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As many cat parents have learned over the years, cats don't always land on their feet. Contrary to the popular cat myth, cats can and do fall. But if they hit their heads hard enough, can cats get concussions? What are the cat concussion symptoms you should look out for?
Concussion Risks and Causes
Cat head injuries are fairly common, and no cat is immune to them. Because of their proclivity for climbing, feral, stray or outdoor cats risk head trauma from falling out of trees and off of fences or from being struck by a vehicle. Aggressive fighting with other cats or animals can lead to brain injuries, too.
Can cats get concussions if they live exclusively indoors? Absolutely, especially from seemingly minor incidents such as accidentally being stepped on, sat on or having a heavy object fall on them. Cats that live in tall buildings are at risk for what's called "high-rise syndrome," a term coined by the Animal Medical Center (AMC) in New York City to describe an accidental fall from a structure of a significant height. These types of serious falls often result in "a common triad of injuries: chest trauma, head/facial injuries and limb fractures," says the AMC.
Signs of a Head Injury
Though small, your cat's brain is a fine-tuned, efficient and complex machine (cats are geniuses, after all). A cat's brain is very much like a human brain, points out the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. It controls and coordinates a central nervous system (including the brain and spinal cord) and a peripheral nervous system composed of other nerves and muscles. There are many mechanisms at work in your kitty's golf ball-sized gray matter!
When your fur baby does sustain a brain injury like a concussion, the important lines of communication between these two nervous systems are disrupted, resulting in visible signs of a problem. However, because cats often conceal their injuries and illnesses, you'll need to keep a close eye on any behavioral changes that your kitty exhibits. Cat concussion symptoms to look out for include:
- Trouble walking
- Unresponsiveness (not reacting to her name being called, for example, or staring into space for an unusually long time)
- Swollen face
- Bleeding from the eyes, nose, mouth or open wound
- Loss of consciousness
If your cat has sustained a fall or head injury, contact your veterinarian's office right away to properly assess her condition and get immediate medical attention.
Your vet will perform a variety of diagnostic exams to assess the injury and work to relieve the pain — and shock — of a concussion. In many cases, the injury looks worse than the damage incurred. The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University notes that an injured cat's appearance can be frightening for concerned pet parents, but that the outlook is often positive. Even if your cat doesn't exhibit outward signs of injury, like a bloody nose or swollen face, it's important to get her immediate care.
When helping your cat recover from an injury, take note of her eating habits. Ensure that she gets the proper nutrition and that she's drinking enough (but not too much) water. If you notice that she's losing weight rapidly, is breathing fast or heavily or is sensitive to your touch, don't wait to report these symptoms to your vet.
The upside of all this is that, in many cases, your feline friend will bounce back just fine from her concussion. "Unless there is significant brain swelling — if it's just a matter of wound healing — many cats that have experienced head trauma may be feeling better within a week or two," says Tufts. While more seriously injured cats may take longer to recover and require more help with routine activities (like eating and using the litter box), most will eventually be back to their lively selves.
There are a few ways that you can help to prevent head injuries from happening in the first place: Secure your windows and screens, enclose your balcony with screens and anchor heavy furniture to the wall. If your kitty does get injured one day, your love, patience and awareness will go a long way toward helping her recover.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.