Dogs do a number of strange, inexplicable things…we won’t go into detail here, because we all know what they are, and they’re often not especially polite. But sometimes, dogs do strange things in an attempt to signal to their owners that something is gravely wrong. And one of those strange things is called head pressing. While it looks like your dog is just acting dopey, it actually points to serious neurological issues.
What Is Head Pressing?
Head pressing is exactly what it sounds like: when a dog repeatedly presses its head against a wall or another object for no reason. When a dog does this, it’s a sign that something is very, very wrong. It could be anything from late stage liver disease to a degenerative nerve disorder.
According to PetMD, there are a variety of issues that cause head pressing in dogs. A sodium imbalance, a tumor in the brain or elsewhere in the body, an infection in the nervous system like rabies, exposure to toxins or head trauma can all lead to this symptom. If you notice your dog engaging in repetitive head pressing behavior, get to the vet ASAP.
“You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, the onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition,” PetMD says. The vet will perform a variety of tests (ranging from MRI to urinalysis) on your dog to rule out any of the aforementioned causes.
Oh, and for cat owners, head pressing can also sometimes present as a symptom of a brain tumor. In addition to head pressing, other symptoms that are “subtle and insidious and include inactivity, decreased purring, irritability, compulsive pacing, altered level of consciousness and circling” can also present, according to Patrick Kelly, BVSC, Ph.D., professor of small animal internal medicine at Ross Veterinary School of Medicine.
Which Dogs Carry The Most Cause For Concern?
And not to make you more concerned, but if you have a purebred dog, the chances of it developing neural issues are much higher than with a mutt. This is due to a variety of issues, including inbreeding and genetics; with a mixed-breed dog, the chances of severe health issues are not as high.
Seventy percent of King Charles Spaniels who are five years of age or older, for example, “will suffer from canine syringomyelia, a debilitating neurological disorder in which the brain is too large for the skull, causing severe pain in the neck and shoulders, along with damage to parts of the dog’s spinal cord,” Scientific American says.
Toy and small breed dogs are especially susceptible to neural disorders that can present in head pressing, Kelly says. This means taht if you’re looking to buy a specific breed, you should always ask the breeder for a family history of disease and any medical tests. If the breeder refuses, well, maybe you shouldn’t get that puppy.