There’s a solid chance that you’ve gotten brain freeze once or twice (or ten million times) in your life. There’s also a solid chance that your cat hasn’t. One particular Internet trend is videos of people giving cats brain freeze, and it’s an absolutely hilarious reaction on the surface. Is brain freeze really harmless to cats, though?
The first thing to consider about giving cats brain freeze is what they’re eating
First off, a lot of people are doing this with ice cream, and cats tend to be lactose intolerant. My cats can get diarrhea something awful if they have more than a drop or two of dairy – hardly enough to induce a brain freeze. Experts, however, are divided as to whether giving cats brain freeze is safe or not, even when not using dairy.
“It’s pretty unhealthy for the cat. Cats have very similar nervous pathways [to humans].”
Brain freeze occurs in humans because we’re eating or drinking something that cools the backs of our throats too quickly. That causes a sudden change in the blood flow of the internal carotid artery and the anterior cerebral artery. Since our brains do not like sudden changes, the result is pain.
Since cats have similar neural structures to ours, it’s safe to assume that this same mechanism causes brain freeze in cats. Eric Doughtry, another veterinarian, says:
“There hasn’t been much research on feline brain freeze. I can’t imagine that [brain freeze] would be different in cats [than humans].”
Since brain freeze in humans is a momentary constriction of arteries, all it really does is just cause pain. It doesn’t cause long-term damage to your brain because your brain doesn’t lose blood flow for an extended period. The same may be true of giving cats brain freeze – it’s just painful for a moment or two, and then it passes without causing damage. Not much is known about this, though.
There’s something to be said for not intentionally causing your cat pain, though. I personally see this as similar to cats and cucumbers. Sure, it’s funny, but is that humor really worth hurting or scaring your cat? So while the jury’s out on the science of giving cats brain freeze, I see it as cruel.