Is It A Bad Idea To Give Your Cats Brain Freeze?


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Oh my GOD what is HAPPENING? Ekaterina Kolomeets

Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most popular scientific mysteries of 2015, a question that millions of people from all walks of life were desperate to answer, was: Why are cats so afraid of cucumbers? Although this question was never definitively answered, and the debate still rages online, another query has arisen that threatens to take its feline crown. So, ladies and gentlemen of the Web, is it dangerous to give cats brain freeze?

As ever, this question arose from the acts of maverick pet owners, recorded for the delight of the denizens of the Internet. Whether it’s ingesting a Slurpee or licking too much ice cream, cats of all kinds seem to have the same open-jawed, wide-eyed reactions to eating a little too much too quickly.


Mirroring what occurred during the peak of the cat-cucumber wars, several are wondering if it’s dangerous to induce small amounts of pain to their fluffy feline companions – in this case, physical pain instead of psychological trauma. Whereas with the cucumbers, many claimed that the small shock of a stealthy vegetable suddenly appearing was no more frightening that when cats play fight and ambush each other. But what about brain freeze?

A classic example of the genre. Napo TV via YouTube

“It’s pretty unhealthy for the cat,” Amy Cousino, veterinarian and owner of the Cat’s Meow Cat Clinic in Sebastian, Florida, told the Washington Post. “Cats have very similar nervous pathways [to humans].”

Conversely, Eric Doughtery, another veterinarian and medical director for The Cat Practice in New York, notes that “there hasn’t been much research on feline brain freeze,” adding that he “can’t imagine that [brain freeze] would be different in cats” than it is to humans. His main concern is that lactose intolerant cats may experience prolific diarrhea if they are fed too many sweet, dairy-based treats.


So what exactly is brain freeze – and is it harmful to humans, or cats?

Brain freeze is a commonly experienced phenomenon, primarily thanks to the overriding human urge to consume as much delicious ice cream as physically possible. Technically known by the cacophonous term sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, it doesn’t literally involve the passage of icy particles up into your brain, because that in all probability would be as fatal as it is physiologically ludicrous.

When you ingest ice cream or anything fairly cold, it lowers the temperature of key blood vessels near the back of your throat. In order to conserve their heat, these vessels rapidly contract, before slowly dilating again when the surrounding temperature increases. This sudden movement pulls on the tissues surrounding these nerves, including the trigeminal nerve, a large structure that is responsible for sensation in the face.

This nerve often cannot distinguish the location of the original pain trigger, and so you often feel pain in your head not necessarily from where it’s being inflicted. So that is why you tend to feel the effect of brain freeze in your forehead, not the back of your throat. It seems that cats also share this mechanism, as amply demonstrated by the giggle-worthy videos proliferating across the Web right this very moment.



Owch. Alajda via YouTube


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