A closer look: Head Pressing in Cats
Head pressing itself is not an emergency, however the root cause is often a serious illness that requires prompt veterinary attention. Head pressing typically does not occur on its own.
Veterinary attention is required to identify the cause and determine a treatment plan. In some cases, hospitalization is required.
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There is not much variation in the severity of head pressing itself, however the potential underlying conditions vary greatly in their seriousness and potential outcomes. Diagnostic work-up by a veterinarian is required to determine the underlying cause and the prognosis.
Testing and diagnosis
Head pressing, especially when accompanied by trouble walking, blindness or seizures, requires veterinarian attention to determine underlying causes and plan treatment. Diagnostic tools include:
- Physical examination
- Blood work
- Examination of the eye to screen for inflammatory or infectious diseases
- Diagnostic imaging, including CT or MRI
Treatment varies depending on the underlying cause. Outcomes are difficult to generalize due to the variety of possible underlying causes. Patients often require repeated veterinary visits to monitor their progress as they undergo treatment.
Head pressing differs from the usual cat behavior known as bunting. Bunting is the pressing of the head or rubbing of the face against people or inanimate objects. Cats use scent glands to communicate by leaving their pheromones on surfaces. The difference between bunting and head pressing is that in bunting, the head press is fleeting, the cat is aware of their surroundings, and they appear to enjoy the activity.
Head tilt or head turn are sometimes mistaken for head pressing. These are symptoms of disruption to the vestibular system and are accompanied by impairment to balance.
Cats also get stuck in corners when they are suffering from feline cognitive dysfunction. In these cases, cats are stuck because they have forgotten how to get out of the corner, and may appear distressed or anxious. They may push on objects with their head as they try to escape from the corner, which is not the same head pressing continuously.