Can Cats Get Concussions?

While many of us have been told that cats always land on their feet, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Not only can cats fall on their head in an instant, but they can also fall victim to other forms of head trauma.

So because our feline friends can experience head injuries, does this mean they can get concussions as well?

In this article we will get into the realistic threat of concussions in cats, and help you better understand how to spot a head injury when it occurs.

Can Cats Get Concussions

What Is A Concussion?

The term concussion is used to describe a form of brain injury that occurs after a blow to the head.

A concussion occurs when the head and brain are forced to move back and forth rapidly, leading to potential damage of the brain as a result.

This rapid movement can cause the brain tissue to change shape, which in turn impacts the brain cells and normal metabolic functions.

This process makes it challenging for the cells in the brain to communicate, leading to an array of troubling symptoms.

Can Cats Get Concussions?

Just like you and I, cats can get concussions.

Any furry friend can hit their head hard enough to cause a substantial brain injury, whether they take a hard fall or they are struck by a large object.

Cats are certainly better at landing upright than the average human, but there are many other scenarios in which injury is unavoidable.

Not only can cats get concussions after significant blows to the head, but they can also experience brain injuries in many forms.

Brain injuries in cats can occur due to toxicities, lack of oxygen, low blood sugar, prolonged fevers, and even infectious disease.

Outdoor cats are most prone to developing concussions as they tend to live a more high risk lifestyle.

Outdoor cats can develop concussions when they fall from trees, are struck by vehicles, and even through fights with other outdoor animals.

Can Indoor Cats Get Concussions?

Though concussions are most common in cats that live outdoors, they can occur in our indoor furry friends as well.

Indoor cats do not typically have as many opportunities for injury as a street cat would, but accidents within the home can always happen.

For example, I assisted in treating an indoor cat that fell from the top of a bunk bed while he was sleeping.

Due to being disoriented from his slumber, he hit the ground before he could even react.

Indoor cats may be less prone to injury than their street cat friends, but you can never rule out the threat of concussions completely.

Is Head Trauma Serious In Cats?

Head trauma is considered a serious medical emergency in our feline friends.

Not only is there a threat of complications such as brain swelling or bleeding, but it can be challenging to assess the extent of the damage since our cat’s are nonverbal.

Humans have the ability to tell us how the injury occurred and how much pain they are experiencing, which is something we cannot get from our feline companions.

Due to this, it’s important to treat every case of head trauma with urgency.

Signs Of A Concussion In Cats

Our cats cannot tell us how much pain they are in after their head trauma occurs, so it’s up to us to decipher the clues in their behavior.

If you think your cat may be suffering from a concussion, there are a list of potential symptoms to be on the lookout for.

Some of the most common signs of a concussion in cats includes:

  • Ataxia
  • Swelling of the head or face
  • Disorientation
  • Not responding to normal stimuli such as name calling and sounds
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Bleeding from the nose or mouth
  • Bleeding from the ears
  • Abrasions on the face or head
  • Different sized pupils
  • Strange eye movements or nystagmus
  • Head tilt
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your cat, we suggest reaching out to your veterinarian immediately.

Brain injuries can be potentially fatal, so fast action is essential in offering your cat the best chance at a full recovery.

Diagnosing Concussions In Cats

If you bring your cat to the vet after they sustained a potential head injury, there are a few diagnostics that your veterinarian can explore.

The standard diagnostic approach will vary based on the severity of your cat’s case, as well as the available diagnostics that your vet has in office.

While most veterinary clinics will have an x-ray onsite, not all facilities will have more advanced imaging like MRI’s or CT scans.

To help you better understand the diagnostic tools available to you, let’s list a step by step approach of what you can expect.

History Of Head Trauma

Your vet will first gather a detailed history about your cat’s current symptoms and what led to their vet visit.

They will likely ask you about the trauma that occurred, how long they have had their symptoms, and whether or not your cat has a detailed medical history.

This will help them paint a clear picture on how to best move forward.

Physical Exam

A physical exam is necessary to pinpoint any obvious trauma to the body, as well as listed for any abnormal sounds of the heart or lungs.

A physical exam will typically involve listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope, palpating different regions of the body in search of any obvious pain, as well as obtaining vital signs.

Neurological Exam

A neurological exam will typically be performed if your vet fears any potential head trauma or brain injury.

This will typically involve looking into their eyes with a pen light, assessing your cat’s gait, as well as performing positioning tests on all the limbs.

Your vet may also perform these exams multiple times throughout their stay, as they will need to monitor for any evidence of deterioration.

X-rays

Radiographs cannot indicate any damage to the brain, but they can reveal any obvious fractures to the skull.

This can be necessary if there is substantial swelling of the skull, as well as any surrounding structures like the mandible or the neck.

MRI or CT Scan

If your vet has these tools available, or your cat is stable enough to transfer to another facility, they may suggest an MRI or CT scan.

These are the only diagnostic options that can paint a clear picture of the current state of the brain, allowing them to determine the extent of any damage.

CT scans and MRI’s work in slightly different ways, so your veterinarian will determine the best option based on your cat’s condition and your budget.

Complications Of Head Trauma In Cats

As we mentioned above, any form of head trauma is considered a medical emergency in our feline friends.

A healthy brain is essential for life in all creatures, so any serious damage to the brain tissue can be fatal if left untreated.

Some of the potential complications that can develop as a result of head trauma in cats include:

  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Swelling of the brain tissue
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory depression
  • Vision loss
  • Loss of normal motor function
  • Death

As you can see, an unresolved brain injury can lead to an array of life altering complications.

Even if the injury seems minor, you should always seek veterinary guidance for any potential concussion just to be safe.

How Do You Treat A Concussion In Cats?

Treatment for your cat’s concussion will vary based on the extent of their injuries.

For example, if your cat only sustained mild head trauma and is not displaying any abnormalities on their exams, you cat may be treated on an outpatient or fast track basis.

Your vet may suggest keeping them in the hospital for 12-24 hours to be safe, as this can allow them to keep an eye out for any developing symptoms.

Once your vet thinks it is safe to send them home, your cat may only require pain control and rest.

However, things get a bit more complicated as the severity of their trauma increases.

To help you better determine the treatment options available to your cat, let’s break it down based on the symptoms and injuries that are present in your cat’s case.

Abrasions Or Wounds

Any abrasions or wounds will need to be thoroughly cleaned to prevent infection.

Surgery or bandaging may be needed to address deep wounds that cannot heal on their own, but minor wounds can typically be treated with antibiotics and pain control.

Fractures

If your cat has sustained any skull fractures, there may be a discussion about surgery.

This will vary based on how severe the fracture is, where the fracture is located, and whether or not it can heal without surgical intervention.

If your cat has a skull fracture, you can typically expect your vet to suggest a hospital stay to monitor for any neurological decline.

Your cat may also benefit from the use of medication to relieve brain pressure, adequate pain control, antibiotic therapy, and even mild sedation.

Abnormal Vitals

If your cat is experiencing any vital abnormalities after sustaining head trauma, you can typically expect your veterinarian to suggest a stay in the hospital.

This will allow your vet to treat any abnormalities as they develop, as well as monitor your cat around the clock for any decline.

Your cat may also benefit from the use of medication to relieve brain pressure, oxygen therapy, adequate pain control, antibiotic therapy, and even mild sedation.

Neurological Symptoms

Neurological symptoms after a head trauma can be a sign of serious brain injury in cats.

Cats that have developed any form of neurological symptoms should stay in the hospital for at least 24-48 hours, as this will allow the vet to administer appropriate treatment for their brain trauma.

Many of these cats can benefit from the use of anti-seizure medication, medication to relieve brain pressure, mild sedation, oxygen therapy, and pain control.

Head injuries in cats can range significantly from patient to patient, so we always suggest following your veterinarian’s guidance when they present you with a treatment plan.

They are the only ones that know the details of your cat’s case, so they can offer you the best guidance in determining the path that is best for your cat.

Are There Lasting Side Effects Of Concussions In Cats?

While most cats will be back to their normal selves within weeks of their mild concussion, there are some cats that struggle with long term effects of their head trauma.

Some cats with previous head trauma can experience lasting neurological symptoms, ranging from occasional seizures to vision loss.

These feline friends may benefit from the use of daily medications to regulate their neurological symptoms, but every situation will vary.

The risk of long term brain damage from a head trauma increases with the severity of the initial injury.

The best thing you can do for your cat is to follow the guidance of your veterinarian in the early stages of treatment, as well as keeping up with any rechecks as they recover.

Can Cats Recover From A Concussion?

Many cats will recover from their concussion and go on to live a long and healthy life.

The most effective way to offer your cat a full recovery from their head trauma is by seeking medical care immediately after the injury occurs, or from the moment you notice the development of their symptoms.

There is always a risk of fatality when discussing any trauma to the brain, but your veterinarian should offer you an honest assessment on your cat’s prognosis.

If you have any specific questions about your cat’s concussion and their expected recovery time, we always suggest speaking with your veterinarian.

Final Thoughts

Concussions are a brain injury that should always be taken seriously when they occur in cats.

Due to the potential for lasting damage, immediate medical care is essential in offering them the best chance at recovery.

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