Why Cat Hiccups Happen — And What to Do About Them

A white cat with her mouth open.
A white cat with her mouth open. Photography by Martin Poole/Thinkstock.

Have you ever witnessed your cat hiccuping? Yep, you read that correctly: Not sneezing or chirping or any of the other range of entertaining noises felines make, but actually hiccuping? Let’s look at why cat hiccups happen and when to worry — and when to just laugh.

Cat Hiccups in Action

First up, if you’ve not witnessed the phenomenon of cat hiccups, check out this video to see what all the hullabaloo is about. As you can see, it kind of looks like the feline is on the verge of spewing up a hairball — but instead there’s just a series of tiny hiccuping motions.

The Science Behind Cat Hiccups

From a veterinarian point of view, a cat hiccups when her diaphragm decides to contract at exactly the same time as the part of her larynx that houses the vocal chords closes. Sometimes this happens due to nerve irritation issues, and other times it’s a consequence of chowing down too quickly on food and ingesting air at the same time. (Fun factoid: In humans, this can also cause acid reflux.)

Hang On, What About Hairballs?

Oh, I should add that the scourge of the feline that is a hairball can also actually cause a cat to hiccup. This takes place when the cat’s throat tries in vain to expel or move the fur that’s accumulated, but instead irritates things and prompts a hiccup.

Are Hiccups Related to Feline Farting?

Despite the popularity of this video, which shows a somewhat portly cat slouched down and emitting noises from both the mouth and butt, there is no conclusive scientific evidence to suggest cat hiccuping and feline farting are in any way related. So, let’s move along.

How Concerned Should I Be About Cat Hiccuping?

If your cat suffers from sporadic, small bouts of hiccups, you’ve probably got nothing to be overly concerned about. In fact, she’s probably just feasting on her food too quickly. But if your cat seems to be hiccuping for longer than a day at a time, it’s probably time to consult a vet as there could be larger ailments and issues at play. Feline asthma is one such concern, as is heart disease or icky parasites. Oh, and there could even be a food allergy at work. Yes, with cats it’s so often always about the food.

What Can I Do About Cat Hiccups?

First up, don’t stress your cat out if she’s hiccuping. Keep things calm and give her some space.

Next, do a quick survey of your cat’s food. Does she scarf it down way too quickly? If so, try serving smaller portions throughout the day. Also, ensure that she always has access to water — and is actually drinking it. If you’re cohabiting with one of those kitties who refuse to drink settled water out of her bowl, look into picking up a cheap water fountain — sometimes our finicky friends prefer cascading water. Because, you know, it obviously tastes so different.

Also, if hairballs do seem to be tied to any hiccuping action, ask a vet for recommendations to control the condition.

Can I Use Human Remedies for Cat Hiccuping?

An orange cat with his mouth open — sneezing or hiccuping.
Don’t use any human hiccuping remedies on cats! Photography by Valery Kudryavtsev/Thinkstock.

Finally, let the record show that the age-old remedies to cure human hiccuping should probably not be used on cats. That includes scaring your feline witless, attempting to get her to hold her breath (good luck with that one) and the bartender’s trick of biting into a lemon doused in Angostura bitters. Seriously, the last one genuinely works — for humans.

Tell us: Has your cat ever had hiccups? What caused them? What did you do?

Thumbnail: Photography by Martin Poole/Thinkstock.

Read more about cat sounds on Catster.com:

13 thoughts on “Why Cat Hiccups Happen — And What to Do About Them”

  1. My older cat had hiccups for the first time several months ago and seemed very distressed by them so I called my vet and inquired what to do. They suggested putting a small amount of peanut butter on his paw which would force him to lick it off and that would likely stop the hiccups. It worked wonderfully.

  2. Who’s That Girl?

    My cat was sitting @ his favorite window on his chair with bedding on it. I was in the kitchen when I heard a loud banging. When I went to look outside to see what it was, it turned out to be him. I thought he was going to cough up a hairball, but it sounded different, like it was dry, not wet. My husband and I were with him, petting him and talking softly to him to keep him calm. I firmly patted his back out of instinct, not even thinking that it might be hiccups. I called the vet, panicked. (He has a hyperthyroid condition that he takes medication for.) They said it was probably a hairball, but to bring him in if it didn’t stop. After several minutes ave giving him some food, and water, it stopped. I observed him for a couple of hours as he lay in my lap and he was fine.

    1. Monica Enderle Pierce

      My cat also has hyperthyroidism and hiccups excessively. My vet said it may be related to gut motility issues caused by his hyperactive thyroid.

  3. Just had a cat hiccuping for the first time in 70 years of living with cats. As she was (still is) sitting on my chest, I did what my mother used to do to me – firm taps on the back. It’s worked!

  4. Zachary Alexander

    My cat (my orange male tabby who is 7 years old), is quite expressive – and chirps a lot. Once in a s while when hear him coughing, I stroke from his mouth down to his chest. It seems to work, and then my cat Bobby – is no longer in distress. Does that work for you? He always chirps when he’s hungry, and wants to go to bed.

  5. Both of my kittens have hiccups, but they aren’t slow bouts of hiccups, they’re fast ones and I wonder if that’s a sign that I need to take them to the vet. Please, help!!

  6. Chelle Everett

    Okay, my cat has asthma and we have a nice fountain of clean water, and he has had hiccups repeatedly in the last couple of weeks. What am I to do? He doesn’t over eat. This happens when he hasn’t been eating. Take him to the vet? He was an abused animal dropped (literally) into the waiting room of a vet and taking him upsets him to an extreme. He will go limp and lose control of his functions. Hospitalization has been required. How can I help my 5yr old enormous orange tabby?

    1. Hi Chelle, Could you call your vet first and explain the situation before bringing him in? These tips might help you get your cat to the vet: https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/how-to-get-your-cat-to-the-vet

  7. Yes, I have a cat who hiccups. It is usually when he has been purring loudly a while. It seems he works his self up and sort of over stimulates, sort of like when your mouth waters for something. At that point he starts to have little hiccups.

    1. Finally another cat with purr hiccups. Purr, purr, hic; purr, purr, hic. I figured its probably related to air but will mention on the next vet visit.

  8. Pingback: Cat Hiccups – Cat Daily News

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