There are a variety of things that can cause brain injuries in cats, including severe hyperthermia or hypothermia and prolonged seizures. Primary brain injuries, for example, involve direct trauma to the brain, which once acquired, cannot be altered. Secondary brain injury, meanwhile, is the alteration of brain tissue that occurs after primary injury, but this form of injury can be managed, prevented, and improved with optimal supportive care and treatment.
Symptoms and Types
Being that it is a vital organ, the brain requires constant supply of oxygen and nutrition. Any deficiency of oxygen or direct trauma to the brain, therefore, may result in bleeding and fluid buildup, which can cause excessive pressure on the brain. This in turn can cause complications involving the heart, eye, and several other body systems. Symptoms vary and depend on the cause and severity of the brain injury. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Abnormal posture or irregular movements
- Ear or nose bleed
- Bleeding inside the eye (involving the retina)
- Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis); a sign that oxygen in the blood is dangerously diminished
- Insufficient oxygen reaching body tissues (hypoxia)
- Purplish or bluish patch under the mucous membranes) or under the skin due to ruptured blood vessels (ecchymosis)
- Red or purple spot on the body caused by a minor hemorrhage (petechiation)
- Heavy or rapid breathing (dyspnea or tachypnea, respectively)
- Abnormal heart functions, such as abnormally slow heart rate (bradycardia)
The following are some of the more common causes to brain injuries:
- Head trauma
- Severe hypothermia or hyperthermia
- Abnormally low of blood glucose (severe hypoglycemia)
- Prolonged seizures or shock
- High blood pressure
- Brain parasites
- Brain tumors
- Infections involving the nervous system
- Immune-mediated diseases
You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health to your veterinarian, including the onset and nature of the symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated the unusual behaviors or complications. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination as well as a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count. Although the findings for these tests depend on the underlying cause of the brain injury, often the biochemistry profile may indicate abnormalities in the blood glucose level. Blood gases are also measured to confirm oxygen deficiency in the blood.
When fractures involving the skull are suspected, X-rays, CT (computed tomography) scans, and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) are extremely useful to evaluate the severity of the brain trauma. These diagnostic tools also help in determining the presence of bleeding, fractures, foreign bodies, tumor, and other abnormalities involving brain. The ECG (electrocardiogram), meanwhile, is used to evaluate heart functions and rhythm.
Lastly, your veterinarian may collect cerebrospinal fluid sample to determine the level of inflammation and to confirm possible infections.
Any type of brain injury should be considered an emergency that requires immediate hospitalization for intensive care and treatment. In fact, depending on the cause of the brain injury, surgery may be required. However, often the primary goal of emergency treatment is to normalize the cat's temperature and blood pressure, provide adequate levels of oxygen and prevent hypoxia.
In order to assist with breathing, a tube will be passed into the trachea to supply oxygen. Small amounts of fluids may also be given to animals with fluid deficits in order to maintain blood pressure. To reduce brain swelling, the cat will be given medication and its head will be kept above the level of the body. In addition, the cat is turned over every two hours to avoid complications.
Pain killers are often provided to reduce pain associated with the injury. Those with severe hemorrhaging (either in the eye or in the brain) will also be given medication. In cases with low blood glucose levels, intravenous glucose supplementation is initiated, whereas in cats with high blood glucose levels, insulin may be required to reduce blood glucose levels.
Living and Management
For cats with minimal primary or secondary brain injuries, the overall prognosis is good. In fact, if no deterioration is observed within 48 hours following the head injury, the cat has a good chance of full recovery, which may take more than six months, depending on the cause and treatment of the condition.
During the recovery process, your cat should be placed in a stress-free environment, away from other pets and active children. Tube feeding may be necessary for the first few weeks for nutritional support. In addition, its activities should be restricted until the veterinarian advises otherwise.
It is important you watch your cat for any untoward symptoms such as unusual behaviors, bleeding, vomiting, and inform the veterinarian if any should occur immediately. Otherwise, the cat is brought in for regular follow-up exams to evaluate the neurologic functions of the patient. Frequent laboratory testing may also be required to determine the cat's overall health.
Unfortunately, cats suffering from severe primary head injuries and/or secondary brain traumas, the overall prognosis is not favorable.