If Your Pet Starts Behaving In This Bizarre Way, You Should Take It To The Vet Immediately

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It’s a normal day at home, and you’re sitting in the living room with your beloved pet. But as you continue to relax, you notice the animal press its head against the wall. Then it does the same against a door. Does this sound familiar to you? If it does, alarm bells should be ringing – because this behavior is not as harmless as it looks.
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As a pet owner, of course, you must keep a watchful eye over your animal throughout the day. After all, that’s the best way to spot troubling issues such as “head pressing” at an early stage. However, this can be tricky – particularly if you don’t know what to look for.
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It can also be difficult to gauge the behavior of certain animals at all times. But regardless of your ability to read some of the more subtle aspects of a pet’s body language, head pressing can be obvious. And it’s something that you have to be aware of going forward.
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You certainly can’t brush head pressing off as the normal behavior of animals such as cats and dogs. After all, goats, cows and horses display this behavioral pattern as well. So if you happen to see your pet pushing their cranium against a flat surface, you need to understand that they require urgent help.
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This is important because the United States boasts some incredible figures when it comes to pet ownership. To give you an idea of the steady growth in pet lovers over the years, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) ran a study back in 1988. And after going over the results, the organization revealed that 56 percent of homeowners had animals under their roofs.
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Then, some three decades on, APPA supervised another study in 2019 which showed that 67 percent of American homes now own pets. Dogs and cats are the most popular choice, of course. So it’s obvious that those who look after these pets need to know about head pressing. First of all, then, let’s make sure you don’t mistake the behavior for something else.
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If you own a pet cat, for instance, you’ll notice that the animal often bumps their cranium against parts of your anatomy, sometimes with force. And although these actions look similar to head pressing, they’re actually completely different. This is “head bunting,” in fact, and is a common behavior among felines.
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To explain more, feline aficionado Pam Johnson-Bennett shared some interesting insights with the PetMD website. She said, “When cats head bunt, they’re creating a communal scent in a free-roaming universe. Cats recognize each other by scent first and foremost. Their whiskers and pupils are relaxed. Their ears are also relaxed.”
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So head bunting allows cats to spread their fragrance throughout their homes. And you could interpret this as their way of marking territory – yet PetMD suggested a much deeper meaning. According to the website, if you’re on the receiving end of a bump, you’re seen as part of the feline’s “colony.”
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Another expert in feline behavior claimed that head bunts are a sign of affection to their owners as well. Speaking to PetMD, Ingrid Johnson explained, “[The cats are] saying, ‘I love you. You’re so wonderful, but you’re also a little stinky. Let’s get you smelling like us.’”
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Expanding on that, Johnson shared some fascinating information about the way that cats navigate the world. She drew a comparison between them and their respective guardians, highlighting how we’re often oblivious to their focus on scents. You see, cats can activate their scent glands – on their heads above the eyes – by head bunting.
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“[Head bunting is] like a mutual love session between a person and the furniture,” Johnson continued. “We don’t always realize that cats live in a very scent-laden world. Humans are visual. We forget that there are so many scent glands on them. It’s like they’re leaving little kitty text messages.”
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As for how you should reply to a cat’s head bunt, PetMD suggested that you could reciprocate their gesture. Actions such as offering a cranial bump of your own to rubbing their chin can further establish your bond together. However, Johnson-Bennett provided an important counterpoint for those still building relationships with their pets.
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Johnson-Bennett told the website, “Some cats may not be comfortable with a response. So wait until it head bunts you the next time. Then maybe you can reach out your hand to build trust.” Once that “trust” is in place, the expert believes, owners are in privileged positions with their animals.
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“You should be thrilled that [the cat has] chosen you,” Johnson-Bennett claimed. “Enjoy it and take it as a compliment that you’re worthy of their affection – that they’ve deemed you good enough. The more you foster a relationship with your cat, the more she will want to head bunt you.”
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Meanwhile, Johnson-Bennett shared another point during her conversation with PetMD. As we mentioned earlier, people consider head bunting as a cat’s way of marking their domain in the house. But according to the feline expert, that’s a misinterpretation of a heartfelt gesture from the animal.
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“That sounds so cold,” Johnson-Bennett claimed. “Head bunting is typically an affectionate behavior. People think in black-and-white terms with their cat’s behavior. We show affection with a hug, a kiss or by holding hands. Cats have so many ways of being physically close. They touch noses, which is like a handshake. Head bunting is the next step. It’s like a hug.”
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So given what we now know about head bunting, it’ll be easier to recognize when we’re at home. The differences between this behavior and head pressing also become clearer. But if you’re still unsure on the latter, here are the signs that you should look out for.
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As suggested before, there could be a problem with your pet if it continues to push its head against a flat surface. Cats and dogs are known to stick to areas such as walls, doors or floors when there’s an issue. Regarding felines, Johnson gave an example of the startling sight.
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Johnson told PetMD, “They may walk up to a corner and push on both sides of the wall. Their face is wincing. Their head is throbbing. It’s like us pushing into our temples when we have a headache. They may express excessive vocal irritability. They may howl like they’re disoriented.”
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The behavior of an affected dog is similar to that, as they’ll often dig their forehead into the surface. Unsurprisingly, these actions can leave pet owners concerned – especially if their animals continue to do it. But, should you find yourself in this situation, you must act as quickly as possible.
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For you see, head pressing is usually a sign of a serious illness in animals. It might indicate that the cat or dog is suffering from a neurological ailment – in which case more problems can arise. With that in mind, then, canines are known to display the following symptoms alongside the cranial pushing.
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One of the easiest symptoms to spot is an increase in the dog’s “pacing.” This constant walking can cause issues with their feet too. The sick pooch could also exhibit some extreme signs, such as seizures, a decrease in vision and big alterations in their behavior.
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What’s the underlying cause? Well, the affected dog could be dealing with a condition such as encephalitis or rabies. On the other hand, brain tumors can trigger similar symptoms in canines as well. But away from those ailments, there’s an additional medical issue that might explain the constant head pressing.
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As you may already know, the liver is an important organ, as it filters the blood from the digestive system. Unfortunately, though, some dogs carry internal abnormalities that alter this process in a major way. Known as a “liver shunt,” it causes unfiltered plasma to go past the affected dog’s organ.
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To explain more, a veterinarian named Jennifer Coates delved into the topic while writing for PetMD. And, according to her, there are two types of liver shunt that you’ll find in different dogs. Dr. Coates wrote, “Liver shunts can be divided into two categories. Those that are present at birth (congenital shunts) and those that develop later in life (acquired shunts).”
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Coates continued, “Congenital shunts are most common, being responsible for approximately 80 percent of cases. Dogs are usually quite young (less than three years old) when they start experiencing symptoms. [Meanwhile], acquired shunts typically develop when blood pressure within the veins connecting the digestive tract to the liver becomes elevated.”
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So if a dog does have a liver shunt, head pressing is one of several symptoms they will display. That’s why you must take your animal to the vet when it starts doing this, and the medical professional should be able to help. Coates explained to PetMD how specialists would go about treating the previously mentioned ailment.
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“Most small breed dogs who have congenital shunts have just one abnormal blood vessel that is located outside of the liver,” Coates wrote. “These are the most amenable to surgical correction. A single shunt that is located within the liver itself is more common in large breed dogs. These are still usually best treated with surgery.”
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As for head pressing in cats, there are some other potential causes for it. Brain tumors and rabies can trigger the problem in dogs and felines – but that’s not all. In fact, glandular issues and metabolic abnormalities are also conditions that could lead to the behavior in cats.
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Yet whatever the cause may be, a vet needs to assess your cat to ascertain the problem. Understandably, though, you might be worried about the tests that your pet will undergo. So in an attempt to clear matters up, an expert shed some light on the process.
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Dr. Katy Nelson, who plies her trade as a vet, provided an in-depth breakdown while writing for PetMD. She revealed, “In order to determine the underlying cause of the head pressing behavior, your veterinarian will likely perform a fundic examination of the retina. [They will also look at] other structures in the back of the eye.”
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Dr. Nelson continued, “[These examinations] may reveal irregularities in the brain or infectious or inflammatory diseases. Other helpful tests include blood pressure measurements, to determine if your cat has high blood pressure, and computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain. Your veterinarian will also perform bloodwork and a urinalysis.”
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Nelson also made it clear that you’d need to take note of your cat’s behavior before seeing the vet. By mentioning any other strange signs you might’ve noticed, you’re giving the vet a better chance of reaching a solution. And while the process may be worrying, the results could save your pet’s life.
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Johnson-Bennett also reiterated the importance of watching over your cat at home. This allows you to get a better sense of how they carry themselves each day. Then, if they do begin to showcase a few unusual ticks, you’ll be able to tell that something might be wrong.
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Johnson-Bennett told PetMD, “It’s those little things that pet owners discover about their cat’s behavior that can make a real difference in the relationship. If you misunderstand subtle signs, it can have a huge impact on whether you have a close bond or not. We misinterpret cat communication all the time.”
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Yet cats and dogs aren’t the only animals out there that are prone to head pressing. When it comes to goats, they showcase the symptom after contracting a disease called caprine arthritis-encephalitis. Otherwise referred to as CAE, this medical ailment doesn’t have a cure at present.
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But the disease takes on two different “forms.” The arthritis form affects goats between the ages of one and two. As for the encephalitis strain, that’s the one that causes the animal to press its cranium against the walls. Sadly, that form of CAE hits goats that are only a few months old.
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Horses will engage in head pressing when something isn’t right too. To explain more, vet Doug Thal shared some interesting information about affected equines. Writing for the Horse Side Vet Guide website, he said, “Horses that are depressed or experiencing abdominal pain will often stand with their head in the corner of their stall.”
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And Dr. Thal added, “[Head pressing] is a rare behavior, and is usually associated with severe neurologic disease. Horses showing true head pressing will usually show other signs of brain disease such as depression, loss of appetite, wobbliness [and] apparent blindness. Horses that are dying of other causes, such as intestinal rupture, may also engage in this behavior.”

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