The other day a friend called to ask if it’s normal for cats and kittens to hiccup. Since I’ve never observed any of our cats hiccup, her question piqued my interest sufficiently to do some extensive research on the subject.
Hiccups are an involuntary reflex caused by a strong contraction of the diaphragm when something irritates it. The technical term for hiccups is “synchronous diaphragmatic flutter“. Hiccups can repeat themselves several times a minute, a fact to which humans, who have had bouts of these very uncomfortable and unpleasant episodes, can readily attest.
In many species of companion animals hiccupping is usually a normal occurrence. In fact, almost all warm blooded wild animals hiccup; including otters, porcupines and skunks. Horses’ hiccups are called “thumps”.
While the sound of hiccups in kittens and cats may not resemble those that are made by humans, when a cat’s diaphragm muscles contract suddenly and involuntarily in reaction to an irritation, the physiology of the reflex is identical. Kittens develop hiccups more frequently than adult cats.
According to PetCareRx, hiccupping in cats is ordinarily not a cause for concern. Cats commonly may hiccup after eating, especially if the kitty has quickly gobbled up her meal, resulting in air being swallowed. And since felines often “inhale” their food without chewing thoroughly, or drink water too fast, this is another possible cause for cats to develop a case of the hiccups.
Hairballs are another common cause of feline hiccups. If the kitty’s throat becomes irritated by fur, as the cat attempts to dislodge or cough up the hairball with their throat muscles, this can cause the cat to hiccup. Hiccups can be caused by emotional upset. In cats, the stress associated with separation anxiety can bring on a case of the hiccups.
Although hiccups may be unpleasant and/or disturbing to the cat and their guardian, most cases are benign. This said however if the cat appears to be in distress with frequent and chronic bouts of hiccupping this may be a sign of a serious medical condition requiring prompt veterinary attention.
Conditions associated with chronic hiccupping can be caused by a tumor, nerve problems or organ disease. Another cause for chronic hiccupping is an anatomical anomaly in the back of the cat’s throat, which can be resolved with veterinary attention.
It can be difficult to actually “hear” a cat hiccupping; especially since the sound doesn’t resemble that made by a human. While guardians may notice a spasm in their cat’s abdomen, sometime it is so imperceptible that it can only be felt. Cats with hiccups can make squeaking noises while breathing, or make a sound resembling something caught in their throat when they breathe.
If wolfing down their food or hairballs is the problem, feeding cats slowly and treating for hairballs can help reduce feline hiccups. But if hiccupping is frequent and/or persistent, a visit to the vet is strongly warranted.
Watch the video uploaded to YouTube by Buddy Films 101 and see if you can count how many times the kitten hiccups.
Have you ever observed your kitty hiccupping? Tell us about it with a comment.
Photo Credit: Flicker User London looks
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