Do Cats Actually Get 'Brain Freeze' When They Eat Cold Treats?

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 28, 2016

It's the latest cat video trend. But just like some popular ones before it, this viral fad may be more cruel than it is cute. 

The Huffington Post recently shared a video compilation of pet parents recording their cat's reaction to eating cold treats like ice cream and popsicles. The cats appear to have stunned reactions or a moment of painful pause that looks similar to human reactions when we experience the dreaded brain freeze. 

We wanted to find out exactly why these kitties were having the physical responses to these frigid treats, and whether the whole "brain freeze" cat craze was safe for felines in the first place. 

"A brain freeze in humans is technically called a sphenopalpatine gangioneuralgia, which essentially means 'pain of the sphenopalpatine nerve,'" explains Dr. Zachary Glantz, VMD of Companion Pet Hospital. "It occurs when one of the blood vessels in the mouth or throat is cooled rapidly by something in the mouth (e.g., ice cream) which causes some dilation of blood vessels, which is perceived as pain." 

Dr. Christopher Gaylord, DVM, of North Slope Veterinary, says that a cat experiencing brain freeze is not out of the question.

"It’s very difficult for us to know what a cat may be feeling. We generally assume since they have a very similar neuroanatomy to humans that their sensory experience is similar to ours," he says. "So when a cat gets something extremely cold, it is likely that they experience a similar pain to what a human would feel. The most logical assumption is that 'brain freeze' in cats is a similar sensory experience to 'brain freeze' in people." 

Glantz, on the other hand, theorizes that the reaction could be due to the sensitive nerve endings in their teeth due to periodontal disease. "[Periodontal disease] is extremely common in almost all cats, especially when they are not getting their teeth brushed daily." 

So before you hit record and capture your cat's response to eating something like ice cream, Glantz points out that it's "not especially funny" when you consider the cats are most likely feeling a sense of discomfort or pain. 

Gaylord also points out that while a human would have the cognitive capacity to understand what is causing the unpleasant feeling, a cat would be caught off guard. "While we don’t know if cats can feel surprised, it must certainly be unpleasant for them to find that eating food, one of their basic needs, is suddenly causing them pain or discomfort." 

In addition to the discomfort a cat may be experiencing, Gaylord advises against giving ice cream or other frozen human treats to cats. "Some cats could eat ice cream and have no problem, but other cats may not be able to handle all the fat and could become seriously ill," he says. "Cats who are sensitive to high fat foods could even develop pancreatitis, which is a potentially life-threatening disease."

So rather than creating these potentially harmful videos, keep your cat cool and happy this season by protecting her from the summer heat and treating her to special vet-approved foods and treats

Image via Shutterstock 

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