Cat brain freeze is an expression of pain

I had thought that “cat brain freeze” was an amusing reference to the funny expressions on cats’ faces after they had consumed ice cream. But it appears to have some basis in science. And it is an expression of pain by a cat just as humans pull a face when in pain. Cats like ice cream because of the fat content but are surprised that it is cold.

Cat brain freeze on eating ice cream

Cat brain freeze on eating ice cream. Mouth open, head and body still. Temporary pain.

With reference to humans, a research study was carried out and published in the British Medical Journal and Scientific American. The study demonstrated that there is a higher incidence of headaches in people who had consumed ice cream quickly compared to those who consumed it slowly.

This study has been referred to in getting to the bottom of the expression that domestic cats have after they had consumed ice cream quickly. They pause and then open their mouth wide and stay stationary for a while. That is what I see on the video. It is an amusing expression resulting in amusing comments and descriptions by the comedians of the Internet.

Cats with brain freeze have joined the feline celebrities of the Internet and been participants on funny cat videos.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

The theory as to why eating ice cream quickly causes a headache in humans and perhaps in cats (although we don’t know for sure) is that the very cold ice cream cause a rapid cooling and constriction of the capillary blood vessels in the sinuses and in the roof of the mouth. As they warm up they dilate. This is picked up by pain receptors which send a signal back to the brain that this is painful. I presume that quite quickly the signal is stopped and pain is no longer perceived by the cat.

There is an alternative theory which is that it results in an and increase blood flow to the brain through the anterior cerebral artery. The size of the artery is increased resulting in pain. I’m not sure about this theory because I don’t see how a cold stimulus can result in increased blood flow to the brain.

Nonetheless, this amusing feline expression appears to be founded on science. My initial thought was that it was painful to the cat for a short time. The cat opens his mouth as humans might do under these circumstances both in pain and in an attempt to warm up the mouth through breathing in ambient air. This the commonsense explanation. The science tries to explain the exact cause of the pain.

I think humans have a similar experience when, sometimes, they can feel pain in their stomach if they drink a very cold liquid. That might cause a sharp pain for a very short time (around 10 seconds or less) until the stomach lining warms up.

It is ironic that videos of cats experiencing pain is amusing to people. The reason is that the expression is strange and people don’t understand that the cat might be feeling discomfort and pain. However, a lot of funny cat videos show cats in discomfort or pain which is not apparent to the viewer.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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