A cat presses its head against a couch cushion.

What Causes Cat Head Pressing?

Cats love to sleep and do it often. They sleep in a variety of locations in our homes and in just about every physical position. Let’s take a look at some common questions pet lovers have about their cat’s sleep patterns and review the causes of head pressing in cats during sleep and when it can be a sign of a larger problem.

What is Normal Cat Sleep Behavior?

How much do cats sleep? Experts estimate that the average feline will sleep 13 to 15 hours per day with some cats sleeping as much as 20 hours a day.

When are Cats Awake Vs. Sleep?

Cats are “crepuscular” which means their activity levels peak at twilight, whether that be at dawn or dusk. This is because their prey is most active at twilight. So, during the moments in-between, cats sleep, and although your pet may be indoors and domesticated, their predatory instincts remain. Pet lovers recognize this as their cats run around the house in the wee hours of the morning, sometimes knocking things over, or pouncing on moving toes while their parents try to sleep.

Where Do Cats Sleep?

What is a normal location for cats to sleep? Cats love to sleep where they feel safe and comfortable, especially high on perches or beds where they can monitor their environment for threats from a safe height. They also love to sleep in boxes, cubbyholes, or hidden on dining room chairs. Small hiding spots are often happy, warm, cozy, and out of reach or sight of predators. Some cats also love to find a slice of sunshine and enjoy the warmth as they take their catnap.

Are Cats Deep or Light Sleepers?

Cats are known to be light sleepers, always being on alert to attacks based on their nature of survival. They can go from a full sleep to fully alert and running in no time.

What Positions Do Normal Cats Sleep In?

Every cat is a little different as far as what position they sleep in. Cats sleep curled up in balls, sprawled out on the back of the sofa, on their backs in the middle of the floor, or curled into a position that appears to be head pressing while sleeping. Some cats will cover their eyes with their paws while sleeping as if to block out the light.
The vast majority of cats sleep curled up in balls with their chin on their chest and their tail tucked gracefully beside them and up the length of their body. This posture is to help them retain their body heat. Cats curl up with their face between their paws or covering their faces as another way retain their body heat and minimize heat loss. Some of these positions will resemble head pressing while sleeping, which can be a normal feline behavior, dome for comfort and relaxation.

Why a Cat Might Press Their Head Against Something While Sleeping

Some owners are worried about their cat head pressing while sleeping. Is this normal behavior? Or is this a symptom of a serious neurological problem? Learn more about What is Head Pressing in Cats?

Some cats will perform a head pressing behavior as they curl up to go to sleep to mark their territory. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks and this head rubbing behavior allows them to mark their territory and take ownership. They may rub and head press against your leg to show affection as they mark you as their territory. Some cats will press their heads against you as you pet them and may even head press against your forehead. Many cats will close their eyes as they affectionately head press.

How to Know the Difference Between a Sign of Disease and Odd Behavior

If you’re worried about whether or not your cat’s head pressing is normal or abnormal, consider the following. If your cat is eating, drinking, playful, and exhibiting otherwise normal behavior, then it is unlikely that these symptoms are worthy of concern.

When it comes to head pressing, if you see your cat doing this against the wall while sitting or while awake, and it appears that your cat doesn’t know what they are doing, this may be an abnormal sign. It can be a medical problem if they press their head up against something or a wall with an unrelaxed or tense posture. Learn more about the medical issues that can cause head pressing in this article: Cat Head Pressing: What You Need to Know.

Additional symptoms of medical problems associated with feline head pressing may include:

The brain is an extremely complex structure located in the heads of animals. It is situated within the skull and consists of three major sections that include the brainstem, cerebrum, and cerebellum. The thalamus is a small structure within the brain that acts to communicate sensory and motor signals to the motor and sensory signals. The thalamus, as well as other parts of the brain, has many functions, including regulation of sleep and consciousness. Any disease or condition of the brain can cause abnormal signs. Learn more about the structure and function of the feline brain.

If your cat is showing any of the above signs and/or seems to be head pressing, please contact your veterinarian immediately. There may be a serious and life-threatening underlying cause that requires urgent veterinary care. If your veterinarian is closed, you may be able to email, text or call their office for instructions as to how they handle emergencies. Some veterinarians will send comments via email or text, call you back, schedule a time to see you, or refer you to a specialty hospital with 24-hour care.

When You Should Be Concerned About Cat Head Pressing While Sleeping

You should be concerned if your cat or dog is head pressing against a wall or any object and showing any of the clinical signs listed above. If you have any concerns that your cat’s head pressing or sleeping behavior is not normal, the safest thing to do is to see your veterinarian. Treatment will be dependent on the underlying cause for the symptoms. Early diagnosis is critical for success.

The questions, examinations, and diagnostic tests that your vet may recommend will depend on the condition of your pet and may include the following:

If your kitty is showing abnormal neurological signs in addition to head pressing while sleeping, your vet may refer you to a veterinary neurologist for a second opinion and additional advanced diagnostics, such as a CT scan or MRI. You vet may also have the option to call the veterinary neurologist for advice.

Treatment of Head Pressing in Cats

The treatment for head pressing will depend on the underlying cause and specific condition or conditions present. For example, an infectious condition may be treated with antibiotics, a metabolic condition, such as diabetes, will be treated with insulin therapy, and a trauma-related issue will be treated with medications to reduce brain swelling. Depending on the underlying problem, it can take days or weeks to recover from some conditions.

We hope this article helps you understand more about normal and abnormal reasons that lead to cat head pressing. Often, cats may curl up and press their head against something as a normal part of their behavior and even as a way to show affection. At other times, the reason may be due to a significant underlying disorder.

It is important to prevent problems that can result in head trauma and brain damage in pets. Indoor cats are less likely to obtain trauma from gunshot wounds, be hit by cars, or involved in an animal attack. A quality cat-food diet, playtime, and environmental enrichment with scratching posts are all critical to good animal health. Only select flea products recommended by your vet and made for cats. NEVER use dog flea products on your cat without your vets approval. Treat your cat only with medications recommended by your veterinarian.