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What is Head Pressing?

Often, the first sign of illness in dogs is abnormal behavior. Lethargy, weakness, or personality changes can indicate something is wrong before other symptoms begin to show. One of these abnormal behaviors is “head pressing,” during which the animal stands near a wall or corner, hanging its head low, and not moving. The animal need not actually press its head against the wall to exhibit “head pressing,” but this often occurs as well. Head pressing often indicates that something is wrong with the nervous system. This could be a nervous-system specific ailment, or an existing condition that has progressed to neurological involvement. This behavior is not normal and will not go away on its own. Schedule a visit with a local veterinarian as soon as possible if your dog exhibits abnormal behavior like head pressing or general personality changes. You know your dog best, which means when you notice something off, you're the only one that is able to correct it.

Head pressing is a behavior exhibited by animals experiencing neural damage or under the influence of certain toxins. An affected animal will often stand in a corner or near a wall with its head hung low, or physically press the head against objects.

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Head Pressing Average Cost

From 14 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$2,800

Symptoms of Head Pressing in Dogs

  • Pressing the head against stable objects for no obvious reason (i.e. not scratching an itch)
  • Exhibiting reduced reflexes
  • Compulsive pacing, often developing sores from excessive pacing in a small area.
  • Seizures
  • Strong changes in behavior
  • Visual problems, such as identifying objects or obstacles
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Causes of Head Pressing in Dogs

  • Canine distemper virus
  • Neurological disease
  • Metabolic disorders, including hyponatremia
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Brain tumor or body tumor
  • Other cancers of the nervous system
  • Infections of the nervous system
  • Meningitis/myelitis
  • Poisoning
  • Degenerative disease
  • Trauma
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Diagnosis of Head Pressing in Dogs

If you notice your dog pressing its head against walls, pacing or standing facing a corner for extended periods of time, contact the veterinarian immediately. If your pet has a neurological disease, it will need immediate treatment in the hope of avoiding permanent damage. Be prepared to give a detailed medical history of your pet, including any medications, surgical procedures, or recent visits at a kennel or pet hotel. Be sure to let the veterinarian know if you suspect poisoning. This may include mentioning any known poisonous plants in a neighbor’s yard, if your dog has vomited recently, or if the dog came to you with plant material on lips or stuck to teeth), as lifesaving action must be taken immediately.

A veterinarian will make a physical examination of your dog to distinguish symptoms of poisoning from illness. Poisoned dogs will often exhibit greatly increased or reduced heart rate, dilation/constriction of the eyes, muscle tremors or lethargy, and may vomit. This usually, but not always, is differentiated from sickness by the absence of a fever.

If the dog appears to be sick, and not poisoned, there are a number of tests that the veterinarian may order. A CBC (complete blood count) is often the first line of investigation, and will reveal abnormalities in the amounts of different blood cells. Increased white blood cell count, for example, often means the dog is fighting an infection. Other symptoms, like fever, sneezing, and fluid in the lungs can be signs of illnesses like Canine Distemper Virus or meningitis. Rarely, liver damage can cause a condition known as hepatic encephalopathy, resulting in neurological symptoms like head pressing from the toxins released by the liver.

If no obvious disease or poisoning presents itself, the veterinarian may refer your dog to an animal hospital for medical imaging, such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), X-ray or CT (Computed Tomography) scan. These are larger machines that may require your dog to be sedated to keep them still during the imaging. Results from these tests provide veterinarians with high-resolution images that may show evidence of a brain tumor or mass pressing on the nervous system.

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Treatment of Head Pressing in Dogs

Head pressing can only be resolved by treatment of the underlying condition. If your dog has been poisoned, the veterinarian will attempt to identify the toxin and counter it. This can include a variety of methods, such as providing fluids to combat dehydration, activated charcoal to absorb toxins, chelation therapy, or drugs that keep the body from processing the substance into its toxic by-products, such as in the case of antifreeze poisoning. Providing the veterinarian with information about toxic hazard in and near your home is often key to saving your dog’s life. These treatments are administered as soon as possible and stopped once the animal recovers.

Neurological diseases like meningitis can be identified by culturing the cerebrospinal fluid and choosing an appropriate antibiotic. The antibiotic administration must be given as directed until the entire course of medicine has been used up, even after symptoms improve. This ensures that your dog will not relapse or develop antibiotic-resistant strains of the infection. Antibiotics are usually safe, but in some pets may irritate their stomach.

Cancers will be treated according to their location, type and progression. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery may be required.

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Recovery of Head Pressing in Dogs

The recovery of your pet will depend on the cause of the head pressing. As neurological symptoms are serious, the veterinarian will more than likely request follow-up appointments to monitor your dog’s condition. Let your pet rest as much as possible and provide food, water, and medication as directed. Try not to overexcite or stress your pet (e.g. by vacuuming) if possible. Neurological symptoms brought about by poisoning or infection usually resolve quickly once proper treatment is found. Head pressing caused by degenerative diseases and cancers often take much longer to resolve, or in some cases, not at all.

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Cost of Head Pressing in Dogs

Head pressing can be a symptom of poisoning, a neurological disorder or even cancer (although not as common). If head pressing is the result of poisoning the veterinarian will likely begin treating your dog with fluids ($40 to $60) to help flush the toxins out. Activated charcoal 280mg ($10 for 100ct. to $15 for 250ct.) can be used to absorb toxins. Chelation therapy ($200 to $1,000) is used to remove heavy metals from the blood. This could be very helpful if your dog is suffering from mercury poisoning. There are also medications for poisoning from toxins (i.e. antifreeze) that the veterinarian could also choose to use. Bicarbonate 8.4% 100ml injection ($10 per injection on average) is often the medication of choice for this type of poisoning. Your dog’s head pressing may also be a symptom of a neurological disorder (i.e. Meningitis). The veterinarian will need to perform a culture of the cerebral spinal fluid and provide the appropriate antibiotics (Ampicillin $50-$55). If the diagnosis is for cancer, the appropriate costs will vary great and can be upwards of $5,000.

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Head Pressing Average Cost

From 14 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$2,800

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Head Pressing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Miniature Poodle

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

My dog is very lethargic. He won’t get up to eat and I was able to get him to drink from a syringe. He was shaking early when he would take a breath in but that has seemed to subside. We have not noticed any vomiting or diarrhea

Dec. 22, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello so sorry to hear about your dog. If he is not eating and very lethargic, it would be best for your vet to see him. You can continue to syringe him food and water. You can add baby food to a syringe or even wet dog food with water until you can get the food to go thru the syringe. Good Luck. I hope your dog starts to feel better soon.

Dec. 22, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Three Months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Watery Stool, Vomiting, Lethargic

She started vomiting this morning, and about an hour ago she pooped very watery diarrhea. Now she's being lethargic

Aug. 9, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Puppies are prone to parasites, infectious diseases like parvo virus, and intestinal infections. It would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian right away, as they will be able to examine her and see what is causing this problem, and get treatment for her. I hope that she is okay.

Aug. 11, 2020

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Beagle Terrier Mix

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting, Lethargic, Head Pressing, Diarrhea

Our dog has become extremely lethargic. He has now started to vomit once a day and now has diarrhea. Today he started to do "Head Pressing" he is very weak and will not gain weight. He's been to the vet twice. Once for worms, (taken care of) but most recently to be neutered. That's when he became lethargic. Then weight loss and vomiting. I can't afford to do blood work. I have no clue what could be wrong with him

Aug. 2, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, SO sorry to hear about your dog. Head pressing can indicate something wrong with his brain. It would be best for your vet to see him. Discuss your finances with your vet and see if they can work within your budget. I hope that your dog starts to get better soon.

Aug. 2, 2020

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Shih Tzu

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12-14

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Panting, Sun Downing, Overly Anxious

Was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease 10 days ago - has been on Vetoryl 10 mgs./day. Symptoms do not seem to be getting better. Is on 5 to 7 mgs. Of Valium/day as his symptoms keep him so hyper agitated and scared by everything (light, noise, being alone).

July 13, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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I'm sorry that your dog is having problems. Some dogs respond quite well to medication for Cushing's Disease, and some do not. It may take some time for the medication to help, as well. Since I cannot examine your dog, if you are concerned that things are not going well, the best thing to do would be to make an appointment with your veterinarian and have a follow-up recheck for your dog. They will be able to examine him, assess whether things are working or not, and see what can be done. I hope that things go well for him.

July 13, 2020

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Moses

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Yorkie

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19 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

See Above

Our 19 yo Yorkie was a breeder for 16 years. His life was bad. Farmer knocked out teeth and broke the jaw. He was debarked cruelly. When we rescued him he was active and learned to be loved. In January he had a low fall. Knee height but hit his head on hard floor. Since then he head presses and circles. He cannot find his bed or pee pad. He still eats well and sleeps quietly in bed with me. He enjoys cuddling and still likes to run the halls at my work. He goes to work with me daily. He sleeps more than he used to. When awake He’s just so restless pacing, circling, and seems to seek out tight spaces. No diagnostics done. Our vet says at his age it’s probanly cognitive. Do you think he is in pain, uncomfortable, anxious, or unhappy? Am I keeping him Selfishly? Or should I get to the bottom of it and have an MRI? I spend a lot of money on old sick rescues mostly mill dogs. I have five—he’s my favorite! Thousands of dollars to make them healthy and happy. But Is a 19 year old a candidate for extensive testing? Any suggestions? I adore him but am realistic. Thank you for any help you can offer.

Aug. 7, 2018

Moses' Owner

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1 Recommendations

Nineteen years old is a good age especially given his life; without examining him I cannot really weigh in on whether he is in pain or not but if he is still relatively active and affectionate I would take this as a positive sign. Further diagnostics including an MRI may help diagnose the underlying issue but with the results of the MRI would we be able to do anything meaningful to improve the quality of life? Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 7, 2018

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Izzie

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Cocker Spaniel

dog-age-icon

13 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Circling, And Scratching The Floor

I think she is head pressing, not sure. She is sitting up all the time versus laying down. She stares at walls and sometimes runs into my husbands closet or a corner. She just went to the vet this plant week for a yearly checkup since all this happened. They found she had an infection on her chest which I believed she got when she went to the groomers the week before.

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Sammi

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Labrador Mix

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Head Pressing
More Mouthing
Fear Of Kennel

Sammi was beat a couple months ago by my room mate. I came home from a weekend away for work and room mate told me sammi needed to be trained because she "had to pick her up by the collar and throw her" and "lock her in the cage the whole time I was gone." She then went to sammi unprovoked and grabbed her from her nap by the scruff and smashed her head into the floor. Sammi yelped, ran to me when roommate let go, and other than being obviously frightened of room mate seemed fine. She also wouldnt set foot near her cage which did have a pee puddle in it. I'd been gone less than 48 hours. Fast forward 2 months, Sammi has started head pressing this last week and a half. I've seen her do it 4 times. 3 to me once to my brother. She just comes up to me wherever im sitting and buries her head into my lap. She then insists on leaving under my leg no matter how much shooting around she has to do to make her way under a leg. Shes shown no other symptoms of anything. Just the head pressing and the fear of the cage. But it didnt start for a couple months after being removed from the old room mate totally 100%. Should I be concerned? Shes set up to get some worm and vaccine medicines at the vet in a couple weeks so I'll ask then. Just curious if I need to take her in now. Shes also been a little mouthier with greeting people when they come home lately as well.

Head Pressing Average Cost

From 14 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,000

Average Cost

$2,800

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