Dog Hiccups and Licking (Explained)

It can be quite odd to see your dog having hiccups as well as licking its lips constantly. While hiccups are normal, the presentation of other behavior changes in a dog during a hiccup episode can be worrisome.

The question is, are dog hiccups and licking normal? or is there something more to this?

Learn why a dog can have hiccups and also lick the lips at the same time, what it means and what to do about it.

Here's Why Dog Hiccups and Licking Happen:

Dog hiccups and licking of lips occur due to inflammation of a dog’s esophagus, that is the gullet, which is commonly known as esophagitis, and licks due to the discomfort. The inflammation also leads to irritation of the phrenic nerve of the diaphragm which causes hiccups.

Dog hiccups and licking

Dog Hiccups

Dog hiccups look similar like hiccups in humans. Hiccups are a reflex action triggered by irritation of the diaphragm muscle and its phrenic nerves.

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle in the chest of a dog and  is important in the breathing process. When its nerves, referred to as the phrenic nerves are irritated or stimulated, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm occurs.

The contractions or spasms of the diaphragm cause a sudden entry of air into the lungs which cause the voicebox to suddenly close resulting in the do hiccups sound.

Typically dog hiccups should last for a short time, that is about 10-15 minutes.

Various factors can trigger dog hiccups to occur. This includes stress, eating or drinking quickly, excessive barking, excitement or underlying health conditions.

Puppies also tend to have frequent hiccups compared to adult or older dogs.

Dog hiccups or something else?

Dogs have hiccups occasionally, sometimes everyday, which is normal as long as they resolve within a short period and without other symptoms. 

When the hiccups are accompanied by other symptoms such as coughing, lethargy, or vomiting it clearly means that there is an illness behind it.

Do Dogs Lick Their Lips when They Have Hiccups?

No, dogs do not lick their lips when they have hiccups, however, licking of lips during a hiccup episode means that they are in discomfort due to inflammation of their esophagus.

When a dog gets hiccups, you will see that they inhale followed by abrupt stops which might shake their belly or whole body. They may also produce  sound as they hiccup.

Dog hiccuping and licking lips is not typical.

Other symptoms alongside hiccups such as lethargy, coughing, vomiting often mean that there is something triggering hiccups and also causing the additional symptoms.

When dog hiccups and licking lips occurs, it is because of esophageal irritation.

Causes of Inflammation of The Esophagus

The esophagus or gullet is a muscular tube in the throat that connects the mouth to the stomach of a dog and whose primary purpose is to move food down to the stomach when a dog eats.

The esophagus can become inflamed within its inner layers and outer layers from various causes which makes a dog respond by licking its lips constantly.

The causes of irritation of the esophagus include:

  • Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (stomach acids backing up into the esophagus)
  • Infections (Bacterial, viral or fungal)
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Accidental ingestion of chemicals
  • Ingestion of foreign bodies that get stuck in the esophagus
  • Incomplete swallowing of some medications 
  • Abnormality of the esophagus
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Tumors
  • Food allergies 
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome
  • Ingestion of non-food items

The above factors cause irritation of the esophagus which in turn leads to the irritation of the phrenic nerves which are nerves that serve the diaphragm. 

The diaphragm is a muscular muscle that separates the stomach area and the chest area, which is very important in breathing.

When esophagitis occurs, irritation of the phrenic nerves causes irregular contractions of the diaphragm which causes the production of hiccups and a dog will be seen having hiccups as well as licking of their lips.

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Symptoms

The symptoms of esophagitis may be mild or severe. In mild cases, a dog may not even show any signs of illness or may have slight signs for several weeks or months. 

When a dog has other conditions in addition to esophagitis, other symptoms of illness may be present.

Common symptoms of esophagitis in dogs include:

  • Increase swallowing motions
  • Vomiting or regurgitation of food
  • Drooling
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty of swallowing
  • Reluctance to be active or lie down 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • The appearance of signs of pneumonia
  • Weight loss

Complications

The most important complication of esophagitis is aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when the food or liquid from the esophagus enters the lungs. This causes infection, that is, pneumonia. 

Pneumonia causes abscesses in the lungs, short to long-term scarring and damage of the lungs and major airways as well as respiratory failure. 

If not treated, it can also spread to the bloodstream which is equally very dangerous to a dog’s life.

See Also: Dog hiccups and licking floor: What it means

When to Seek Help for Dog Hiccups and Licking

Dog hiccups and licking of lips means the gullet is inflamed due to various underlying conditions. 

Monitor your dog because dog’s hiccups that last for a long time, that is for more than 1 hour, are not normal and mean that there is something more serious causing them.

This requires medical attention because the underlying condition can be life-threatening. Seek medical attention before the condition worsens.

The veterinarian will examine and test your dog to diagnose the cause and offer treatment. They will also ask you when the symptoms began and what symptoms you noted that they had.

Treatment of esophagitis will depend on the underlying condition. Treatment of this will also help to stop the hiccups and also stop the licking of lips.

Inflammation of the esophagus due to acid reflux is treated by the administration of antacids and medication to soothe the lining of the gullet. 

And if the inflammation is due to infection, the veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics. And if your dog ingested an object, removal of the object will be done. 

Hospitalization will be required in severe cases where pneumonia has developed. Medication will be provided and treatment of dehydration.

Treatment may also include withdrawal of food by feeding your dog in small quantities to allow their esophagus to recover.  

This also includes changing their diet to a low protein, low fat, and high carbohydrate diet with few allergens such as gluten or soy.

Takeaway

Dog hiccups and licking lips is unusual however it indicates that something is irritating your dog’s esophagus. 

The hiccups develop from this irritation. This requires medical attention to determine what could be irritating their throat. 

The veterinarian will advise on the appropriate treatment for the underlying cause which will also get rid of the hiccups.

Sources:

A case report of Vagus nerve stimulation for intractable hiccups

Dog esophagitis

Dog body language lip licking

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