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Can Dogs Get Brain Freeze?

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On hot days, dogs may enjoy a cold treat like an ice cream, popsicle, frozen fruit, or even plain ice cubes. But your dog may act a little funny afterward, especially if they’ve wolfed down their treat without a second to spare. For instance, you might notice your dog shake their head or paw at their mouth. 

If you see this, your dog may be experiencing an intense but brief bout of head pain that occurs when eating or drinking something cold. This is referred to as brain freeze or an ice cream headache. While this sensation is known to occur in people, experts say it can happen in dogs, too. 

Here’s what you need to know about dog brain freeze.

Can Dogs Get Brain Freeze?

Do dogs get ice cream headaches? Yes, they most likely do. 

According to Dr. Lisa Lippman, director of virtual medicine at Bond Vet, brain freeze is “not a studied phenomenon in dogs.” This makes it difficult to definitively know what is going on in a dog’s body. However, she says it makes sense that dogs experience brain freeze like humans do since “anatomy-wise, we’re really extremely similar.” 

Dr. Andrea Johnston, a board-certified small animal veterinary internist and medical board member at The Vets, takes a corresponding view, noting the anatomical similarities between dogs and humans.

“Dogs have similar nerve endings in their mouths that can react to cold temperatures,” Dr. Johnston says. “Dogs may exhibit discomfort or sudden reactions when they consume something very cold, indicating they could be experiencing a sensation akin to brain freeze.”

However, Dr. Johnston adds that “since dogs can’t communicate their sensations like humans, the exact experience may differ.”

What Causes Brain Freeze?

Brain freeze usually happens when a person or dog consumes a cold drink or food item quickly, which causes a reaction in the blood vessels and nerves.

“When a dog consumes something cold rapidly, the sudden temperature change can cause the blood vessels in their mouth to constrict and then rapidly dilate,” Dr. Johnston says.

This expansion of blood vessels sends a signal to highly sensitive nerves in the roof of the mouth.

“When those nerves signal a sudden change in temperature, it almost registers as pain — and it can feel like a sudden headache,” Dr. Lippman says.

Dog Brain Freeze Symptoms

What do dogs do when they get an ice cream headache? For one thing, a dog may no longer want to eat the cold treat they were rapturously consuming a second ago. But there are other signs as well.

According to Dr. Johnston, dog brain freeze symptoms can include:

  • Suddenly stopping eating or drinking
  • Shaking the head
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Whining
  • Briefly avoiding the cold food or drink
  • Exhibiting a confused or uncomfortable expression

How to Help Dogs with Brain Freeze

If you think your dog is experiencing brain freeze, there are ways to help them. The first and most obvious thing to do is to take away the cold drink or food.

“If you suspect your dog has a brain freeze, remove the cold item immediately and allow them to rest in a comfortable environment,” Dr. Johnston says. “Offer room temperature water to help normalize their mouth temperature and soothe any discomfort.” Do not remove the item if your pet has food aggression.

Can brain freeze ever lead to a dog fainting or having a seizure? The short answer is no. This does not happen in healthy dogs without underlying conditions. 

“Brain freeze itself typically does not lead to fainting or seizures in dogs,” says Dr. Johnston. “However, if a dog shows severe signs like collapse, prolonged disorientation, or seizure-like activity after consuming something cold, it could indicate a different health issue and requires immediate veterinary attention.”

Dr. Lippman says there are also certain conditions that may mimic dog brain freeze.

“There are other things that could potentially look like it — like headaches, other neurologic conditions, or dental pain. Or foreign bodies in the mouth.”

However, Dr. Lippman says what distinguishes brain freeze from other conditions is the simple fact that brain freeze happens after a dog consumes something cold — and that it doesn’t persist.

“It lasts a very short period and then your dog would return to normal,” Dr. Lippman says.

Preventing Dog Brain Freeze

Can pet parents do anything to prevent their dogs from getting brain freeze? Dr. Johnston says there are several things you can try. 

“Offer cold treats gradually or allow them to thaw slightly before giving them to your dog,” she says. “When using a Kong or similar toy, use softer fillings like room-temperature peanut butter or yogurt instead of very cold substances. This helps minimize the risk of discomfort from sudden cold exposure.”

Of course, the possibility of brain freeze shouldn’t stop you from giving your dog cold treats to begin with, especially if your dog loves the occasional ice cream on a hot summer day.

“I think everything in moderation,” Dr. Lippman says. “But it’s a great, fun treat for them.”