Hiccups and Titers
Should I worry if my dog gets hiccups?
Hiccups in dogs are a fairly common occurrence, especially in puppies. Almost every new puppy owner has it on their list of questions for me:
Are hiccups normal and adorable, or are they a cause for concern?
Dog hiccups are very similar to human hiccups. Technically, they are described as involuntary spasmodic inhalation with closure of the glottis accompanied by a peculiar sound. An easier explanation is that they occur when the diaphragm spasms. The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. It expands and contracts with each breath as the lungs inflate and deflate.
The diaphragm receives its nerve supply from the phrenic nerve. This is a large nerve originating in the neck region of the spinal cord. To assist in the process of respiration, the phrenic nerve receives and transmits information to and from the diaphragm. If the phrenic nerve is immature, as with puppies, or becomes irritated in an adult dog, the result is a case of hiccups.
The glottis is part of your dog’s voice box. When the glottis closes, it stops the intake of air, and your dog hiccups. Normally, all parts of the breathing process work smoothly and in sync. Hiccups are a sign that there is a glitch in the system.
Puppy hiccups are not usually a concern. While researching this article, I discovered that human babies and puppies will hiccup while still in their mother’s uterus. After birth, the hiccups subside around four months of age. Eating or drinking too fast and swallowing too much air may induce an attack of hiccups. Excitement and stress, as well as energetic play and rapid breathing, can also bring them on.
Puppies are more prone to hiccups because of their high energy and excitement levels. They are more likely to eat, drink and play too fast. Some experts believe the harmless spasms can help your puppy relieve stomach gas or irritation.
Are hiccups in adult dogs a symptom of medical problems?
Recurring bouts of hiccups, especially in adult dogs, can be a symptom of a more serious health condition. In some cases, hiccups are an indication of a serious parasite infestation. Heartworms and roundworms will cause damage to the respiratory tract. Roundworm larvae migrate through the body and encyst in the lungs. The resulting inflammation of the parasite migration may manifest as hiccups.
If your dog’s hiccups are accompanied by discharge from the nose, sneezing and wheezing, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. These can be indications of pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis or heat stroke. Gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting, diarrhea and blood in the stool, in addition to hiccups, are warning signs of a serious problem.
Most conditions can be treated, but if the hiccups persist for more than a few hours, you will need to get to your veterinarian for a diagnosis. Since hiccups originate from irritation to the diaphragm and phrenic nerve, radiographs of the chest and abdomen may help identify the cause. Several conditions that can mimic hiccups include small seizures, reverse sneezing or reflux disease. A video of the hiccups can help your veterinarian clearly understand what is happening.
What can I do to stop the hiccups?
Most spells of hiccups are brief, lasting only a few minutes. However, there are some things you can do to stop an attack. Feeding something soft and sweet or adding sugar, honey or Karo syrup to your dog’s water can soothe and relax the airways. Give small quantities and have your dog drink slowly.
Since hiccups are involuntary and may produce a strong spasm, you don’t want to give your dog anything solid that requires chewing. This could result in aspiration and choking.
You can massage your dog’s chest to help relax the diaphragm. Light exercise will help change your dog’s breathing patterns. Lastly, we know a scare is effective in stopping hiccups in humans, so you might try startling your dog. I am not suggesting you frighten him to the point that he is traumatized, but a sudden clap, bang or jump may be effective!
What are titer tests for dogs?
A titer test is a blood test your veterinarian can run to help minimize the risk of both infectious diseases and unnecessary vaccinations for your dog. It is an antibody test that will determine if a previous vaccine is still protecting your dog’s immune system. If your dog is still producing antibodies, it is not necessary to revaccinate yet.
Concern about the potential adverse effects of vaccines in children was the motivation to investigate the length of protection provided by core vaccines for dogs. In many cases, it has been found that yearly vaccination boosters are not needed.
Titer testing is a good idea for dogs that have a history of allergic reaction or poor response to a vaccine. Dogs that are immunosuppressed as a result of medication for other conditions, including cancer and autoimmune diseases, are good candidates for vaccine titers in place of vaccination.
An antibody titer is a measure of the concentration of antibodies, which are protective proteins produced by the immune system. The test involves repeatedly diluting a blood sample and exposing those dilutions to an antigen, which is a foreign substance like bacteria or a virus. The measurements of the antibody concentrations are referred to as titers.
Titers are usually expressed as a ratio. If the titer number is high, it means that your dog has enough antibodies to fight off that specific disease. Your dog is considered to have immunity from infection. For most dogs, that immunity is the result of a previous vaccine. Immunity can also develop because the dog had the disease in the past and recovered. Either way, a high titer means your dog is protected.
If the test shows a low titer, your dog may not have immunity. Titer testing can be controversial since a low titer does not always mean that your dog has no protection. Random exposure will probably not result in disease, since your dog likely has some immune protection. Still, a low-titer result means that you should discuss revaccinating with your veterinarian.
What diseases can be titer-tested?
Studies have shown antibody testing is useful for monitoring immunity to certain viruses, especially canine distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus. However, it is not recommended for canine leptospirosis, bordetella or Lyme disease, because these vaccines only provide short-term protection.
Rabies vaccines do provide long-term protection, and titer tests for rabies are considered to be a very accurate measure of immunity. These titers are usually sent to the laboratory at Kansas State University. Vaccination against rabies is required by law and must be administered by a licensed veterinarian. At this time, no state in the U.S. accepts titer-test results in place of vaccination history. If your dog bites someone, the dog will still need to be quarantined, even if a titer shows the dog has immunity.
Specific types of rabies-titer tests are used when moving to rabies-free countries or regions. These include Hawaii, Guam, Japan, New Zealand and Great Britain. In this case, the rabies-titer test will help qualify the dog for a shorter quarantine period.
Newer titer-test kits are accurate, affordable and can be run by the veterinary hospital rather than needing to be sent out to a diagnostic laboratory. The results are ready in about 30 minutes. This way, titers can be a part of preventive care. If the test shows the immunity is dropping, a vaccine can be administered and minimize the risk of disease exposure as well as the risk of over-vaccinating.