Head Pressing In Cats: A Must-Read For All Cat Owners

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There are times when cats will do things that leave us guessing. All cat owners can agree with that. But sometimes, your cat can display a behavior that is not only odd, but can also be a startling sign that something is definitely not right with your feline friend. Head pressing–not in a sweet way like head bunting, but against a hard surface like a wall–is most definitely a sign that something is very wrong with your cat. Here we’ve covered what to look for should this occur and what to do to save their life.

Please note: Immediately upon reading this, if your cat is dealing with this issue, please seek medical attention. Do not delay or hesitate, this is a very serious matter and your cat’s life is at risk.

How to Spot Head Pressing:

Our cats will commonly press their heads against us, in a rubbing manner, as way to “claim” us by spreading the scent from the glands on their heads. This is not to be confused with the alarming head pressing that we are discussing here. If your cat consciously and continually presses their head against a wall or a hard surface, this action can be directly associated with damage to their nervous system.

Damage to the nervous system in your cat could be for a number of underlying reasons, including prosencephalon disease (in which the forebrain and thalamus parts of the brain are damaged), or toxic poisoning.

See this collage of dangerous head pressing examples below:

Image Courtesy of Purrfectlove.net

Along with this sudden need for blatant head pressing, there are some other signs and triggers that your cat may be experiencing damage to their nervous system.

Other symptoms that may accompany this include:

Compulsive pacing and circling, changes in learned (trained) behavior, seizures, damaged reflexes, and visual problems. Some of these symptoms may lead to lesions, for example, sores on the feet as a result of compulsive pacing, or injuries to the face/head as a result of pressing the head against a surface for long periods of time.

Check out this video from Dr. Karen Becker, a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian:

In layman’s terms, head pressing in cats is caused by something that interferes with the proper functioning of the brain. It can come as a result of:

  • Infection (bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic, or tick-borne)
  • Toxin exposure
  • Trauma
  • Brain tumor
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic disease
  • Liver failure/Liver shunt

Because of these serious conditions, it’s literally imperative that you get your cat to their local veterinarian at the first sign of any of these symptoms.

Fact: Head pressing can occur in any cat of any age, this is valuable knowledge for all cat parents.

How Do Veterinarians Assess Head Pressing In Cats?

When you arrive at the vet with your cat, they will perform a few initial tests to assess your cat’s health. Some of which you can expect to be performed are:

-A fundic examination of the retina and other structures in the back of the eye, which may indicate infectious or inflammatory diseases, as well as reveal irregularities in the brain.

-Blood pressure tests to assess for the possibility of elevated blood pressure.

-A MRI to monitor brain activity and check for abnormalities. (An MRI or CT scan may require a referral outside of their clinic.)

-A urine analysis to check for the possibility of issues in the metabolic system.

Before and during the examination, your veterinarian or their staff should be asking you several questions relating to your cat’s general health. They will need to be aware of any injuries or accidents have occurred. These could be a reason for this sudden and unsettling condition.

Fact: Cats may also press their head against things if they are recovering from anaesthesia, although this is usually temporary and not usually a cause for major concern.

What is The Treatment For Head Pressing in Cats?

Depending on the severity of the condition and your cat’s general health, the diagnosis of each cat is strictly given on an individual basis. Most likely, your cat will need to receive monitoring at the clinic. This is in addition to thorough testing to properly assess their health and treatment plan. While this condition is severe, the possibility of recovery is a reality for some cats. Sadly, for some precious felines, the condition can be fatal.

Prognosis largely depends on the underlying cause. The best thing you can do is take your cat in at the first sign of head pressing. Hopefully by doing so, you’ll have your happy and healthy cat back in no time.

Please pass this info along, it could help save a cat’s life!


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  1. I have never encountered that but it is good to know in case I ever do. My cat Frankie likes to lie on my lap with his head pressed against my stomach but he doesn’t do it anywhere else so I assume it is just a sign of affection.

  2. My cat did press her head on the wall. She was 14 years old. I was worried. I took her to the vet. I describe the symptoms. I asked how much would cost me if they did tests. I couldn’t afford. I chose the option to put her to sleep. I was the whole time in the exam room till my cat passed away. I was crying so hard. I paid the fee and left. I got home and cried harder for the next 6 weeks. I was feeling her presence everywhere almost every day. It has been 10 years since she passed away. I miss her so much.

      • That makes perfect sense? Tests are expensive. Putting an animal down that is suffering is a lot cheaper.

      • This a very sad and increasingly difficult position in which pet owners find themselves. Testing of just about any kind can be expensive, especially if a family is already struggling to feed, clothe and house themselves. There was a time seven years ago when I was living rough and when my cat showed signs of lethargy I took her to the vet, spent my last $400 on tests to determine what was wrong, and it was determined that she was in kidney failure, not having had any previous symptoms. I left there without her and I would do it again and again. But, even without that diagnosis, the cost was crippling and way too many people could be undone with such an expense.

  3. Bless u lori, you had no choice but to make that tough decision,,the tests are very expensive and so is insurance, and sadly not all of us can afford them, but you gave your cat a loving home so smile when you think about your cat as you gave each other a lot of comfort and love ,

  4. Most vets will let you do payment plans. Also there is insurance. My cat Marge had a $10,000 surgery to save her life, if we didnt have insurance we would had to have put her down.

  5. My 13 year old cat has been doing this for most of his life, he’s perfectly normal the rest of the time and the vet said not to worry about it as it’s obviously not a threat to his life, he may just find it a comfort behaviour or it’s possible he gets headaches sometimes

  6. Tests are more expensive than for people! And sadly that’s why a lot of adult cats aren’t adopted anymore. People get a kitten so they can do the insurance. They will cover cars but then they say most things are not covered because it was a underlying pre existing disease. I had test ran on one of mine. After $2800 the test were “inconclusive “ as were so many others done at uga.

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Written by Modi Ramos

Crazy cat lady since birth and lover of all things feline. Owner of CattitudeDaily and former Editor of iHeartCats. Meow!

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