If pet parents from around the globe got together to document all the cute, funny, strange, weird, and questionable things their pets do, the result would be the world’s largest collection of bizarre pet stories. However, with the power of social media at our fingertips, we can instantly share photos and write updates on the latest adorable thing Sparky did.
But what if you saw a pet picture posted by a friend showing their dog pressing his head up against a wall with a caption saying something like, “What a goober! He’s been doing this for ten minutes now!” Your first thought might be that the dog did something bad or is bored, but what if you knew something could be really wrong with the dog?
Head Pressing Is…
A serious medical condition called head pressing causes a dog to press the top of his or her head against a wall, into the floor or other large solid objects for no apparent reason — the act of head pressing will go on for extended periods of time and has been observed in cats and dogs as well as cows, horses, goats, and sheep.
When an animal does this, it’s generally an indication of a neurological condition, damage to the nervous system, or a metabolic disorder. Also, at least in dogs, head pressing affects all breeds and age ranges.
Recognizing head pressing is key to getting a pet or animal to the emergency vet before things get worse, and since head pressing is a possible sign of something potentially life-threatening, you could be saving your or someone else’s pet’s life.
Causes of this behavior can be related to an illness or injury…
- Liver shunt
- Brain tumors
- Toxic poisoning — includes lead
- Head trauma
- Hydrocephalus — water on the brain
- Infectious types of meningitis
- Metabolic disorder — too little or too much of needed essential substances
- Infection of the nervous system — parasites, rabies or a viral, bacterial or fungal infection
More signs, symptoms, and behaviors to watch for…
Pressing the head against a solid, stationary object like a wall is not the only indication of possible neurological or metabolic distress. Be aware of the following either in addition to head pressing or separate from, if completely out of the ordinary for a pet:
- Walking in circles
- Pacing constantly — not out of boredom
- Blankly staring at the wall
- Becoming stuck in corners easily
- Pushing face into the ground and rubbing
- Signs of liver disease — jaundice, increased urination, weight loss, lethargy
- Problems with vision
- Reflexes are off
Finding out what is causing a pet’s head pressing…
A vet will likely have to do an examination and a series of tests to figure out the problem, and many of the conditions leading to head pressing are often treatable, pets can indeed make a full recovery, but wait too long and there’s the possibility of death. Head pressing most always signifies a very serious illness or injury and you must take action immediately, the sooner the better, by getting your pet to the veterinarian. If your veterinarian is not available, go to another one. This is a life-threatening medical emergency that will not wait for anyone.
It’s important to note that head pressing should not be confused with playful head-butting, using the head to push others, or play ramming. And your dog or cat gently rubbing his or her head and face on you is probably not a concerning sign — it’s simply them wanting your affection.