Head trauma is a common but serious injury that can affect cats and kittens of all ages. It can occur in the form of skull fractures, concussion, bruising, and internal or external bleeding. While motor vehicles are by far the most common cause of head trauma in cats, the problem can also be caused by abuse, animal fights and falls. Only a veterinarian can diagnose a head trauma and related complications, but cat owners who suspect head injury can look for the following warning signs.
The pupils of cats' eyes naturally dilate (widen) to adjust to the amount of light in any given environment. When a cat's neurological function has been compromised by a head injury, it can cause the brain to send "mixed signals" to the pupils, leading them to be visibly different in size. There may be other potential causes of unevenly dilated pupils in cats. A brain tumour, neurological disease or allergy may be the culprit. However, if an owner sees that his cat has unevenly dilated pupils -- especially if they developed suddenly -- a head injury is likely the cause. The cat should be evaluated and treated promptly by a veterinarian.
After a hard blow to the head, cats are likely to bleed or leak fluids from the nose, mouth or ears. Visible bleeding may be a sign that the cat is also experiencing internal bleeding in the brain or surrounding membrane. Following a head injury, this is a signal of a medical emergency that needs to be addressed immediately. If the cat has not recently been in an accident or fight and shows no other signs of head injury, bleeding may be caused by something less serious. Allergies, local injuries and local infections may be the culprit. While these are far more minor than internal haemorrhage, they still require professional diagnosis and treatment.
Because a cat's brain may misfire after a head injury, a cat that has recently experienced head trauma will often exhibit very unusual movement throughout the body. Some cats may have convulsions (seizures) throughout the body, while others will twitch, jerk or shake certain limbs. The legs of a cat with head trauma often feel abnormally stiff or limp, and the cat may have difficulty moving. Head injuries can also cause a cat to carry its head in a tilted or sideways position, and the eyes may move strangely. While other neurological diseases may be at fault, head injury is a probable cause for cats that develop these traits suddenly.
A cat that can not be easily awakened is always in need of immediate medical attention. Unconsciousness can be caused by a severe injury, life-threatening illness, dehydration or extreme nutritional deficiency. When it follows a head injury, it is a grim sign. A cat with a head injury may be fully unconscious or may awaken spontaneously for brief periods of time. After a slightly less severe head injury, the cat may seem very lethargic or weak but still somewhat aware of his surroundings. While there can be many causes for a cat losing consciousness, the situation is always an emergency.
If you suspect that your cat may have experienced head trauma, you should contact a veterinarian immediately. While on the way to the animal hospital or in the waiting room, practice basic first aid to keep your cat as safe and comfortable as possible. Wrap the cat in a blanket and keep his head level with his spine to avoid any further complications. If the cat is conscious, it should be handled very carefully. A cat that has suffered a head injury may be uncharacteristically violent, both because he is in pain and brain trauma can cause confusion or agitation. Cat bites can be prevented by wearing gloves, wrapping the cat in a blanket and speaking in a calm and reassuring voice.