Head Pressing in Cats – Know The Difference

Last Updated on April 13, 2020

I have seen this all over the web and while it should be taken very seriously with dogs, it’s not so straightforward for cats. Cats are known for sleeping in weird positions, from sideways to upside down. Knowing the difference between head pressing and normal cat behavior will help you better care for your cat.

What Is Head Pressing?

Let’s touch on this for a minute if you don’t know.

“Head pressing is a condition characterized by the compulsive act of pressing the head against a wall or other object for no apparent reason“ – petMD

There are many conditions that can cause this to happen but the most widely recognized is hepatic encephalopathy. This is the result of the liver not functioning correctly so toxins are left in the bloodstream causing nerve damage.

Other causes of head pressing include:

  • Hydrocephalus (water on the brain)
  • Tumors in the brain
  • Strokes or vascular accidents in the brain
  • Head trauma
  • Inflammatory and infectious types of meningitis and encephalitis
  • Any kind of trauma to the brain can potentially cause head pressing

What’s the Difference?

Cats who are sleeping with their face down, this is normal cat behavior. Some cats are just most comfortable like this. 

When it comes to head pressing, you will see your cat doing this against walls while sitting, and while awake. They will press their head up against something, unrelaxed. 

You must know your cat’s behavior and when to have cause for concern, and be aware that this can happen at any age. Seek medical help for your cat if it is sleeping/sitting like this with diet changes (eating less/more), disoriented behavior, walking in circles, walking into walls, sudden drooling, crying when being picked up, and depression.

When to see a Vet

If you see your cat sleeping with their head pressing down and they are relaxed, there is likely no cause for concern. However, if they are awake and sitting or standing with their head against a wall (or other objects) then they must see a vet asap.

Examples of differences

Below are five pictures of my cat, Joey, sleeping in a “head pressing” position. This is considered “normal cat behavior“ and you can see that he is relaxed.

Now here are some pictures of actual head pressing, you can see the difference! These cats are not relaxed at all, this is when to be concerned.

I hope this clears up any confusion and concerns you may have had. If you have a question about your cat head pressing, leave a comment below!


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144 thoughts on “Head Pressing in Cats – Know The Difference”

  1. This didn’t clear up any confusion. One of the pics in the head pressing photos looks like one of the positions Joey was in.

    Also, picture this. My cat is sitting how cats do when they are sitting upright. (Not to be confused with the one with the front legs curled under them) And she has the top of her head pressed to the floor while she is sleeping in this weird position.

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  2. Hi,

    My cat doesn’t press her head against the wall, but she has been rubbing her head against the edges of my table, looking like there are some itchy spots on her face. She does become more vocal, but she has been purring doing so (rubbing). Should this be something I must concern about? I only have adopted her for 1.5 months, so I do not know.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Zen. This is typical behavior for adult cats. Most cats reach full maturity between 16 and 22 months of age. They use the glands on the face to spread their scent and claim their home.

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  3. What if your cat does it but against yourself, not against any hard object, when he is cuddling on your lap? Otherwise the chap is quite fine.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Manuel. A lot of cats do this to show affection and trust, I think your cat should be just fine.

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      • Thanks a lot for your quick answer! Actually, I was not too worried, but it helps (considering my OCD) getting an oppinion from an expert. This is “my” first cat, since I’ve always been more into dogs, but I’ve always been an animal lover (I am a Zoologist), and the little fellow just appeared one afternoon on my lawn, not being able to walk and just dragging his hind quarters (apparently from a fractured pelvis, which, after consulting a vet, healed on its own). That was four years ago (the vet and I guessed he was about 8 months old when he appeared) and I’m still wondering how did he managed to get into my property, since it has quite tall walls. Anyway, the bugger is still “visiting” and I couldn’t be happier whith it; we really communicate and get along quite fine and he makes me laugh a lot. Thanks a lot again and greetings from México! 🙂

  4. My cat has slept like this on occasion. A friend told me this is bad. Now I’m freaking out. He eats a lot (normal) is playful 3 year old runs around like lunatic but sleeps on the bed all night.

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  5. My gf brought our 10 yr old female cat to the vet to have her ears cleaned. The receptionist INSISTED ON our cat getting a rabies/distemper vaccine…Our cat was perfectly healthy, vibrant,and loving before the visit.After we got her home she stopped eating and drinking for 3 weeks.She is now being treated for what the vet says is pancreatitis and liver failure!!! They accept ABSOLUTELY NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANYTHING! Now our once normal cat is dying and fighting for her life…she head-presses frequently because she has hepatic encephalopathy also…I feel responsible for this…she is,and always has been an indoor cat…No reason to get rabies vaccine…This is a nightmare! The vet is soaking us slowly for every penny they can get…hundreds of dollars so far and our poor cat is not getting better.Its been 2 weeks on antibiotics, denamarin,and gabapentin…..

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    • Thanks for your comment Raymond and I am sorry your cat is going through this. My oldest cat had a bad reaction to his first round of vaccinations and ended up having pancreatitis as well. It nearly killed him but he pulled through and is now 13. Try to stay strong for her and support her through this. I would try finding another vet in your area to work with as well. I know it must be tough.

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