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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

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Average Cost

$2,800

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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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Written by Darlene Stott

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 09/30/2015, edited: 03/03/2021

Head Pressing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Ley

dog-breed-icon

Bulldog

dog-age-icon

7 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Head Pressing
Ataxia
Low T4

Hi, there's a dog in urgent need of foster care and follow-up medical that is currently at a high-kill-shelter who is head pressing. She has not had a CT or MRI but they strongly feel she likely has cancer and are going to put her down tomorrow. What besides cancer could be causing this (further info below)? Or do you agree it's likely cancer? Notes: Head pressing and ataxic CBC-mild leukopenia 4.48 (5.05-16.76) Mild lymphopenia 0.56 (1.05-5.1) Thrombocytopenia likely due to clumping Chem-mild hypercholesterolemia 338 (110-320) T4-low 0.8 (1-4) Eating well Gums: pink, moist Eyes: Grossly appropriate OU Ears: Alopecia and scabbing on both pinnae, hyperkeratotic Nasal Cavity: No nasal discharge Oral Cavity: Mild to moderate dental tartar/periodontal disease, prognathism PLN: WNL Heart: No murmurs or arrhythmias. Pulses strong and synchronous. Lungs: Eupneic, lungs clear. No crackles or wheezes bilaterally. Abd: Soft, non-painful. No palpable masses. No organomegaly appreciated. U/G: FI, no MGT palpated. No discharge. Musculoskeletal: Ambulatory x 4 with mild to moderate hindlimb ataxia; mild BCS = 4/9 Integument: Seborrhea, pruritic skin Neuro: Quiet to slightly dull mentation. Absent CP in RHL, delayed in RFL. CP normal on left side. Rectal: Not performed. Externally normal. Prognosis: Guarded to poor Assessment: low T4- r/o true hypothyroid vs sick euthyroid Dull with hindlimb ataxia, delayed CPs, and head pressing - top differential would be intracranial disease (neoplasia vs less likely inflammatory/infectious encephalitis vs vascular incident) vs extra-cranial disease (systemic neoplasia) Thank you so much! RO

July 17, 2018

Ley's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Without a CT or MRI scan, we cannot confirm the presence of a tumour until necropsy; whilst a brain tumour or other neurological condition may be suggestive based on symptoms we cannot be certain one way or another. I cannot say one way or another whether there is a tumour, but it is high on the differential diagnoses list. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 18, 2018

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Lucy

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Mix

dog-age-icon

12 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Head Pressing
Incontinence
Pacing

Our pooch has had a neurological problem for almost a year. She will not only stand in corners, but will often get stuck behind furniture and seems to feel as if she is unable to back out of these spots. She is incontinent, and needs to be helped to lay down. She is on low dose prednisone, which seems to help with some of her symptoms, such as pacing. We could not afford to MRI diagnose her, and the neurologists felt she has brain lesions either from CDD or a tumor. Do you have any insight into her potential life span? She has not wagged her tail in almost a year, and we are worried we are keeping her with us for the “wrong” reasons... any thoughts would be so appreciated.

July 13, 2018

Lucy's Owner

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Unfortunately without knowing more about Lucy’s condition I cannot give you any indication of a potential lifespan, we don’t know if she has any brain lesions, their size, their location within the brain or any other anomalies; this really is one of those wait and see cases if we don’t have a specific diagnosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 13, 2018

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Morgan

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Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier

dog-age-icon

9 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Excessive Thirst
Excessive Thirst, Accidents

My 9 year old Wheaten has been diagnosed with Cushings (pituitary). He also is being treated for Glomerulinephritis. Is head pressing consistent with Cushings? What is the usual prognosis relative to lifespan?

June 30, 2018

Morgan's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Head pressing is not a sign of Cushing's disease, that I am aware of... it may be a sign of elevated kidney enzymes and toxic effects on his brain, or another reason. It would be good to follow up with your veterinarian if this is a new sign. I hope that all goes well for Morgan.

June 30, 2018

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Rufus

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Miniature Schnauzer

dog-age-icon

13 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Bumps Head A Lot
Always In The Corners Lost

My 13 year old miniature schnauzer Rufus has been acting strange lately. He has started crawling under the beds and laying into corners. He walks into corners and stares at the wall and can't seem to back out. He hears his name but will run around looking for you even if you're standing in the same room. When he gets up in the morning and shakes his back legs are weak and he has trouble and has to shake again. He's started sleeping more and he seems to always be hungry.

May 15, 2018

Rufus' Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

It would be a good idea to have Rufus seen by a veterinarian to have a good exam and some senior lab work. He may have having signs of a systemic disease, or a neurologic problem. Your veterinarian will be able to look at her, determine what might be going on, and help get him any treatment that he may need. I hope that he is okay.

May 16, 2018

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Harley

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Chihuahua

dog-age-icon

11 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy, Head Pressing

My 11 year old Chihuahua/rat terrier is a pretty laid back dog - he sleeps most of the day, but is always excited to get a "cookie" (dog treat - sweet potato fry). Last night he came into the house walking gingerly. He climbed up to me and just laid down. When I moved a lap blanket, it touched him somewhere and he yelped. I felt and pressed everywhere on him, but didn't notice any reaction from him. He continued to be subdued the rest of the night - even when asked if he wanted a cookie - he just sort of perked is ears a second and laid his head back down. Today is much of the same - but he's laying in his dog bed with the top of his head up against the side of it, and isn't sleeping at all. He just lays there with his eyes open. Between last night and today, I feel like I noticed his eyes moving slowly and unfocused a couple of different times, and when he goes to shake his body, he slowly shakes his head once or twice and appears to decide against a full body shake

May 3, 2018

Harley's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

While it is hard for me to comment on what might be going on with Harley without examining him, from your description he sounds like he is painful, whether he has a strain or sprain in his neck or back, or another reason. It would be best to have him examined by a veterinarian to assess his neurologic function and general health, and determine what might be happening. They'll be able to look at him and recommend any necessary testing or treatment that he may need. I hope that all goes well for him.

May 4, 2018

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Head Pressing Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$2,800

Protect yourself and your pet. Compare top pet insurance plans.

Compare Pet Insurance & Wellness Plans

Save up to $273 per year

Compare plans
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