If your dog or cat ever does this, see the vet IMMEDIATELY!

Recently there was an article on the internet about “head wrestling”. Although rare, it’s something to look out for, especially if your dog is suffering from any of the conditions that can cause head presses.

With Dr. Kim Smyth, veterinarian and animal health writer at Petplan Pet Insurance, spoke for more in-depth answers to our questions.

What exactly is “Head press”?

The term “head press” is actually quite descriptive – the affected pet is standing near a wall or other hard surface (furniture, corner, etc.) and is literally pressing the top of their head against it. It almost always means a major illness.

What are the diseases that can cause this behavior?

Many diseases can have head press as a clinical sign, but most of the time we associate it with hepatic encephalopathy, a condition that occurs in pets with liver disease. The liver is supposed to remove toxins from the bloodstream. When it doesn’t work properly, ammonia and other toxins build up and cause this neurological syndrome of head press.

Many breeds are predisposed to liver shunts, a condition in which blood bypasses the liver. Head press is a common clinical sign in these pups due to the hepatic encephalopathy secondary to liver shunt.

Other conditions that can cause head press include:

  • Hydrocephalus (water in the brain)
  • Tumors in the brain
  • Strokes or vascular accidents in the brain
  • Head trauma.
  • Inflammatory and infectious types of meningitis and encephalitis
  • Any type of trauma to the head or brain can potentially result in head presses.

Are these diseases hereditary?

Some diseases such as liver shunts and hydrocephalus are hereditary. Pets with these conditions should not be bred. The other causes mentioned are not hereditary.

Are there any other symptoms people should look for?

Depending on the underlying cause of the head pressing, other symptoms are likely to be apparent. In the case of the most common presentation (hepatic encephalopathy), owners are likely to see signs of liver disease, including:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes and gums)
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Increased water intake
  • lethargy
  • Mental sluggishness (especially after a meal)

Are there any preventive measures?

Not special. Many of the conditions that lead to head presses are just godsend. However, by keeping your pet healthy, updated on vaccines, and performing adequate external and internal parasite control, you can avoid some of the infectious causes of encephalitis.

What is the prognosis of an animal showing this behavior? Does it make a difference waiting for treatment?

The prognosis largely depends on the underlying cause. Treatments are available for many of the conditions that lead to head press, and often pets can make a full recovery.

For most veterinary diseases, the earlier treatment is sought, the better. If pets come to us weak and dehydrated after several days or weeks of illness, we are behind the 8-ball before we even start.

How quickly could this be fatal?

Again, this varies greatly depending on the underlying cause. If you see your pet pressing their head, they should be seen by a veterinarian that same day.

While this dog doesn’t exactly look happy, it doesn’t press on the head. Don’t be confused and think that if your dog rubs you out of affection or lies against a wall, he is pushing his head. You’re going to have a ton of unnecessary vet bills when you do this.

More information readers need to know?

You shouldn’t worry if your pet rubs their head against you for affection or attention. This type of head butt is fundamentally different from head press, which is an obvious effort to push the head into solid stationary objects.

(H / T:


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