric tract, the less likely it is to get hiccups.

Longhaired cats need to be brushed daily with a slicker brush and every other day with a de-shedding tool during seasonal shedding periods. A haircut is another solution for longhaired cats.

Additionally, you may give your cat a hairball formula that improves the coat quality, reduces shedding intensity, and helps hairballs pass through the system.

If your cat’s hairballs are a result of a fastidious grooming routine, identify the root of the habit. Try to substitute compulsive grooming for another enjoyable activity, such as playing with a chew toy, and reduce exposure to triggers.

Anxiety

Hiccups are widespread in anxious cats. Cats experience anxiety when they sense danger, but the danger isn’t always apparent.

Feline anxiety can be caused by physical pain, medical condition, exposure to toxic substances, traumatic experiences, lack of socialization, loneliness, jealousy, and stress.

Apart from hiccups, the symptoms of cat anxiety include trembling, withdrawal and hiding, loss of interest in play, attempts to escape, gastroenteric upset, tail flicking or tail pressed down to the body, dilated pupils, and destructive behavior.

Cats with anxiety resulting from an obsessive-compulsive disorder may chew things, meow repetitively, pace around, or overgroom themselves.

The goal, in this case, is to help a cat feel safe in its surroundings. Ensure that your kitty has a cozy bed in a quiet, uncrowded area, give it its favorite toys, and consult with a vet regarding anti-anxiety medications.

Causes for Concern

Although hiccups aren’t necessarily a cause for concern, learn when to see a vet for cat hiccups to avoid missing severe medical condition development.

If cat hiccups are occasional, short, and you can clearly identify the reason, don’t rush your cat to the vet. But if your cat hiccups for two days, have it checked by a professional to rule out neurological disorders.

You should also see a vet if the hiccupping isn’t prolonged but is frequent because it may be a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome, parasitic infection, food allergy, asthma, and even cancer.

Watch out for other symptoms that could give you a hint on the hiccupping cause.

Make a vet appointment if your cat is drooling, lethargic, reluctant to play or eat, loses weight, urinates frequently, or displays other abnormalities.

How To Help a Cat With Hiccups

Even if hiccups don’t require veterinary attention, they can get pretty annoying for your cat.

To stop cat hiccups, start by identifying the cause. If you suspect that your cat gets hiccups because of anxiety, provide it a quiet, uncrowded place away from triggers.

For example, if your cat began hiccupping after you’ve brought a new animal into the house, let your cat wind off in a separate room. Or, if your cat hiccups during a car trip, give it mild calming medications.

Keep things calm – don’t run around your cat in a panic because it will only stress it more. Give your cat space if possible, and don’t touch it.

Ensure that your cat always has access to fresh water to prevent hiccups in the future. Water facilitates proper digestion, helps hairballs pass through the gastroenteric tract, and alleviates hiccups that have already started.

Don’t give any human hiccupping medication to your cat. There’s no treatment for cat hiccups apart from dealing with the underlying issue.

Don’t try any home remedies for hiccups, such as scaring your cat, making it drink upside down, or forcing it to hold its breath. They won’t work and may only worsen the situation.

Typically, cat hiccups only last for an hour or two. If they are prolonged, consult with your vet, who will evaluate all variables and help you identify the cause.

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