Do cats get the hiccups?
They do! Cats absolutely get the hiccups, even though not all animals do.
But that’s not the real question, is it?
Why do cats get the hiccups? And, what the heck are they?
And should you worry if your cat gets the hiccups?
Let’s dive in.
@99kittymeow Even seen a cat hiccup? #cat #catsoftiktok #catlove ♬ Kiss Me More (feat. SZA) - Doja Cat
What are hiccups?
Hiccups are related to the mechanism animals use to be able to breathe. So, first, let’s discuss how cats breathe.
How do cats breathe?
Breathing in and out (for cats and humans) happens thanks to a special muscle called the diaphragm.
This big flap of muscle lives between a cat’s lungs and belly. It’s shaped like a dome, until it contracts.
When the diaphragm contracts, it flattens out, creating all this extra space in a cat’s chest. This extra space produces a vacuum, causing air to get sucked into the lungs to fill it.
Imagine pulling the plunger on a syringe; it’s kind of the same thing. Pulling the plunger creates extra space in the syringe and air (or liquid) rushes in to fill it up.
After breathing in, the diaphragm relaxes back into its dome shape, squishing the air back out of the lungs again.
And that, my friends, is a breath.
How do hiccups happen?
Hiccups happen when that nice, smooth rhythm of contraction and relaxation goes a little haywire.
Cats' eyes dilate when they hiccup. pic.twitter.com/Jz2wJnXgAy— Wonder of Science (@wonderofscience) September 22, 2020
Uh oh! The diaphragm is spasming!
There are some big nerves that connect the diaphragm to the brain, and sometimes they tell the diaphragm to contract more rapidly than normal. The diaphragm convulses: dome, flat, dome, flat, dome, flat.
With each little spasm, a cat sucks in a bit of air.
The voice box responds immediately to this odd air sucking. The epiglottis, a flap of tissue that normally closes over the windpipe during swallowing to prevent a cat from breathing food or saliva into her lungs, slams the door during a hiccup, too.
The sudden closure of the vocal cords causes that distinctive “hic” sound in humans, and a tiny “chirp,” in cats, or no noise at all.
But why do cats hiccup?
But what causes that spasming in the first place?
In other words, what triggers those nerves that tell the brain to tell the diaphragm to start spasming?
That’s the million-dollar question that nobody has the answer to.
There are some interesting scientific theories, though. One is that hiccupping is related to epilepsy, and another that it’s good training for a fetus in the womb who needs to practice breathing before she’s born. Pregnant humans do report that babies in the womb hiccup, and we can actually see fetuses hiccupping on ultrasound.
Another good one is that hiccupping is a leftover evolutionary behavior from when sea-dwelling creatures crawled out of the ocean to live on land. Hiccupping, theoretically, would have helped water pass over gills. Tadpoles, who make that transition from water to land as part of their lifecycle, do kind of hiccup.
The best theory about why cats (and humans) hiccup
The best theory about why cats and other animals hiccup is that it’s a reflex left over from infancy that helps kittens and all kinds of babies maximize the amount of milk they can consume.
It’s true that babies of all kinds hiccup a LOT. Newborn human babies spend up to 2.5% of their time hiccupping.
And it’s also true that animals who don’t drink milk, such as birds, reptiles, and most amphibians, don’t hiccup.
How do hiccups help kittens drink more milk?
Young kittens need to suckle constantly. And they also need to breathe! Sometimes, instead of breathing air, they end up swallowing it, along with milk.
The hiccup reflex helps a kitten expel swallowed air from his belly, making more room for milk.
What might cause hiccups in adult cats (and people)?
Hiccupping might just be a reflex leftover from kittenhood, that crops up again when an adult cat eats too quickly.
There may be other things that can trigger this same reflex. There’s some thought that coughing up a hairball could irritate a cat’s throat and cause hiccups.
How long should hiccups last?
A bout of normal kitty hiccups should be brief.
Expect hiccups to go away on their own in a day or less.
Are there treatments for cat hiccups?
Although people swear by a variety of home remedies for human hiccups, which may, or may not, actually work, you should not treat your cat’s hiccups.
Don’t try to frighten your cat, or force-feed your cat, or try to make her drink.
Allow cat hiccups to run their own course. They will go away on their own.
Is there anything I can do to prevent my cat from getting hiccups?
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If you suspect that hairballs may be causing frequent bouts of hiccups, read this post on cats and hairballs for advice. In short, the best way to prevent hairballs is to prevent hair from getting swallowed in the first place. Groom, groom, groom your cat, and consider using a lubricant like Laxatone to keep hair moving through his digestive tract.
If your cat is an overly fast eater, you can try a slow feeder to force her to take a little more time with her dinner.
The zigzags in this slow feeder by Petstages would work best with dry food, while a Lickimat would be a good way to serve wet food to an overeager kitty.
(Read about wet food versus dry food in this post.)
You can also try dividing your cat’s daily food into smaller portions, which you would feed as multiple meals throughout the day.
When should I worry about my cat’s hiccups?
Before you panic, cats make a lot of weird noises. They burp and gurgle. They grind their teeth and “reverse sneeze.” Make sure what you’re seeing isn’t some other benign thing that cats do to make their loving guardians nuts.
But if a cat has been hiccupping for longer than normal, especially an older cat, pay attention. There are some more serious conditions that could look like hiccups, but aren’t, including some neurological conditions, ingestion of a foreign body, diaphragmatic hernias, and possibly even asthma.
(Read, “How do you know if your cat is sick?”)
Try and catch whatever it is that your cat is doing on video, and make a call to your veterinarian, just to be safe.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 “Hiccups: Why You Get Hiccups ..and How to Make Them Stop.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/why-do-i-hiccup.
 Howes, Daniel. “Hiccups: A New Explanation for the Mysterious Reflex.” BioEssays : News and Reviews in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012, k https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3504071
 “Is It Normal for My Puppy or Kitten to Have Hiccups?” Veterinarian in Red Lion, PA, https://pattonvethospital.com/blog/919535-is-it-normal-for-my-puppy-or-kitten-to-have-hiccups.
 Howes, Daniel.
 Patton Vet Hospital.
 “Cat Hiccups: What You Need to Know.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/care/cat-hiccups-what-you-need-know.
 “My Pet World: Why Does My Cat Have Hiccups?” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan. 2011, https://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/opinion/tn-dpt-0119-petcolumn-20110118-story.html.
 Chavez, Dr. Oscar. “Why Do Cats Hiccup?” JustFoodForDogs, https://www.justfoodfordogs.com/blogs/jffdbloglink/authors/why-do-cats-hiccup.html.