Cats can get headaches, and they have a myriad of causes. That’s why pet owners have to keep a lookout for unusual signs, such as sluggishness, sleeping for longer than usual, lack of appetite, weakness, and lack of interest towards play or rubs.
However, it can be challenging to determine whether your cat is in pain. While humans can talk about their symptoms with doctors, cats don’t possess this ability. Cats tend to hide pain and any signs of illness to avoid appearing weak in front of a territorial rival.
- 1 How to Tell If Your Cat Has a Headache
- 1.1 Signs and Symptoms of Headaches in Cats
- 2 What Are the Causes of Headaches in Cats?
How to Tell If Your Cat Has a Headache
Cats are experts at hiding their discomfort. Sometimes it can be obvious, for example, when your cat has a large cut or noticeable limp. However, in most cases, a cat’s signs of pain can be subtle.
As a general rule, keep in mind the following pain tips for cats:
- Cats tend to hide their pain, so check for subtle signs of discomfort.
- If your cat is in pain, it is likely to bite. Therefore, be careful while handling your pet.
- Lookout for changes in breathing, overall behavior, heart rate, and appearance.
- Never give your cat any medication without consulting your vet.
Signs and Symptoms of Headaches in Cats
There are many signs an owner can look out for to prevent their cat from suffering from pain in silence. Although subtle, you will be able to notice your cat’s signs of pain if you have a good idea of how your cat usually behaves.
This includes your cat’s energy levels, how it runs, its attitude, thirst, appetite, sleep patterns, activity levels, and other behavioral patterns.
1) Biting and Scratching
If your cat is suffering from pain or a headache, it is likely to be more agitated. This means that your cat may scratch or bite you and other familiar people.
Your cat may be more inclined to react if you attempt to touch or move the painful area, or if your cat thinks you’re about to touch its head.
Even cats that normally don’t bite or scratch may react unexpectedly to their owners trying to handle them. While assessing your cat for signs of headache, take care to not get hurt or bitten.
2) Changes in Breathing
Its breathing may be faster and shallower than normal. Some cats may also pant due to pain.
Check for any changes in your cat’s abdominal muscles and chest muscles movement as both muscle groups are involved in its breathing process.
Contrary to popular belief, purring is not always a sign of contentment in cats. Cats purr to communicate other feelings and emotions as well, including pain.
If your cat has a headache, purring may be a way of soothing itself – similar to a child sucking the thumb to feel better.
Purring takes a lot of energy, especially when a cat is in pain. Purring may even exacerbate pain. However, research suggests that purring may help a cat get better faster.
The low frequency of a cat’s purr results in a series of vibrations inside its body that can ease its breathing, reduce pain and swelling, build muscle and heal wounds and bones.
This may explain why cats suffer from fewer complications following surgeries and have a high chance of surviving falls.
4) Eye Changes
Migraine headaches and sinus infections can cause pain behind the eyes. However, eye changes can also occur as a result of pain in other regions of the body.
It may have larger or more dilated pupils than normal. Pain in one or both the eyes may lead to more dilated or smaller pupils, depending on the underlying condition or disease.
Squinting is another sign of pain, which can be either in the affected eye or somewhere else in the body. A bloodshot appearance is often a sign of pain in the affected eye.
5) Changes in Heart Rate and Pulse
Pain can increase a cat’s heart rate and pulse. Take your cat to your vet to learn to measure your cat’s heart rate and pulse. Taking a first aid course for pets can also be useful.
6) Decreased Appetite
A headache can cause your cat to eat less and drink less water. Cats in multi-cat households and shelters are especially susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections, which may lead to symptoms such as headaches, congestion, loss of appetite, open mouth breathing, fever, and sneezing.
Congestion from an upper respiratory tract infection can seriously compromise your cat’s sense of smell, causing your cat to lose its interest towards its food.
If loss of appetite is caused by an upper respiratory tract infection, consider offering your cat a more aromatic meal, such as wet food, or food that has been heated up slightly.
7) Changes in Grooming Behavior
Cats have highly predictable and consistent daily routines. They typically spend 30 to 40% of their time grooming themselves, and most of the remaining time in taking naps.
Therefore, it can be difficult to notice any changes in your cat’s grooming behavior until there is significant hair loss, balding and wounds from over-grooming.
When stressed or in pain, cats often resort to grooming themselves. Grooming releases endorphins, which reduces physical pain and emotional stress.
If stress from pain continues, your cat may carry on this method of self-soothing repeatedly until it becomes an obsessive behavior.
If your cat is stressed, you may be able to catch other signs, such as increased hiding, nervousness and refusal to eat.
8) Reduction in Energy Levels
Headaches and pain generally result in a decline in energy and activity levels. You’ll notice your cat either sleeping more than usual or running and jumping less than normal.
Your cat may move up and down the stairs more slowly, walk with a limp or be less eager to jump. Depending on the severity of the pain, your cat may make the same number of movements, but they may differ in terms of your pet’s energy levels and level of interest.
Hiding is another sign of pain. Your cat may prefer to spend much of its time hiding under the couch or inside your closet. Always check on your cat to see if it is hiding as it is often a telltale sign for pain or emotional distress.
9) Changes in Litter Box Habits
Headaches and pain can sometimes slow down intestinal movement, thereby resulting in constipation. If your cat is under stress, it may urinate or defecate outside of its litter box.
Note that changes in litter box habits can be a sign of other underlying health conditions, such as cognitive impairment. If your cat refuses to use the litter box, it may be a sign that it isn’t feeling well and requires immediate veterinary attention.
The normal temperature range for cats is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Humans are typically around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore cats feel warm to our touch.
To determine whether your cat has a fever, you may have to use a rectal thermometer. However, this isn’t going to be an easy task, given your cat’s distressed mood from its pain.
What Are the Causes of Headaches in Cats?
Headaches in cats may occur from causes similar to human headaches. As a pet owner, it can be difficult to determine the exact cause for your cat’s pain. However, being able to understand the possibilities can help you recognize your cat’s discomfort and treat it early.
Some common causes of headaches in cats include the following.
Common allergy headache triggers include, certain foods, smoke, pollen, and chemicals. Nasal or sinus congestion can also lead to headaches in cats.
Allergy Headache Management
Your first step should be to identify the triggers and avoid them. Your vet will be able to determine the cause for your cat’s allergies by recommending a restrictive diet and reintroducing certain food items gradually.
If your cat’s allergies are not food-related (atopy), your vet may consider the possibility of other allergens, such as pollen, smoke or chemicals.
You may have to use prescription medication to relieve your cat’s headaches and other symptoms. If your cat has a non-food allergy, you may have to keep it indoors as much as possible, especially during high pollen counts. This is usually during early evening and mid-morning hours, and during windy days.
When your cat is indoors, keep the windows closed and use air conditioning when necessary. Make sure your air-conditioning units are clean. You must also avoid dry dusting or sweeping the floor to prevent allergies from dust. Clean the floors with a mop or damp rug instead.
Mold and dust mites are also common allergy triggers for cats. To reduce your cat’s exposure to dust mites, consider using “mite-proof” covers for your couch, comforters, mattresses, and pillows.
You can limit your cat’s exposure to mold by keeping the humidity levels down (30 to 50%) and cleaning your kitchen and bathrooms regularly.
A dehumidifier can help reduce moisture in humid spaces, such as the basement and bathrooms. If you notice any visible mold, clean it with a 5% bleach solution.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
Symptoms for upper respiratory infections differ according to the severity of the condition, but they generally lead to fever, fever-related headaches, nasal discharge, sneezing, gagging, rapid breathing, loss of appetite and lethargy.
They are especially common in kittens before they’ve had all their vaccinations. However, cats that live in group settings, such as in multi-cat households, shelters, and catteries are most at risk.
Upper respiratory infections are transmitted from the nasal and eye discharge of infected cats, either via direct contact with infected cats or through contact with contaminated objects, such as food bowls, beddings and scratching posts.
According to the journal, Animals, stress is a powerful contributor to upper respiratory infections, especially from relocating to different shelters. Cats with compromised immune systems from feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) are at a higher risk as well.
Certain flat-faced breeds, such as Persians are also prone to upper respiratory infections due to their facial structures.
What is an Upper Respiratory Tract Infection?
The term upper respiratory infection refers to an elaborate list of diseases that either occurs alone or as a group. All these diseases lead to similar symptoms that primarily affect the nose and throat.
Upper respiratory infections often respond well to treatment. However, some cats may become severely ill, with a few cases progressing to become pneumonia.
What Causes Upper Respiratory Infections
Many viruses and bacteria lead to upper respiratory infections in cats, with the main offenders being:
- Feline herpesvirus 1, or rhinotracheitis virus
- Feline calicivirus
- Bacteria, such as Chlamydophila felis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and Mycoplasma spp
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you suspect your cat has an upper respiratory infection, take it to a vet as soon as possible to prevent the infection from progressing.
Your vet may diagnose your cat’s condition based on its history and symptoms. The cause for the disease may also be found via further diagnostic tests performed on the secretions.
Treatment for upper respiratory infections in cats generally involves managing symptoms. Although the majority of the cases are caused by viruses, your vet may prescribe an antibiotic for bacterial infections that occur secondary to viral infections.
Medications to control nasal congestion and discharge, an eye ointment and pain-relief medications may also be prescribed depending on your cat’s symptoms.
In most cases, upper respiratory infections can be managed and treated at home. However, if your cat has breathing difficulties or if it refuses to eat or drink, hospitalization may be needed. Intravenous fluids and oxygen therapy may be used to avoid dehydration and further complications.
Symptoms often subside within 7 to 10 days. Occasionally, they may continue for a few weeks. If your cat does not respond to regular treatment, antiviral treatments may be required.
If your cat experiences respiratory infections frequently or for prolonged periods, it may be checked for FIV or FeLV. Note that your cat will continue to be a carrier for these viruses for the rest of its life once infected.
Make sure you keep your cat in a quiet and comfortable place. Use a humidifier to control congestion and wipe away any discharge from the nose and eyes, as needed. Administer all medications prescribed by your veterinarian to ensure your cat’s speedy recovery.
Upper respiratory infections can cause painful sores in the mouth or lead to loss of smell in cats, which can severely impact your cat’s appetite.
To prevent your cat from suffering from any nutritional deficiencies, consider feeding your cat its favorite wet food. Talk to your vet about a special veterinary diet for added nutritional support. If your cat refuses to eat or drink, seek immediate veterinary attention.
If you have multiple cats in your house, talk to your vet about the precautions necessary to reduce other cats’ risk of contracting the disease. This may involve isolating the infected cat and separating its food bowl, water bowl and bed.
Gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth resorption are the three most common dental problems in cats that can lead to headaches.
Dental issues can cause serious pain and loss of appetite in cats, resulting in a host of other health problems. Your cat may also paw at its face due to pain in that region.
If your cat has a dental disease, take it to a vet as soon as possible. The first stage of periodontal disease can often be reversed with professional cleaning and proper homecare methods, such as regular teeth brushing.
Depending on the seriousness of your cat’s condition, your cat may turn its head unusually while eating, drool, stop eating completely, become hesitant to eat or have bad breath – according to Cornell University. Cats with dental issues also show a preference for wet food or soft foods as they are easier to chew and swallow.
If your cat’s headaches are not a result of allergies, upper respiratory infections or dental issues, other possibilities may include:
- Head and neck injury
- Chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, pesticides, nitrites, and MSG
- Seizures, tumors and malformed blood vessels in the head or neck region
- Loss of an owner
If you suspect that your cat is in any pain, do not hesitate to take it to a vet. Headaches and other types of pain can be a sign for a serious underlying health condition, such as brain cancer or a concussion, which require immediate veterinary attention.