In this article we’ll cover why cats hiccup, what it sounds like, and how to stop a cat from hiccupping.
Is it normal for cats and kittens to hiccup?
In short, yes! Just like their human counterparts, cats can get bouts of hiccups for a variety of reasons, and it is usually a normal occurrence.
Hiccups, or hiccoughs, are caused by a strong contraction of the diaphragm (the band of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen internally and controls breathing) when something irritates it. The technical term is a “synchronous diaphragmatic flutter”.
What do cat hiccups sound like?
The sound of a cat’s hiccups might not be the same as that made by humans, but the physiology is almost identical. Most cats don’t make a noise whilst hiccupping, or if they do it is merely a quiet squeak or chirp. You may be able to see or feel your cat’s belly spasming or contracting quickly. They can have several hiccups in quick succession, but a bout of hiccups rarely lasts more than a few minutes. Anything that seems to last a long time or becomes very frequent, should be checked by a vet.
What does it mean if a cat hiccups?
For most cats, hiccups are a normal event and are rarely a cause for concern. These are the most common reason they might occur.
Swallowing air whilst eating irritates the main nerve (phrenic nerve) that sits close to the diaphragm and causes hiccups. A cat that bolts his or her food down is more likely to swallow air with it and irritate the diaphragm.
Some cats are just greedy and need to be encouraged to eat a little slower. However, cats that feel unsafe whilst eating, either because of competition from other feline friends in the house or because of a hectic environment such as other pets or children interfering with feeding time, may be more likely to bolt their food.
Observe your cat’s meal times; is he or she worried about the presence of other cats or animals? Is there another cat trying to steal the last of their food? Could changing their feeding environment reduce this competition? For example, feeding cats in different areas of the home or elevated off the floor away from other pets.
Not chewing properly
Swallowing food whole and not chewing the food means that cats produce less saliva, and their stomach fills up quickly, causing irritation and resulting in hiccups. The size and texture of cat food varies a lot, particularly with dry kibble varieties. Some cats might prefer smaller kibble, whereas others prefer larger chunks that requires more chewing. This might change for individuals as cats get older, and you may need to try a few different types to find your cats ideal!
However, if you notice a change in the way your cat is eating, or they are no longer chewing their food as much as normal, this could be of concern. A sore mouth or dental disease may cause subtle changes in the way they eat their food. Regular check-ups with a vet are recommended to detect dental disease and other problems early. If you notice any changes in how your cat eats, always consult with a Veterinary professional first.
Most cats will be troubled by hairballs at some stage in their life, however our longer-haired felines tend to get more—there is simply more coat to maintain! Persistent attempts to dislodge or cough up a hairball may cause irritation to a cat’s throat and result in hiccups. If your feline friend can’t clear the hairball themselves, or it is a frequent occurrence, then seek veterinary advice as there are treatments and dietary changes that can help.
Sometimes cat hiccups may be triggered by purring. Cats often produce more saliva whilst purring (we have all been subjected to a little cat dribble whilst fussing our furry friends!) and this is often swallowed with air. Whilst purring is often a normal behaviour and a sign of a happy, contented feline, it is worth remembering not all cats purr because they are happy. Some cats purr when they are stressed or anxious. Pet parents should be mindful of this and observe their cat behaviour closely.
Medical conditions such as gut infections, inflammation, or food allergies can cause more gas to be produced. This may irritate the stomach and diaphragm and cause regular bouts of hiccups. If your cat’s hiccups are accompanied by changes in their appetite, changes to weight or changes to their stools, then this warrants a trip to the vets for more investigations.
Can hiccups be harmful?
Occasional hiccups are normal in cats of all ages, and often more common in kittens. Frequent hiccups, a sudden increase in hiccups or hiccups associated with vomiting, coughing, or abnormal breathing should be treated more seriously and always checked by a vet.
How to treat a cat with hiccups
There are several things you can try at home to alleviate your cat’s hiccups, especially if they seem to be related to eating and drinking. However, pet parents should avoid trying too many at-home remedies without consulting a vet first.
Ensure your cat has plenty of access to fresh drinking water, and not just at mealtimes. This will help your cat digest his or her food effectively and reduce the chance of hiccups occurring, or alleviate them once they have started. Some cats prefer moving water such as drinking from a tap or a pet water fountain. As a general rule, cats prefer their water away from their food so use separate bowls for food and water. Never force a cat to eat or drink as this might cause stress and exacerbate the problem.
For cats that over-eat or eat too quickly, offering smaller meals more frequently throughout the day may help. The use of puzzle feeders or bowls designed to slow down their eating may help some cats pace themselves. Some cats may prefer it if you scatter their food across the floor. Not only does this slow them down, but stimulates their natural ‘hunting’ skills to find the food and makes mealtimes a little more interesting.
For hiccups that seem to be related to hair balls, try switching to a diet targeted to manage hairballs or introducing a dietary supplement. However, it is always advised to consult with a vet before making big changes to your cat’s diet. Brushing your cat regularly will help keep on top of excess hair being ingested and, when introduced as part of their routine, can be a relaxing experience for cats and their owners.
Most cases of hiccups will resolve with time, and it is unlikely to need further attention. If you do notice your furry friend hiccupping, it should suffice to take some preventative measures at home to help avoid future hiccups.
Featured Image Credit: Milada Vigerova, Pixabay