Head Pressing in Cats – Know The Difference

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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Zen

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.

Manuel Ugarte Arce

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.

MANUEL UGARTE ARCE

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… Read more »

Mackenzie Woodruff

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.

Raymond Bradley

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… Read more »

Nayra

Extremely sad to hear this, I truly hope she has recovered

Damian

Is this normal behavior of my cat? Often seems to be in this position but no other apparent signs.
Thanks

Yelena

My aunt’s cat Charlie does this when he’s sleepy or already asleep. A lot of times he’ll press his head against me, not rubbing, while he’s needing and purring. Usually when he’s asking to be feed.

Ash G.

My cat Miri just started sleeping with her head pressed down in her bed or on my bed a couple days ago (or at least, that’s when I noticed it since I am now working from home and see her all day). It FREAKED me out. I took her right to the vet and they ran all the tests but everything came back normal and healthy, just to keep an eye on her behavior. She didn’t have any other symptoms that are usually associated with head-pressing, so I may have over-reacted, but I was still worrying. Thank you for this… Read more »

Mngtr

Thank you for this post, my cat has also started sleeping with his head pressed against the wall but I wasn’t sure if this is head-pressing behaviour because he likes to smoosh his face against something while sleeping (usually my face). When I wake him he changes his position though, so hopefully it’s nothing

April davis

Thank you for this post. I’ve know about head pressing in cats and have seen pictures, but never did a whole lot of research since I’ve never seen my cat do this. Well, I was watching TV and looked over on the other couch and my cat had her head pressed into the couch cushion apparently asleep. I admittedly freaked out a little and woke her up (she gave me that what is your problem look) I’m glad I read this. Now I know the difference. Whew

Ali

My cat was sleeping on Top of her cat scratcher house and her face was pressed up against the side of it (it’s like a cardboard fence of sorts) while sleeping. Do you think that’s a cause for concern? She otherwise seems her normal self and i haven’t seen her do it against any walls.