Head pressing is a condition where in, animals, especially cats and dogs are noted to be pressing their head against walls or other objects for extended periods of time for no apparent reason. This is not just a normal habit that these animals exhibit. It is generally a sign, indicating damage to the nervous system, which may be the result of multiple causes, including procencephalon disease, in which the forebrain and the thalamus part of the brain are damaged. It can also be some kind of toxic poisoning more neurological illnesses and its very important that you take your pet to the veterinarian for diagnosis.
Head pressing is just one of the symptoms of a neurological disease like procencephalon disease. There are other symptoms as well which indicate illness in animals like, pacing, walking in circles, rubbing the face on the ground, getting clumsily stuck in corners, stare endlessly at walls, change in trained behaviour, seizures, damaged reflexes and visual problems.
The causes of head pressing may be varied and depend on various things that may make the animal feel the compulsion of doing it but the reasons may also include the following;
- Prosencephalon disease
- Brain, skull or other tumors
- Liver shunt
- Toxic poisoning
- Metabolic disorders, like hyper or hyponetremia
- Encephalitis – Inflammation of brain and spinal cord. Infectious causes of encephalitis include bacteria, parasites, viruses, fungi and tick transmitted disease.
- Hepatic Encephalopathy – metabolic disorder as result of liver damage
- Infection in the nervous system
- Head trauma
Do not confuse head pressing as any normal dog or cat behaviour which may look similar, like affectionately butting the head.
One of my friends once had a German shepherd who used to head butt on her knees all the time to get attention. When the dog turned six years old, he would sometimes just go and sit in front of the living room wall for long periods and not move a muscle, then he would suddenly walk up close to the wall and sit down with his head touching the wall. At first my friend used to joke that her dog has been falling asleep in all weird awkward positions but when it got frequent, both of us started to get really worried about the episode. The dog would hardly eat or listen to anyone or move at all when he was in one of those phases. Also the usually active and energetic dog had been growing increasingly lethargic. Not wanting to go for walks, not wanting to eat, not wanting to bark at visitors, and not wanting to even twitch an ear at someone calling out to him. This was just not her dog. Something was really wrong and immediate action was to be taken. She called up the local vet for an appointment and learned that he was out of town and would be back only in a month’s time. Since he was the only vet in that area, she had no option but to call him regularly and report her dog’s behaviour to him. He did mention the possibilities of certain neurological disorders that my friend doesn’t remember now but we couldn’t do anything about it obviously because we weren’t any kind of specialized animal doctors. And one unfortunate day in the next few weeks, her dog gave up on life. We never even got to know what the problem was as the vet returned only days after her dog passing away. The vet had then explained to us the possibilities of why certain animals behave in this manner sometimes and all the complexities of such cases.
Whatever happened to my friend’s German shepherd need not happen to your pet. If you detect abnormal behaviour, take your pet for immediate diagnosis to a vet
One of the primary diagnosis of the condition of head pressing is a fundic examination of the retina and the entire structure at the back of the eye. This examination will help indicate any kind of infectious or inflammatory diseases alongside irregularities in the brain. Other probable tests could be the blood pressure measurements and Computed Tomography scan ( CT scan) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan ( MRI scan) of the brain of your pet. Urine analysis are also included in the list to check for metabolic system problems and blood lead concentration tests which will be a great help in indicating signs of intoxication in the blood. Apart from all this you will have to brief your vet about all reported behaviours during the neurological disorder phase and previous health records.
Treatment largely depends on the symptoms and the care plan your vet decides upon after completion of diagnosis. Most of them will include hospitalization and treatment. Different diagnosis will be concluded by different treatment programs. No kind of treatment should be experimented upon by the owners of the pets because this kind of treatment is strictly for the specialists to handle. After the entire treatment process regular check up is required for your pet.