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Head Pressing in Cats: 3 Surprising Reasons Your Cat Head Presses

Published by Annie Anderson
Last updated: January 15, 2024

Head pressing in cats can indicate completely normal behavior, or it can be indicative of a more serious problem. There are several symptoms and signs to watch for, that will give you a clue as to whether it’s just a behavior that is typical for your cat, or whether it’s something you need to investigate further.

I have to admit, when my cat constantly pressed her head against everything from my arm to the corner of the coffee table, I was a bit concerned that there was something more to it. Luckily, in my case, there was nothing serious to worry about.

What is Head Pressing?

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Head pressing should not be confused with head butting. Have you ever been awakened at 3:00 a.m. by your cat nudging your head because he wanted you to wake up? Maybe he was hungry or was bored and wanted to play, or maybe he just wanted you to wake up because he was awake! If you’ve owned a cat for any length of time, you know they have an inane ability to let you know when they want attention.

When cats heat butt you or other substances like the coffee table or the leg of a chair, they are primarily marking their territory and letting everyone know who owns the place! It’s also a sign of affection; so when your cat butts his head against yours, take it as a compliment.

Head pressing is different, and requires the attention of a veterinarian as soon as possible. Head pressing is a compulsive act where cats relentlessly press their head against a wall or other surface for no apparent reason. It’s usually an indication that there is damage to the nervous system, which is the result of various underlying problems.

Causes of Head Pressing – Is there something wrong?

There are several reasons for your cat’s head pressing, and they should all be taken seriously. They may or may not exhibit other symptoms, in conjunction with head pressing, such as pacing back and forth, walking in circles, getting stuck in corners, and/or seizures.

  • Your cat has a neurological problem. This could include things like a brain tumor, prosencephalon disease (where parts of the brain are damaged), inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, or head trauma. These conditions are all treatable, but must be diagnosed early for the treatment to be effective long term.
  • Your cat has toxic poisoning, such as lead poisoning. Cats can get lead poisoning just as humans can and it can be just as deadly. These types of poisonings affect the brain and nervous system, and can be fatal if left undiagnosed.
  • Your cat has a nervous system infection. This could be caused by rabies, viral infections, parasites or bacterial infections. If your cat goes outdoors, always check for ticks, bites or open wounds; better yet, keep them inside a fenced yard where they will be safe from other animals.

What to do if you suspect a problem

If you suspect that your cat’s behavior has gone BEYOND the normal head butting, contact your vet immediately. Your vet is the only one who can make a positive diagnosis, and will perform several tests. First, they will physically examine your feline to determine anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. Other tests can include any or all of the following:

  • Blood pressure
  • MRI or CT Scans on the brain to monitor and detect abnormal activity
  • Blood test to check for toxins
  • Urinalysis to check for toxins

Be sure to let your vet know of when you started noticing your cat’s head pressing behavior and any other symptoms your cat has been experiencing. Even if you think a behavior is unrelated to head pressing, let your vet know; certain underlying conditions can be linked.

Treatments and medications

The treatments and medications that your vet may recommend will largely depend on the nature of the diagnosis. Treatments can be fairly simple, such as a change in diet, to much more serious measures, such as surgery. It’s important to discuss treatment options with your vet so you understand exactly what is needed, how effective the treatment will be long term, and what the ‘plan b’ is if the original treatment doesn’t work.

As a cat owner, it’s distressing to watch our beloved felines in distress. We tend to feel helpless and will do almost anything to make them feel loved and happy again. Especially for older cats they tend to be unresponsive and sometimes you will wonder why old cat isn’t eating. It could also mean a serious health problem .Knowing the difference between head butting and head pressing is critical to our cat’s health and happiness. It could actually save their life. Always be aware of your cat’s behavior and any changes that occur over time.

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Have you dealt with this issue with your cat? What did you do? How did you resolve the issue? We’d love to hear your comments!​

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