Head Pressing in Dogs: Knowing the Signs Can Save a Life


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Head pressing is an alarming behavior, and if you see your dog behaving this way, it's important to see a vet immediately.

Unfortunately, dogs cannot tell us when they are sick or ailing, especially if it's an internal issue like headaches. If a dog's head is bothering them, they may resort to rubbing or holding their head against the wall, a piece of furniture, or even you for what might seem like no apparent reason at all. This behavior may indicate pain being caused from toothaches, congestion, eye dysfunctions, seasonal allergies, or head injuries. No matter the cause, excessive head pressing is likely serious and needs medical attention immediately.

Head butting is a behavior that pet owners often immediately recognize as abnormal before deciding to come to see a veterinarian. When your animal is behaving this way, it's evident there is a problem. It's easy to think they may be having vision problems or something that doesn't seem as serious as a neurological issue, but recognizing signs and knowing the seriousness behind this strange behavior can save your dog's life.

Head pressing can indicate issues with the nervous system, which ranges from certain brain diseases to certain types of poisoning. Unfortunately, dogs eating things they shouldn't is an all-too-common issue that can send them to an emergency vet, and head pressing may be an early warning sign of larger problems.

Experts say to look for additional symptoms including abnormal vocalization, compulsive pacing and circling, disorientation, and behavior changes.

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What Causes Head Pressing?

dog head pressing against man

Head pressing can have many different causes, and none of them good. Before you brush off your animal's strange behavior as a quirk, headache, or eye issue, take a look at this list of possible causes. It's clear that seeing this behavior means you should take a trip to the vet as soon as possible.

  • Toxic poisoning
  • Brain tumor
  • Liver shunt
  • Metabolic disorder
  • Prosencephalon disease
  • Encephalitis
  • Infection of the nervous system
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke

Symptoms Aligned With Head Pressing

dog showing symptoms sad

There are additional warning signs to look for depending on the underlying cause of a serious problem. Animals who head press can show issues with balance, behavioral problems, vision, seizures, and trauma to the head or eyes from the head pressing itself. The bottom line is, if your pet feels off, take them in for professional help. Pets are masters at hiding pain and discomfort, and if you notice them acting strangely, it's possible they're in more pain than you think.

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What Treatment Options Are There?

dog getting treatment for head pressing

The overall care will depend on the diagnosis your vet shares with you after diagnostic tests. Any condition considered severe will require hospitalization and immediate treatment. With so many different conditions beneath it, the cause of head pressing can be hard to decipher, but rest assured that taking your pooch to the vet is always the right play.

Have you ever seen a dog that displayed this type of behavior? Tell us on the Wide Open Pets Facebook page!  

This article was originally published April 10, 2019.

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