Cats are notorious for concealing any illnesses or weaknesses they may have. It’s instinctive for them not to show their vulnerability. Instead, they’ll hide if things get worse. That’s different when your pet has a condition like hiccups. It’s an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm, so it’s not like they can stop it on command. Yes, indeed, they can get them for many of the same reasons that people do.
Benign Reasons That Cats Hiccup
Your next question is likely what do I do when my cat has hiccups? The essential thing to remember is that it can have harmless reasons that the medical community refers to as self-limiting. That is, they go away on their own. It may not be pleasant for your pet or for you to watch your kitty in distress. However, it’s often nothing to worry about, especially when you learn some common triggers behind it.
Gulping Food and Air
One of the most common causes of hiccups in cats and people is gulping down our food or drink too fast while swallowing a bunch of air in the process. We figure out this cause-and-effect situation as adults and try to avoid it. That may also explain why this condition occurs more frequently in kittens than older cats.
You may wonder, what does it look like when cats have hiccups? It’s similar in felines as it is with humans. You may notice wheezing and obvious respiratory distress if your pet’s chest tightens with each spasm.
Solution: Feeding your cat smaller meals may help alleviate its symptoms. If you have more than one pet, you might also try separating them during feed time to prevent your kitty from gulping its food.
If you have a cat in your home, then it’s only a matter of time before you learn about hairballs. Felines spend a lot of time grooming themselves, which often results in them swallowing a few hairs. They will cause irritation that can lead to involuntary diaphragm spasms or hiccups. When the strands build up, your cat will try to regurgitate them, sometimes accompanied by hiccups during the struggle.
You may be surprised to learn that felines can get acid reflux just like we do. The esophagus becomes irritated, causing this reaction. Other symptoms may include repeated swallowing or vomiting. This condition is just as uncomfortable for your pet as it is for you. An episode of hiccups could be a one-off situation caused by foods or treats that increased acid in your pet’s GI tract.
Solution: Feeding smaller meals helps in the case, too, especially with diets low in fiber and fat.
People and our pets react similarly to things that irritate our throats. It could be a stray hair caught in our windpipe. For cats, it could run the gamut from a loose thread or stuffing from a toy. The hiccups and gagging are instinctive responses to try to protect their internal organs from harm. It’s essential to determine the cause of the irritation.
Swallowed foreign objects can lead to bowel obstructions, which are medical emergencies. Other symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
Solution: Inspect your pet’s toys frequently for damage. Discard any that your cat has started ripping apart.
Reasons to See the Vet
Unfortunately, hiccups can also signal more serious conditions that will require a vet visit. They’ll likely begin with a thorough examination, followed by tests to determine a possible cause. Hiccups aren’t necessarily a diagnostic symptom. Many things can cause it, even a few surprising ones. We suggest making a note of anything unusual about your pet’s behavior to pinpoint the reason for the hiccups.
A bout of hiccups can last several minutes or even hours, depending on the cause. However, if your cat is in obvious distress or it’s interfering with its sleep or feeding, it’s time to make an appointment and get to the root of the problem.
We typically think of intestinal parasites as strictly GI issues. However, some species can cause a range of symptoms, including coughing, hiccups, and gagging. Top on the list is roundworms and tapeworms. Sometimes, pets will vomit up the remains of these parasites, causing irritation all along the way. That could be the trigger that causes the bout.
Your vet will likely order a fecal examination if they suspect internal parasites. Treatment is typically a series of deworming followed by retesting.
Allergic or bronchial asthma is another possible cause of hiccups and the accompanying wheezing. You’re more likely to see it in your cats than older ones. Throat irritation also plays a role. The disease presents similarly to this disorder in people. That’s not unusual, given the fact that cats have similar genetic characteristics to about 250 human health conditions.
Treatment for asthma mirrors that of people using corticosteroids. Avoiding triggers or other sources of throat irritation, such as cigarette smoke, can also make your pet more comfortable.
Heartworm occurs in both cats and dogs, resulting in similar symptoms. Respiratory complications are an issue in more serious cases. Irritation is at the root when the parasites die in the animal’s lungs. Hiccups, coughing, and vomiting are typical signs. Sadly, treatment options are limited, making prevention the best course of action.
The good news is that products that contain ivermectin can also treat intestinal parasites, such as roundworms. Even if your cat lives strictly indoors, it’s wise to use these preventives, particularly considering the alternative.
Treating serious cases of hiccups is often challenging because of the myriad of factors that can affect it. For example, damage to the nerves that innervate the diaphragm can cause the characteristic involuntary spasms. Possible causes include a cyst or tumor. Likewise, a growth affecting the central nervous system can trigger these symptoms, too.
You may wonder, does my cat having hiccups indicate that it has cancer? The answer is yes, which is why you should take your pet to the vet if you notice any other signs of a more serious condition.
Hiccups are usually just an annoying side effect of overeating or swallowing a lot of air. It’s something that both people and cats can experience. You can view the symptom similarly as you would in yourself or your child. Unfortunately, the so-called cures for humans won’t work on your pet.
An occasional bout is rarely a cause for concern. It’s the other conditions that accompany it that raise the red flags. We suggest monitoring your pet and seeking veterinary advice the hiccups last too long or interfere with your cat’s quality of life.
Featured Image Credit: Helen Bloom, Shutterstock