Helping you care for your chinnie

Chinchillas and hiccups

Chinchillas can get hiccups but it is not common. This is how hiccups work and why they get it. Only mammals get hiccups. The mechanism of hiccups is as follows:

The muscles of the diaphragm contracts involuntary, the mammal have no control over it. The diaphragm is the sheet of muscle that separates the lung cavity and the bowels. The diaphragm is also the muscle that allows mammals to breathe. It contracts and relaxes, forcing air in and out of the lungs.

A hiccup causes a strong contraction of the diaphragm, followed by the closing of the vocal cords. This is what makes the “hic” sound. At the same time, the contractions and relaxing of the esophagus is suppressed. You can’t swallow while the hiccup “comes out” because the esophagus is the pipe down which the food or water goes and it doesn’t work at that moment.

There are 2 schools of thought on where hiccups originated. The older version claims it is a remnant of life evolving from amphibians. They gulp for air. When the oxygen levels is higher, it stops. The newer version, explained by Howes in 2012 suggests that it evolved to help infants suck milk while breathing. It stops the milk from going into the lungs. It also clears air from the stomach, allowing more space for milk.
I can’t say which is correct and looking at the causes of hiccups, there is only one that I believe causes hiccups in chinchillas.

The causes

  • Coughing. I could find no evidence that they cough like we do. They do make wheezing sounds when they have respiratory tract infections though. There are references to coughing and there will be a sound, it is just not coughing like we know it, probably their version of it because their anatomy differs.
  • Rapid eating. It can probably happen but in my experience, they take their time. They will eat a bit, do something else and later eat more. They don’t sit and finish a meal, they graze.
  • Intense emotional changes. This includes joy, fear, anxiety, euphoria (being overjoyed with something) and excitement. This applies to chinchillas.
  • Spicy food, carbonated drinks like Coke, alcohol, food like too much bread etc. This should not even get near a chinnie so I can’t see it as a cause.
  • Laughing. They make happy sounds but I never heard one burst out laughing.

Why chinchillas get hiccups

It is a complicated process involving the central nervous system but basically a message is sent out that ends up causing the irritation that gives them hiccups. In every single case I’ve seen it was because of a changed emotional state. In my chinchillas I only notice it when they get very exited and after mating. Other emotional states can cause it but it never happened here. It also doesn’t affect many of my males. When a female is in heat, all the males get exited and 3 gets hiccups. Once they mated the same 3 will get hiccups too.
There are more serious pathological causes for hiccups, like kidney failure, diabetes, pneumonia and a stroke, to mention just a few. With these there will just be other signs and symptoms too and the hiccups is just one of the signs.

I don’t see hiccups in my chinchillas as serious because it is always due to an emotional change and once they relax again, it stops. I will only be concerned if this happens frequently and last for long periods. In a case like this, an underlying pathological condition can be the cause.

With mine the trigger is always the same and it soon stops. It doesn’t even happen every time they get exited but it does happen every time they mated. With the 3 that does get hiccups, I write down the date just to see what happens and found that there will be babies 16 weeks later if the female was not already pregnant. If she is pregnant and another girl comes in heat, they don’t always get exited enough to cause hiccups.

If they get hiccups because of an impact on their emotions it just passes and is nothing to worry about.