Maybe you have a cuddly pup that expresses its love by pressing its head against yours while you shower it with kisses, and that’s absolutely adorable. But when your dog starts pressing its head against the wall, it’s a clear indication that something is amiss.
What is Dog Head Pressing?
Dog head pressing is an obsessive behavior where a dog presses its head against a wall, corner, floor, or any other stationary object. However, the reasons behind this behavior remain somewhat controversial. It could be a result of discomfort or pain, or it could signify altered awareness, causing the dog to unintentionally walk into the wall and struggle to navigate away from it.
Unfortunately, head pressing in dogs almost always indicates a serious underlying illness. It is generally a sign of forebrain dysfunction, and it is often accompanied by other notable signs such as changes in behavior, walking in circles, seizures, ataxia (incoordination), and even blindness.
Potential Causes of Dog Head Pressing
Here are seven possible causes of forebrain dysfunction and head pressing in dogs:
Among the various neurological issues that affect dogs, brain tumors are one of the most common, especially in older dogs. However, understanding why these tumors develop is not a straightforward task, as a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to their formation.
Strokes occur when the blood flow to a specific part of the brain is hindered (ischemic) or when a blood vessel ruptures (hemorrhagic), resulting in damage to the nerve cells and their pathways. Strokes cause a sudden and severe onset of symptoms.
Inflammation of the Brain
In dogs, brain inflammation is often autoimmune in nature and is considered another potential cause of head pressing. Inflammation can occur in the brain’s membranes (meningitis), the brain itself (encephalitis), or a combination of both (meningoencephalitis).
Additionally, pain is another likely symptom of brain inflammation in dogs.
Hydrocephalus is a condition characterized by brain swelling caused by the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) inside the skull. This can occur due to reduced absorption or overproduction of CSF. Certain breeds, especially toy breeds, are more predisposed to this condition.
Other possible symptoms of Hydrocephalus in dogs include a domed skull, a soft spot on the head (persistent fontanelle), wide-set eyes, slow growth, small stature, and difficulties in learning, house training, eating, and drinking.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Any trauma to the brain can potentially lead to head pressing in dogs, though it often causes much more severe symptoms initially.
Some additional signs of a traumatic brain injury in dogs might include loss of consciousness, eye, ear, or nose bleeding, heavy or rapid breathing, abnormally slow heart rate, difficulty regulating body temperature, abnormal posture, and changes in pupil size and response to light.
Nervous System Infections
Bacterial, fungal, and viral infections can affect the nervous system in dogs. These infections can be acquired through parasites, insect and animal bites, contact with other animals, or environmental exposure.
Further symptoms of nervous system infections in dogs may include fever, lethargy, nasal discharge, gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting, and respiratory symptoms such as sneezing and coughing.
Conditions such as sodium imbalance and severe liver or kidney disease can lead to toxin buildup in the body, which can cause the brain cells to malfunction.
Additional signs of metabolic disease in dogs may include vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight, increased thirst and frequency of urination, blood in urine or stool, and yellowish eyes, tongue, or gums.
What You Should Do if Your Dog Is Head Pressing
Addressing head pressing in dogs requires treating the underlying cause. If you notice your dog exhibiting head pressing behavior, it is crucial not to delay seeking professional evaluation. Whenever possible, you should take your dog to a veterinarian on the same day.
Your vet will conduct a comprehensive physical examination, including an evaluation of the eyes, and perform baseline tests such as blood work and x-rays. If your veterinarian suspects a brain issue that cannot be explained by initial testing, they may refer you to a veterinary neurologist for brain imaging, typically utilizing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
MRI is the most effective method to arrive at a definitive diagnosis, understand the severity of the condition, explore treatment options, and determine the prognosis.
Contact Southeast Veterinary Neurology if Your Dog Is Head Pressing
While the prognosis depends on the underlying cause and its severity, there are medical and surgical treatment options for all the conditions that lead to dog head pressing. Seeking treatment as soon as possible is crucial for the well-being of your pet and its family.
Southeast Veterinary Neurology has three convenient locations in South Florida (Miami, Boynton Beach, and Jupiter), as well as a location in Virginia Beach, VA. Each location is equipped with highly skilled veterinary neurologists and state-of-the-art MRI suites. We are available 24/7 throughout the year to support your family through the challenges (and triumphs!) of canine neurologic disease.
For more information, visit Katten TrimSalon and discover how we can help your furry friend.