Can dogs get brain freeze? We spoke to a vet to find out | TeamDogs

Can dogs get brain freeze? We spoke to a vet to find out

Cecile Yvon explained the effects of cold foods and warned of some dangers

Leila Marshall

Posted 56d ago

(Image: Getty)

By Leila Marshall

Ever experienced that pain in your head when chowing down on an ice cream on a hot summer’s day? It’s a strange feeling – but can dogs get brain freeze, too? 

We know cats can, and there are lots of comical videos out there on social media to prove it. We spoke to Cecile Yvon, a veterinarian and clinical team leader at Joii Pet Care, who cleared this up for us and also gave us some tips for giving your dogs frozen treats.  

When asked if dogs can experience it, she said: “We think yes, we can’t prove it scientifically as dogs can’t explain their symptoms as humans can. We know when humans talk about it, as we can relate it to a nerve disfunction.  

“Sometimes we can tell from their facial expression as they do exactly the same thing as us – so we do think they get brain freeze from their reaction, but we can’t prove it scientifically. 

“The feeling is a bit stressful for the dog. What’s happening is when there is something cold arriving in the mouth or at the base of the throat about to be swallowed, the cold effect can cause some dilation of blood cells and irritation in the nerve as well, and this creates nerve pain that us humans have too. The change in the blood flow around the area can also cause some discomfort.” 

Cecile, from Budapest, who is registered as a member of the RCVS, explained that brain freeze is not dangerous for dogs. She said: “After a few seconds or minutes everything turns back to normal because the blood flow regulates itself, so at the moment we don’t think that there might be any kind of dangerous side effects because we can’t even prove it. We’re not expecting anything too bad due to a feeling of brain freeze.  

“It is important to remember if your dog eats something really cold, there may be some small damage to the oral membranes or the tongue, if you eat something very hot or cold it can be a bit disturbing for us too afterwards. 

“It’s not something we witness very often with dogs we treat – if there are signs of the dog becoming very cold, it probably means that there is underlying nerve damage or trauma which is not related to brain freeze and it could be that it is anticipating this problem. It’s unlikely that it will have any further effect, though.” 

We’ve heard contradicting opinions on the subject of ice cubes for dogs. Cecile said: “The main problem with ice cubes is that it can bring discomfort to the dog which is not nice for them, and it can eventually damage the tongue and membranes.  

“But let’s say a dog swallows an ice cube whole – the lining of the stomach can become irritated, but as soon as it’s in, the body temperature will cause it to very quickly melt. So, it’s nothing too dangerous if given in proportion.” 

It can be all too tempting to give our dogs ice cream or an ice lolly on a hot day. Cecile warned us of the dangers. “There is a new trend where we see some kind of homemade recipe of ice cream for dogs. We must be careful with human-made ice lollies. First of all, they can be a risk if they contain acidities and sweeteners because they are toxic to dogs, plus they’re full of additives and sugar. 

“If a dog has diabetes for example, that would be completely dangerous. If you want to give your dog something cold, a small ice cube would be less risky. I would recommend giving your dog only dog foods and no human treats.” 

There are now dog-friendly versions as well as frozen dog treats that can be made and used to help cool down dogs and these are a good alternative. You can check some out here.  

The vet explained that to keep your dog cool and avoid them getting heatstroke, you should not leave your dog in the garden, walk them, or exercise them during the hottest part of the day. You should wait for the sun to go down a little bit or go out early morning. It is not a problem if your dog is not exercising for a week until it cools down. 

Cecille said: If it’s really hot and your dog starts to pant at home, you must understand that dogs can’t sweat like us, they cool down by panting. So that is the main sign to look out for.  

“You can spray a bit of cool water on them, or you can take a cool wet towel and apply it to the groin area as they have less hair there and will cool down more efficiently. Then what we usually do in practice is use a fan on them.  

“The effect of the wind and the cold towel really helps. You must not leave the towel on too long as after a while, the towel will trap the dog’s body heat and will start to make them hot again. 

“This is really important based on the amount that we’ve seen. Flat-faced dogs like French bulldogs and pugs with very short nostrils and short airways are much more prone to having heatstroke. 

“They cannot pant as much as there are small airways, so for those types of breeds you should be even more cautious about the timing of walking and exercising and cooling down the dog at home.” 

Joii Pet Care is a veterinary care app offering remote vet consultations 24/7, as well as nurse clinics and specialist animal behaviour programmes designed to help owners care for their dogs. To find out more, see its website

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