Categories: pain

What is [cat] brain freeze and is it dangerous?

The brain freeze that I have seen applies to domestic cats. It occurs when a person gives a domestic cat ice cream which is licked by the cat. Immediately the cat opens their mouth wide and looks in distress. They are silent. An extreme example of this form of feline behaviour occurs in this twitter video. This very attractive ginger tabby cat is offered ice cream at the other end of a spoon so the quantity is very small.

Cat brain freeze after eating ice cream

The cat (I think this cat is female) sniffs the ice cream, is interested in it because it contains fat I suspect, and licks it twice gingerly (excuse the pun). The man offers it again and a piece of it is deposited on her lower lip.

Almost immediately she goes into a paroxysm of brain freeze. The phrase “brain freeze” was created by some online comedian I suspect. It is not really brain freeze (whatever it is) but we don’t know exactly what cats feel when they display this form of strange behaviour.

Taking a common sense viewpoint and standing back to look at it in general terms, it’s pretty clear to me that cats are distressed by the experience. They certainly do not present an expression indicating pleasure. It’s a shock to them. It is causing pain. Why should this be?

The experts don’t know but I have suggested in the past that it causes pain because ice cream is very cold. I do not think that it is an ingredient in the ice cream which results in this behaviour. It is far more likely to be the temperature of the product with which they are highly unfamiliar. Domestic cats’ inheritance makes them predisposed to eating warm food. It is food that is just below the body temperature of a mouse as they devour the mouse they just killed.

Ice cream is at freezing point (0°F) or just above that temperature at about 5-10°F. The domestic cat’s normal prey food temperature would be perhaps around 50 or more degrees Fahrenheit which is 10 times the temperature of ice cream. It is the shock of the low temperature which causes cats to suffer from brain freeze and look disturbed. They can’t understand it.

The question, therefore it whether this person is being cruel to his cat. I don’t think he’s doing it maliciously. He is simply unaware that it may be harming his cat. He knows that it will cause brain freeze which is why he is videoing it. He wants his video to get lots of hits, which, incidentally, he has achieved (approaching 400k).

So my assessment is that he is being inadvertently cruel in a minor way to his cat. The response from Twitter commentators is varied. A lot of people like it because it is amusing whereas others are more concerned with animal welfare and don’t like to see it. They have criticised him. I favour the latter viewpoint.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • That is disturbing and the guy laughing too but I am very empathetic when it comes to animals, I never knew ice cream did that to cats thank you for the insight

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