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Did My Cat Just Hiccup?

by Rachael Arsenault about a year ago in cat

Why animals hiccup and when you should worry

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

My sister-in-law’s cat can be very demanding, and likes to meow with all the volume and desperation of a creature that has never been fed in its life. She also likes to devour her food like it’s the last meal she’ll ever enjoy – and has made herself sick in the process more than once. So I was understandable concerned the other day when, as I pet her after supper, she made a strange little noise her throat. I froze, ready for her to start vomiting, but she just settled down and started purring again.

I thought to myself, “Did the cat just hiccup?” Which was quickly followed by another question: Can cats get the hiccups?

Hiccups in the Wild

As it turns out, lots of animals get hiccups – pretty much any species that has the same breathing system as humans can suffer this inconvenience, “including all mammals.” [1] Hiccuping doesn’t appear to serve any function in adults, but in infants “they serve to help expel air from the stomach” while suckling. [2]

There is probably a broader evolutionary purpose to hiccups, as well, based on observations of hiccuping in tadpoles. Doing so directs water and air to the gills and lungs, respectively, which helps them transition to air-breathing frogs. Our ancestors likely underwent a similar process when they transitioned from aquatic species to land-dwellers. [2]

Hiccuping Cats and Kittens

It’s more common for kittens to get hiccups than adult cats, though it’s usually pretty quiet. [1][3] In adult cats, hiccuping is typically a result of eating too fast and swallowing air in the process, though it can also be caused by irritation in the throat from hairballs, [3][4][5] or “excitement, stress, and sudden changes in temperature.” [4] However, hiccups can also be a sign of a more serious problem if they happen frequently, or if your cat has multiple hiccups very suddenly.[4][5] This behaviour could mean your cat has a tumour, organ problems, or issues with their nerves. [3][5]

Can You Get Rid of Hiccups?

Though you may be tempted to try scaring the hiccups out of your cat like you would with a friend or family member, this probably won’t be very effective and will just make your cat more upset. Instead, give them some water and start practicing preventative measures. Good steps to take are puzzle feeders or smaller portions to slow down eating, frequent brushing to reduce hairballs or medication to relieve existent hairballs, and reducing environmental factors like changing temperatures or stressful situations. [3][4][5] And if your cat’s hiccups persist or are worryingly frequent, take notes or videos of the behaviour as best as you can and consult a vet, just in case it’s something more serious. [3][4][5] As cute as their little hiccups may be, we always want to make sure our furbabies aren’t sick and suffering.

Thankfully, my sister-in-law’s cat seems to fall into the category of “eats too fast for her own good”, since she only hiccuped the once, so she’s endearingly obnoxious but not in any real danger.

References:

1. Blackmore, Susan. “Do Animals Get Hiccups?” Science Focus. Retrieved May 6, 2020 (https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/do-animals-get-hiccups/).

2. Blackman, Stuart. 2018. “Why Do Animals Hiccup?” Discover Wildlife. Retrieved May 6, 2020 (https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/why-do-animals-hiccup/).

3. Cutts, Shannon. 2018. “Cat Hiccups – Why Is My Cat Hiccuping?” The Happy Cat Site. Retrieved May 5, 2020 (https://www.thehappycatsite.com/cat-hiccups/).

4. Soucy, Monica. 2019. “Cat Hiccups: Why Do They Happen and How to Stop Them.” Relievet. Retrieved May 5, 2020 (https://www.relievet.com/blogs/tips/cat-hiccups-why-do-they-happen-and-how-to-stop-them).

5. Wondra, Sora. 2013. “What To Do About Cat Hiccups.” Pet Care Rx. Retrieved May 5, 2020 (https://www.petcarerx.com/article/what-to-do-about-cat-hiccups/1189)

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Rachael Arsenault

Rachael Arsenault is a Canadian author with a BA in Sociology and Native Studies. She's a hippie at heart, a D&D nerd, and a pun enthusiast.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01GK8F672

Instagram and Twitter: @rachaellawrites

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