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When a Boxer Has Hiccups

Boxer puppy hiccups
Mufasa, 10 weeks old
Photo courtesy of owner: Christina Knowles 


Just like humans, canines can get a case of the hiccups and for some dogs, the episode can last quite a while or a Boxer can have reoccurring hiccups quite frequently. In most cases hiccuping is not a sign of a health problem. In this section we are going to discuss:
  • What exactly happens
  • Is there a reason to be concerned
  • What causes a Boxer dog to get hiccups, along with prevention tips
  • The rare but possible health conditions that have hiccups as a symptom
  • Methods to quickly stop an episode
  • How to know when hiccups last too long

What is a Canine Hiccup?

Hiccups involve 3 parts of the body: the diaphragm, vocal box (larynx), and glottis (vocal flaps). There are certain elements that will trigger quick, involuntary spasms of the diaphragm lasting .25 seconds. A forth of a second later, there is a contraction of the vocal box, along with a closure of the vocal flaps. One single hiccup lasts 1/2 second. 

An episode can consist of just a handful of 'hics' or can last for hours and in some rare cases days or even longer. 

Reasons for Concern

With canines, episodes tend to happen to puppies more often than adult dogs. While minor acute hiccups are no reason for concern, if a Boxer dog has long and frequent hiccups these can cause discomfort, with short bursts of pain in the throat, chest and/or abdomen. Since it causes a very brief pause in normal breathing, hiccups lasting hours can cause a dog to become stressed and some even panic as they gasp for air and struggle to breathe normally. 

This alone is a reason to find ways to stop a Boxer from hiccuping and in some very rare cases, it can point to a health issue (more ahead). 

Why Boxer Dogs Get Hiccups

With many puppies and dogs, it may seem that hiccups happen randomly and without cause. However, there are some common triggers that are often at fault:

Eating or drinking too quickly - When a dog eats too fast, this can cause him to also swallow air (which itself is a cause of hiccups), however eating fast in and of itself can also trigger them due to a distension of the diaphragm. Since the Boxer breed is very prone to bloat and one of the main causes of that is eating or drinking very fast, if your Boxer puppy or dog tends to have hiccups after having food or water, this is a red flag that a method should be instilled to help the Boxer slow down. 

The two best options for bowls are to use a slow feeder bowl for both food and water or to place a stainless steel portion pacer in the dishes. If you're giving out a handful of treats, don't offer them all at once.

Another common issue is a Boxer needing to drink a lot right after exercise and this may cause hiccups as well as bloat. It's always best to bring along water in a canine water travel container (we like the ones that have a lid that serves as the bowl) so that you can offer water halfway through a walk or while out at a park. This way, your Boxer can stay hydrated and doesn't have to lap up water super-fast when finally home. 

Swallowing air - This goes right along with the above cause; though there are some circumstances when a dog may also draw in a breath too quickly (see next reason)

Excitement - Any strong emotion can cause a dog to develop hiccups such as fear and stress however it is over-excitement that is the most common reason. The reason for this is because there is a correlation between emotional excitement and a tensing of the stomach muscles which triggers the diaphragm to react. In addition, dogs often breath heavy when excited. It's fairly common for Boxer dogs to get really excited for anything that they deem fun, including getting ready to go for a walk, being driven up to a favorite spot (beach, park, etc.), knowing that a game of Frisbee is about to begin, seeing that their dinner is being prepared, etc. Some also get really hyped up when an owner returns after being gone for the day. 

If you do notice that your Boxer hiccups when he gets revved up, there are a couple of things you can do:

1. Act a bit more matter-of-fact when announcing an event. If an owner typically speaks in a way to get a dog enthusiastic about going out or to get ready for play, it can help to keep things a bit low-key. 

2. If a Boxer get charged up due to an owner's arrival back home, implementing some steps that are used for separation anxiety issues can help. 

Temperature change while eating - This is not a reason for hiccups that would normally come to mind for many dog owners, however a study done in 2004 indicates that if the temperature suddenly rises or lowers while eating, it can disturb nerve pathways between the brain and muscles, which can manifest as hiccups. If a Boxer dog's eating area is right near a heating or AC vent, and burst of heat or cold air comes out while he's having his meal, this could be the cause. 

Food with too much grain content - Ingesting dry wheat can cause hiccups. If a dog's dry kibble contains a high grain ratio (which is sign of an inferior food), this can be the reason that the dog suffers from episodes. If a Boxer has frequent hiccups that are disruptive for the dog and other triggers such as eating too quickly have been ruled out, reassess your  Boxer's food.
If you're looking for a great kibble for your Boxer, Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free is absolutely one of the best. There's zero grains, no synthetic preservatives, no artificial additives, and no soy or by-products. It's well-balanced, and has extra bonuses including omega fatty acids, antioxidants, and glucosamine. 

Rare but Possible Canine Health Conditions that Cause Hiccups

There are several diseases and health issues that do have hiccups as a symptom. This includes:

Inflammatory bowel disease - This is a disorder in which the intestines become inflamed and eventually do not properly absorb nutrients. With this, early signs are very subtle and may include hiccups. As this progresses there are serious symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. 

Small bowel obstruction - The Boxer breed is certainly a dog that is known to mouth and swallow things that he shouldn't and this can lead to quite serious internal blockage. While partial or full obstruction will have obvious signs including vomiting a clear fluid, trouble having a bowel movement and general distress, a small partial blockage in the stomach (not generally the intestines) can put pressure on the diaphragm which results in hiccups. Look for weakness, reluctance to eat, dry heaving, vomiting (any color, food, fluid and/or bile) and/or trouble going to the bathroom. 

GERD- This stands for gastro-esophageal reflux disease. With this, there is a reverse flow of gastric or intestinal fluids into the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the throat and the stomach. This happens with young puppies more often than older dogs, but can develop in a Boxer dog of any age. This can range from mild to severe and includes symptoms of varying intensity of regurgitation (vomiting up undigested food), signs of pain when swallowing (reluctance to drink and/or eat), hiccups, drooling and/or fever. In later stages this leads to weight loss. 

Respiratory disease - Essentially any medical condition that affects a dog's breathing can also cause frequent episodes of hiccups. This includes pneumonia and asthma. 

Central Nervous System issues - This includes brain tumors which do affect the Boxer breed more often than many other breeds. The Boxer dog and other brachycephalic breeds are prone to a specific type of brain tumor known as gliomas. This is seen more often in older, senior Boxers. Signs include changes in behavior such as pacing and circling. The dog may have trouble walking and show signs of clumsiness. There may also be trouble swallowing, hiccups and a rapid flickering of the eye (nystagmus). Some dogs may also suffer from seizures, though this is not always the case. 

Metabolism issues - Any disorder that affects a dog's metabolism can also cause frequent hiccups. This includes hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia and diabetes. There will be symptoms including weight changes, acting tired and usually changes to the skin and coat. 

Conditions that affect the vagus nerve - The vagus nerve is the longest of the 12 cranial nerves, extending from the brainstem to the abdomen. It touches the lungs and esophagus. If there is irritation to this nerve it can trigger hiccups. The most common condition affecting this nerve is irritation in the throat area and with canines this is most often due to allergies or thyroid disease. The latter causes a swelling of the larynx which can trigger hiccups. Much rarer would be meningitis.

How to Help a Boxer Dog Stop Hiccupping

For acute cases where you feel that it's in your Boxer's best interest to intervene, there are some old 'stand-by' methods that may help stop a puppy or dog from hiccuping. It's important to note that what may work for one dog may have no affect at all on another. So if a person owned two Boxers and both had hiccups, they may each need a different treatment to stop. You may also find that your Boxer responds best if more than one method is used in succession.

Here is what has been found to help:

1) Offering the right food or giving water- Basically anything that changes the pattern of how a dog breathes can make hiccups stop. One of the best foods for this is smooth peanut butter. When a dog is given peanut butter he can't quickly swallow it (though with Boxers, you never really know!) and since it makes a puppy or dog smack it around in their mouth and work their lips, this can disrupt the spasms. 

Usually, that's all they need, a quick disruption and the episode will stop. 

You'll want to offer a level teaspoon for Boxer puppies under the age of 1 year old and a slightly heaped tablespoon for full grown dogs. Alternatively, encouraging a dog to drink water can help, but most dogs will not drink on command. 

2) A quick bout of cardio exercise - As with the method of interrupting breathing patterns via food, taking your Boxer outside for a 10 minute game of fetch can accelerate his heartbeat and cause him to inhale deeply enough to stop hiccups. Additionally, if a Boxer seems distressed by the spasms, this is a good way to get his focus on something else.Just be sure to NOT do this if your Boxer just ate, since exercise after eating can cause bloat. 
3) Targeted massage - Not only is this one possible treatment for hiccups with Boxer dogs, it also helps a dog calm down if the contractions have caused him to be anxious, which is often the case when hiccups last longer than 15 or 20 minutes. 

You'll want to have your Boxer sit or lie down on his side. Massage the chest area, with an alternating motion of stroking down and then in circles. Since a tensing of the diaphragm is one of the elements that occurs at onset, this can work by relaxing that and the surrounding muscles.  

How to Know if Hiccups are Lasting too Long

A random, acute case is often ignored by both owner and dog and is nothing to be concerned with.

If your Boxer is hiccuping just about every day, even if it is for a short amount of time, you'll want to look to the typical triggers such as how rapidly he or she is eating and drinking, the level of grains in the dog's food and over-excitement issues. 

It will be time to have a Boxer evaluated if:
  • If a week goes by and a Boxer is hiccuping more days than not
  • If episodes are lasting for more than 20 minutes and not responding to the at-home treatments 
  • If a Boxer appears distressed during the hiccups
  • If there are any other signs of a health condition, including but not limited to breathing issues, appetite changes, weight loss, skin or coat changes (dryness, thinning), vomiting, diarrhea, straining when having a bowel movement, excessive saliva, pacing, circling and/or rapid blinking.

Veterinary Treatment

If a puppy or dog has a serious hiccuping problem, the veterinarian should run tests to check for all possible health conditions. Any condition or disease will need appropriate treatment. If a dog is found to be perfectly healthy and there are no underlying issues, the vet may prescribe medication that will relax the diaphragm muscles. 

The two most common medications that are given for this are chlorpromazine and haloperidol. With canines, chlorpromazine is typically used as an antiemetic to control nausea and vomiting and is sometimes used to treat dogs that are hypersensitive to noise (noise phobia). In large doses, it is used as a tranquilizer but it also works well as a muscle relaxant.

Haloperidol, much like chlorpromazine, blocks dopamine receptors and is typically used to calm dogs down before being given general anesthesia. It also sometimes used to treat behavior problems including aggression. Both are given in very low doses. 

Your veterinarian should discuss with you the benefits of medical intervention vs the distress the a puppy or dog experiences with severe, chronic hiccups. 
In many cases, a young dog will outgrow his hiccuping episodes and if he was given medication, this can often be stopped as he matures. 
funny Boxer dog sleeping on chair
Bob, 7 months old
Photo courtesy of owner: Russell


While hiccups may seem like nothing and in most cases this is indeed true, it is a good idea to keep track of how often this happens to your Boxer and how long it lasts for. If a puppy or dog has no other symptoms, most of the time at-home treatments are all that is needed. If however, your Boxer suffers from chronic episodes, appears distressed or has any other signs that something is wrong, it is best to have him evaluated by the veterinarian.
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