There is little scientific research on how cats experience headaches. Luckily, much of the knowledge about how and why humans experience headaches can also apply to domesticated domestic cats.
Cats get tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. However, it is difficult to tell when a headache occurs in cats. When a cat has a headache, it hides its pain and retreats to a place where it feels safe. Causes of headaches in cats include dehydration, overheating, injury, and loss of appetite.
Cat headache treatment includes a cold, quiet, dark place where the cat can rest peacefully. Offering food and water is also helpful.
See a veterinarian if the headache persists or is accompanied by other troubling symptoms.
Can Cats Get Headaches?
Cats do get headaches, but we usually don’t notice them because cats like to hide their pain.
In addition, humans can communicate when in pain, but cats cannot. Instinctively, cats always act to hide their discomfort.
A basic definition encompassing the many headache types in cats is a pain in any head region.
This pain can vary in severity, location, and duration. Based on the symptoms, we can determine the type of headache.
Headaches can be divided into two categories:
- Primary headaches: they are harmless, although painful, but not a symptom of another health problem.
- Secondary headaches: they are related to and also caused by another health problem or injury. Secondary headaches can be harmless or dangerous.
Most research on headaches has been done on humans. However, we know that animals, including cats, also have headaches.
While research has been limited so far, it is progressing.
Before we look at how headaches manifest in cats, let’s look at the main types of headaches and their causes.
Can Cats Get Tension Headaches?
Tension headaches are the most common primary headaches experienced by cats.
They are described as aching, dull sensations that usually involve the entire head.
The most common cause of tension headaches is stress. Other causes may include:
- Poor posture
- Bright light
- Excessive meals
- Tense muscles
Can Cats Get Migraines?
Migraines are manifested by an intense pulse of pain from deep within the head and usually occur on only one side.
This type of headache can cause you to be sensitive to light and sound and trigger nausea and vomiting.
Some people also see flashing or shimmering lights and stars or have blind spots before the migraine starts. Of course, you can’t ask cats what they see to diagnose migraine.
It is safe to say that what can trigger tension headaches can also trigger migraines. These include lack of sleep, dehydration, and skipped meals.
Other causes of migraines include chemical exposure, hormone fluctuations, and certain foods.
Can Cats Get Cluster Headaches?
Cluster headaches have their name because they usually occur in clusters of so-called cluster episodes and cause a sharp, burning, stabbing pain.
Typically, this pain occurs behind one eye or locally on one side of the face.
Cluster headaches are among the most severe pains known to mankind. Sufferers suffer from a series of phases of this headache over an indeterminate period.
Individual headache phases can last between 15 and 60 minutes. Clusters may occur over hours, days, weeks, or months. There are periods of relief between clusters.
Cluster headaches may also cause redness, flushing, swelling, sweating, nasal congestion, and watery eyes.
These symptoms often occur on the side of the face where the pain occurs.
Research does not know precisely what triggers cluster headaches in people. It is also not known if domestic cats are affected.
How Do You Know When Cats Have a Headache?
We know that cats, like other animals, can suffer from headaches. You must know how cats respond to pain to determine if your cat has a headache.
Many of the above symptoms for each headache type rely on the patient describing their feelings. However, a cat cannot do this.
So, it comes down to observing your cat’s behavior to recognize something is wrong.
However, this can be particularly difficult to notice because cats tend to hide their pain from others.
This behavior is thought to be a survival instinct. A holdover from before domestication, when weakness would have made a cat easy prey for predators or rival cats.
The first step to determine if your cat has a headache is to look for signs of pain. Most cats will show one or more of the following signs regardless of how they usually behave.
The instinct of a cat that is uncomfortable due to injury or illness is to hide, even from its closest humans.
Often, a cat will seek a place of seclusion and protection. It may hide where no one can see it or isolate itself where no one can reach it.
However, some cats naturally prefer to be alone most of the day. Therefore, self-isolation does not always indicate that something is wrong.
But if you notice your cat doing this alongside the following behaviors, watch them closely.
Lack of Appetite
Many types of headaches can lead to a decreased appetite.
Pain can dampen appetite. Migraines can also cause nausea, which reduces the cat’s willingness to eat.
A loss of appetite or complete refusal to eat are obvious signs that your cat is not well.
However, many other illnesses can also cause loss of appetite. If your cat does not eat for more than 24 hours, visit a veterinarian.
Cats convert protein into energy, and when they don’t eat meals, they lose weight.
Sensitivity to Touch
Few cats like to be touched while they are in pain.
If your cat withdraws when touched, where he usually would not, he may have a headache.
However, this symptom may not be a symptom at all. Cats can be social creatures if they are properly socialized. Still, most cats like to be alone at times.
Look for other signs of pain or illness if the cat keeps withdrawing from your touch throughout the day.
Pain can significantly affect motivation to do anything. Headaches, particularly severe ones, may cause lethargy in your cat until the pain subsides.
A cat naturally spends most of the day lounging. Check to see if your cat is unmotivated or lethargic by enticing him to play or eat.
Cats only pant when they are overheated. Migraines can cause fever-like symptoms and elevated temperature, although we don’t know if this is true for cats.
However, it is thought that cats have an elevated temperature during headaches, which causes them to pant.
Something may be wrong if your cat is panting and not overheated or has not been very active lately. It could be a headache or something more serious.
Two things to keep in mind, though:
- Cats usually have a body temperature between 100.2-102.6 °F (38.0-39.3 °C).
- Do not confuse panting with the open mouth and grimacing response of flehmen. This is when a cat has detected an exciting odor and exposes its finely tuned olfactory system to the air.
Reddened gums are a sign of other conditions that can also cause headaches.
It could be an infection in the mouth, toothache, or overheating.
Not every cat responds to pain by hiding. Some cats pace up and down, fidget around, and make sounds.
Or they may act restless in other ways for no apparent reason.
This may be a sign of pain or distress. The cause of these feelings could be a headache.
Changes in Breathing
Aside from panting with their mouths open, cats may respond to pain by taking shallow, rapid breaths.
However, this is only a pain symptom if the cat was largely inactive before the change in breathing.
Keep a close eye on the cat. If her breathing doesn’t return to normal within 5 minutes, check her for other signs of injury or illness.
A facial expression change may not seem like something to look for in a cat.
However, cats can be very expressive, even if you can’t project human emotions onto them.
A cat that is in pain may squint its eyes. This is likely if the headache makes them light-sensitive, indicating a migraine.
Squinting eyes may also indicate pain in the head.
Pupils can also indicate if the cat is in pain and where that pain might be located.
Dilated pupils can mean the cat is in pain somewhere. Constricted pupils tend to indicate that the pain is confined to the eye.
Also, consider the cat’s mood and the ambient light in the room, as both will affect the pupils.
Causes of Headaches in Cats
Headaches have numerous reasons, although many are elusive to researchers.
However, our knowledge about ourselves can essentially be applied to cats. Observation and consultation with a veterinarian can further narrow down the cause of your cat’s headache.
However, several common factors can trigger headaches in cats. So, there are things you can do yourself to reduce the frequency of headaches in your cat.
Headaches can be the result of dehydration. Ensuring your cat has access to fresh, clean water can help prevent headaches.
If your cat refuses to drink, try giving him more wet food, offering sauces or treats, or using a drinking fountain.
The latter option may be the most effective trick in the long run. Cats sometimes avoid drinking from standing water.
You can also place the water bowl farther away from the food bowls.
Cats often instinctively avoid water near their food, as rotting food can contaminate the water and make it unsuitable for drinking.
We’ve all felt the hot pressure of the relentless sun at one time or another. Among several other symptoms, heat stroke in cats causes headaches.
Heat stroke can be fatal in cats if not treated.
Remove your cat from the heat and wet its fur with lukewarm water. Do not use ice-cold water, as this can cause shock.
Make sure she is exposed to an ambient temperature airflow, such as a fan.
Persistent headaches may indicate tumors.
As tumors grow, they put pressure on surrounding tissue. This pressure and inflammation can lead to headaches.
Lack of Appetite
Loss of appetite is not only a symptom of headaches, but it can also be a cause.
Many people suffer from headaches, eat something and find that the headache is gone.
The same is true for your cat. If your cat refuses to eat, he may develop a headache.
Try offering your cat different foods, warming them up, or using treats to get them to eat.
Head or neck injuries that a cat has suffered in the past or recently can lead to headaches.
This is usually due to a pulled muscle.
Collars that are too heavy or too tight can also cause muscle strain. And these can lead to headaches.
Make sure your cat’s collar is the right size and not too tight if he is wearing one. Remove any unnecessary embellishments, such as bells, to reduce weight.
Collars can also get caught on furniture or other objects. This can cause injury to the head or neck, which can cause headaches.
What Can Be Done for Headaches in Cats?
Treatment for headaches follows the same steps you would use for your headaches.
However, except for painkillers, which you should never give your cat without consulting a veterinarian.
Move your cat to a cold, quiet, dark place where she is comfortable, such as your bedroom.
Offer her water and a small amount of food. You can also pet her lightly, which can help her relax.