If you notice your dog or cat pressing their heads against a wall, floor or other object for no apparent reason, your pet could have a dangerous medical condition. The behavior is called “head pressing”, and it is characterized by the compulsive act of pressing the head against something solid for extended periods of time.
The action can be confused with an animal displaying anxiety or stress, but it is a potential sign that they are sick and need to go to a veterinarian for evaluation.
Head pressing generally indicates damage to the nervous system or a neurological condition or illness and it is very important that you take your dog or cat to a veterinarian for diagnosis.
The causes of head pressing behavior can be varied, but may include:
• prosencephalon disease (in which the forebrain and thalamus parts of the brain are damaged)
• tumors (e.g. brain or skull)
• liver shunt
• toxic poisoning (e.g. lead poisoning)
• metabolic disorder, such as hyper or hyponatremia (too much, or too little sodium in the body’s blood plasma)
• encephalitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Many things can cause encephalitis. Infectious causes include bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and tick-transmitted disease).
• hepatic encephalopathy (metabolic disorder as result of liver disease)
• infection of the nervous system (rabies, parasites, bacterial, viral or fungal infection)
• head trauma
Head pressing should not be confused with normal behaviors like a dog or cat affectionately “head butting” a person.
Head pressing can be just one symptom among other behaviors and symptoms of neurological problems.
Other behaviors and symptoms can include:
• constant pacing
• walking in circles
• face rubbing (pushing head into ground)
• getting stuck in corners
• staring at walls
• damaged reflexes
• visual problems
By recognizing head pressing and other neurologically-related symptoms in your dog or cat, you could potentially save their lives.