What is Head Pressing in Cats?

Head pressing is a term used in veterinary medicine to describe a behavior where a cat (or dog) presses their head into something. This article will describe what is head pressing in cats and review the possible causes.

What Does Head Pressing in Cats Look Like?

When a cat head presses, they are generally standing close to a wall, flat surface, corner, or something else with their head facing and touching that surface. Head pressing can occur in age, sex, or breed of cat and has many different potential causes from normal to extremely serious.

When Head Pressing in Cats Can Be Normal

Head pressing in cats can be a normal behavior. Some cats will press their head against your arm or your forehead as a sign of communication. This behavior is commonly known by the name of bunting.
Cats have scent glands in various locations on their bodies and use them to communicate. The glands are located under their chin, corners of their mouth, forehead, ears, between the toes, and along their tails. The scent glands release pheromones. A pheromone is a chemical substance that is considered unique to each cat which can communicate information about their mood or demeanor, identity, sex, and even when the cat was there and potentially which direction he was heading.

Cats can bunt or head press against you, inanimate objects, other pets, as well as other cats using different parts of their body depending on the location, height of the object of interest, and what they want to communicate.

The bunting behavior leaves scent marking on you or objects to help them communicate pleasure or ownership or to other cats as a way to say “hello” in a peaceful manner. One way our cats may communicate their trust and vulnerability to you is to bunt, rub their head to your face, with their eyes open.

Medical Causes Head Pressing in Cats

Head pressing in cats can also be very abnormal. In these cases that head pressing can be against a wall or other surface for a persistent amount of time. Most often, the cat pressing appears to be without obvious enjoyment and sometimes the cat appears to be unaware of their surroundings or that they are doing it. It can also be associated with other clinical symptoms such as trouble walking, blindness, and/or seizures.

There are many possible serious diseases and disorders in cats that can cause head pressing in cats. They include:

  • Prosencephalon diseases – are problems affecting of the forebrain of cats. Learn more about What is
  • Prosencephalon Disease in Cats?
  • Liver shunt or liver failure – can cause head pressing in cats. A liver shunt can be due to a congenital, from a developed problem, or from liver failure.
  • Brain tumors – can cause head pressing in cats. Brain tumors may be primary arising from brain tissues or secondary developing from either surrounding or distant tissues. Some tumors can develop in other locations in the body and spread (metastasize) to the brain.
  • Metabolic disorders – such as from low blood sodium levels (hyponatremia) or high blood sodium (hypernatremia) can cause head pressing in cats.
  • Strokes -also known as a cerebral vascular accident, is caused by a disruption of blood supply to the brain that results in failure of nerve impulses to be transmitted from the brain to the rest of the body can cause head pressing.
  • Infections – of the nervous system can cause head pressing in cats. It can be caused by bacterial, viral (feline infectious peritonitis virus, feline leukemia virus, rabies), fungal infections (blastomycosis, cryptococcosis, histoplasmosis), parasitic infestations, and/or protozoal infections (toxoplasmosis, encephalitozoonosis).
  • Toxins – such as rat or mouse poison, pesticides, antifreeze, can cause symptoms of head pressing in cats.
  • Head trauma – can occur in cats such as from blunt trauma (being hit in the head), penetrating injury (such as a pellet or bullet wound), or by falls (cats falling from windows). This can cause bleeding into the brain or around the brain. In addition swelling of tissues can cause brain injury that leads to head pressing.

Prevention of Head Pressing in Cats

The best way to prevent head pressing in cats that is due to a medical problem may include:

  • Keep your cat indoors is the safest way to prevent your cat from trauma such as gunshot wounds or being hit by a car as well as exposure to infectious diseases such as rabies and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
  • Parasite control medications to prevent fleas and ticks should be formulated for cats and dosed to the correct weight of your cat. NEVER use dog medication on a cat without the approval of your veterinarian.
  • Keep vaccinations current to prevent infectious diseases such as distemper, feline leukemia virus, and rabies.
  • Prevent access to toxins such as rat poison, pesticides, and antifreeze.

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