A hiccup is the same in a cat as it is in a human. During a hiccuping bout, the diaphragm and the voice box contract involuntary and simultaneously, causing the "hic" sound. There is a rhythm to hiccups: The interval between each hiccup is about the same. In cats as in humans, hiccups are usually nothing more than a brief nuisance -- but if your cat continues hiccuping for a period of more than a few minutes, or has respiratory trouble, immediately take her to a veterinarian.
Causes of Hiccups in Cats
The causes of hiccups are largely mysterious. Doctors and veterinarians don't know why they occur, how to end them or if they serve any purpose. Speculation is that hiccups could occur because of eating too much or too fast, or because of hairballs.
Other causes exist. When the diaphragm can't move properly, persistent hiccups that last more than 48 hours could occur due to the presence of a foreign object in the eardrum, an enlarged thyroid gland or a tumor in the esophagus. Damage to the central nervous system can cause persistent hiccups by rendering the body incapable of controlling them.
When Hiccups Are Serious
If your cat is having difficulty breathing during a hiccuping session, take him to the vet immediately. This could signal an allergic reaction or a foreign body stuck in the airway.
If your cat has a hiccup session that lasts for more than a few minutes, take him to the veterinarian. In humans, troublesome hiccups sometimes signal a cancer, infections, stroke and kidney problems. Those conditions interfere with the body's normal functioning ability, which sometimes results in prolonged hiccups.
Your kitty might be taking in too much air when eating too quickly. Eating too much and too fast could upset the stomach, which is next to the diaphragm -- so gorging might be a cause of hiccuping. Try feeding your cat smaller portions of food. Give about 1 ounce of food two to four times a day. Consider buying a slow-feed cat bowl. It comes with a dome in the center, which your cat must eat around, naturally slowing eating.
Hairball Hiccup Solutions
Another area of speculation is that a hairball, caused from an accumulation of hair in the stomach, could cause hiccups. Long-hair cats are prone to getting hairballs, as are cats who constantly groom themselves. Keep your cat brushed and combed to reduce the amount of loose hair he ingests.
Keep a Watchful Eye
If your cat has the hiccups, watch for signs of respiratory distress, and note how long hiccuping bouts lasts. Most of the time, hiccups end as suddenly as they begin. If your cat has regular or frequent hiccup bouts after you've ensured you're feeding and grooming properly -- and the cat has never experienced respiratory distress -- talk to your vet. He'll rule out serious possibilities and help you fine-tune your efforts to cure your cat's hiccups.