Head Pressing in Dogs — Don’t Ignore the Signs

A dog looking sick and sad and pushing his head against the wall.
A dog looking sick and sad and pushing his head against the wall. Photography © freemixer | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

If your dog walked over to a wall, pressed his head up against it and just stood there without moving, you might pass it off as a random oddity or your dog just being silly. However, head pressing in dogs is an unusual compulsive behavior that signals that something is physically wrong with your pup. 

Why does head pressing in dogs happen?

A dog pressing his head up against a fence.
A dog pressing his head up against a fence. Photography © MagMos | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

“It’s usually a sign of disease in the front part of the brain, but can also be seen with metabolic diseases,” says Michelle Murray, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM (Neurology), CCRT, owner of NEST Veterinary Neurology in San Clemente, California. “For example, severe liver disease can cause toxin buildup in the body, which causes the brain cells to not function properly.”

Common conditions associated with compulsive head pressing in dogs include brain tumors, poisoning, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), stroke, nervous system infections (such as rabies or bacterial, fungal or viral infections) or an injury to the brain (for instance, if your dog hit or fell on his head).

“I have seen head pressing in dogs most often associated with brain tumors, however, I have also seen it with many other diseases, including immune-mediated brain diseases, infectious diseases, congenital brain diseases and vascular diseases,” Dr. Murray explains. “It’s more a function of where in the brain the problem is, rather than the specific disease itself.”

Head pressing might be accompanied by other symptoms

Head pressing in dogs is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as pacing (especially pacing in circles), changes in behavior, suddenly having accidents in the house, getting “stuck” in corners (seemingly can’t find his way out of a corner of the room), seizures and vision problems.

Are dogs who are head pressing in pain?

Although we know what physical issues to suspect when dogs are head pressing, no one really knows the exact reasons why they express this behavior. “It’s hard to know if the dogs are experiencing pain,” Dr. Murray explains. “Many people with brain diseases complain of headaches. In my opinion, these dogs do not seem obviously [in pain], but could they have a dull headache? It’s certainly possible.”

Do you think your dog is head pressing? See a vet ASAP

If you see or even think your dog is head pressing, do not delay seeking veterinary treatment. Your vet will do a complete physical exam to try to determine what might be causing this behavior. During the exam, the vet will check your dog’s blood pressure and inspect his eyes.

“After evaluating your dog, the veterinarian will probably recommend doing some baseline testing to rule out metabolic diseases, including lab work (blood and urine) and x-rays,” Dr. Murray says. “If your vet does these things and still suspects a brain problem, he may recommend a referral to a veterinary neurologist for imaging of the brain (MRI) and possibly even taking a sample of spinal fluid to look for infections or abnormal cells.”

The prognosis for head pressing in dogs is highly dependent upon the exact cause and how severe the problem is. Because we’re talking about the brain, it’s definitely a serious situation. The sooner you seek veterinary help, the better off your dog will be. “In general, this is a very serious symptom that should be addressed as soon as possible,” Dr. Murray advises.

Tell us: Have you ever witnessed head pressing in your dogs? What was the culprit?

Thumbnail: Photography © freemixer | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Read more about dog health on Dogster.com:

18 thoughts on “Head Pressing in Dogs — Don’t Ignore the Signs”

  1. My dog has concerned me a lot since I got him- he’s very uncoordinated and seems to get confused easily. Recently I noticed that he’s been head pressing against softer items (pillows, stuffed animals, maybe a blanket that’s in a heap.) After reading this, I’ll be calling the vet today. Any suggestions on questions I should ask?

  2. I have a 6 month old Boston bull pup that does somersaults on the couch has anybody ever seen this before thank you Mark

    1. Hi Denise,
      Sorry to hear that your dog is doing this! Please contact a vet for professional help.
      Hope your dog feels better.

  3. Alyssa Champagne-Ozzi

    My epileptic dog used to press his head against the wall after having seizures. He would also use the furniture next to the wall to stabilize himself.

  4. Pingback: Dog Health Topics | Jackie Brown – Writer, Editor, Pet Expert

  5. my lab Buddy, presses his head alot has also walked along the walls and furnature he has had ear infections and has and still is being treated for them he will be 15 in july of this year,,,any suggestons? thank-you jean b

  6. Mostly likely a dog is feeling some sort of discomfort in the head or why would they pressed their head against the wall. And I am glad that they do to give us a sign that there is something wrong.

  7. My late dog would press her head against soft things (e.g., large stuffed animals on the floor, upholstered furniture) when she had abscesses on her face and head in the late stages of aspergillosis (a horrible fungal infection that started in her nose, and spread to her brain). BTW, her vet didn’t diagnose the condition until it was too late to save her life. So always RUN — don’t walk! — to the vet if your dog sneezes a lot, has a lot of nasal discharge, etc., and INSIST on X- rays to find out what might be going on. I wish I had.

  8. My 7 year old golden would press his head into a corner and just sit there. When he developed other symptoms too I took him to the vet. He was diagnosed with acute hepatitis. Fortunately he has responded to a regimen of medications and his liver appears to be normal now. He has been on medication since October and will remain so until at least March.

  9. Joanne Andruscavage – If your dog is pressing into your chest quite often, it could be a sign that you should check with your doctor and make sure you are okay. Not to worry you, but there have been stories of other dogs doing this and ultimately saved their owner’s life. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and can tell us when something is wrong before we even know.

  10. I think if he just does into your body and not anything else, it is just a comfort thing. They also are putting their scent on you, marking you as theirs.

  11. I had a dog with a liver shunt. Vet suspected this after our dog was head pressing in the corner. Tests showed it was indeed. We had two surgeries to repair the shunt and he lived to 14. Head pressing is very common for liver shunt dogs.

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