Sleeping for long stretches at a time, moodiness, a total unwillingness to let you touch her head or neck at unpredictable times — if you have a cat this probably sounds like any other day of the week, but could it be a sign of something else? Much like people, cats have the potential to experience headaches from time to time. The causes are largely unknown but can sometimes be attributed to external factors, like a pulled neck muscle or dehydration. While this information shouldn't be something to stress and worry about, if your cat is exhibiting symptoms like those listed above, it could be worth familiarizing yourself with what a cat with a headache may act like, especially if it's ongoing, as it may point to other issues.
What is a headache?
Aside from an almost guaranteed way to make your day at least a little bit harder, a headache is defined as an ongoing pain in the head and occurs when those parts of your brain that are sensitive to pain become overstimulated, according to Mayo Clinic. The brain contains nerves, blood vessels, and muscles, all of which have the potential to feel pain, which causes our heads to take on an achy feeling. Headaches can be caused by a number of primary or secondary issues, including dehydration, allergies, neck pain, too much alcohol or nicotine, other illnesses, and even stress, to name a few. Headaches are very common and can usually be treated with over the counter or home remedies, although recurring or chronic headaches may be a sign that something else is wrong.
Can cats get them?
It's awful to think about your feline friend suffering silently through an achy head while we remain none the wiser. While there is little research on the subject, namely the causes of headaches in cats, one thing that's for sure is that, because they too have brains made up of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, they do have the capacity to get them. Like any other part of the body, cats are definitely sensitive to the same physical pains people experience, and their furry heads are no different.
The causes of cat headaches can never be known for sure, but Innovative Veterinary Care lists what they believe could be causes of secondary headaches in animals, or, headaches that come about as a symptom of another issue. It will, of course, depend on your pet and her circumstances, but secondary headaches may be caused by, heat exhaustion, allergies, dental issues, stress due to sudden changes, and chemicals like carbon monoxide.
How to tell if your cat has a headache
So we know that cats can potentially feel headaches, but how can you tell if your cat has one? Well, because cats cannot speak, it's impossible to know for sure if their symptoms are caused by an aching head, but general signs of pain may point to what could potentially be discomfort in that area. Vetstreet states that a cat in pain will often hide or seclude themselves from those around them and can often be seen resting in a hunched stance. If your cat seems to be refusing his food or displays other signs that his mouth may be bothering him, a quick look at his gums may shine a light on dental issues, like an abscessed tooth, which could lead to a headache. If his gum line is excessively red, there may be something wrong with one of his teeth, which may be the cause of his headache. Furthermore, gums that are a bright red color can be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning or overheating, both of which can result in headaches.
If you suspect that your cat may have a headache, it's best to offer him what you would give yourself in the event of a throbbing head — access to plenty of water, quiet time, and lots of rest in a safe, comfortable place. If your cat's pain symptoms persist, you should call your veterinarian in case these signs are indicators of a more serious medical issue. Whether the pain your cat is experiencing is due to a headache or not, the important thing is to eliminate discomfort, the cause of which may be identified by a professional.
Finally, it's important to state that, unlike us, cats should not be given drugs containing acetaminophen, like Tylenol, to relieve their headaches. VCA Hospitals warns that even small doses of acetaminophen can be very harmful to cats as their bodies don't metabolize it the same way that we do and may result in damage to the red blood cells.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.