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

  1. 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.

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  2. 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 article, it helped to put my mind at ease. A lot of the articles out there don’t tell the difference between cats SLEEPING with their heads down or cats actually head-pressing. I feel much better now!

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  3. 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

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  4. 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

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  5. 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.

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  6. Our cat, Ash actually sleeps in those positions that are “not normal” he’s done it ever since we got him at 8 weeks old. He’s been to the vet numerous times and he’s perfectly healthy he just likes to sleep like that lol. He’s our weird sleeper. He will sleep in my hair but hang his body half way out of the bed or against a door frame but in a L shape and on his back and his paws will be straight up lol.

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  7. My cat is 6 years old a boy and he often sleeps or lays not sure wether he’s asleep with his head facing something, and recently with his head resting on the alarm clock (rectangle shaped upwards)

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  8. The past few weeks my 6 year old cat Alvin has been behaving strangely. He’ll spend all night sitting on the bathroom counter just staring at himself in the mirror. He’s also been spending a large part of his day sleeping with his face toward the wall. Not pressing, though. But not rested either. He’s in a loaf position with his face about a centimeter away from the wall. He seems to be eating and drinking, but I’m not sure if I should be concerned with these new behaviors. Thanks.

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    • Thanks for your comment Valkriesmurf. Given his age and a general healthy appetite, I would say there is nothing to be worried about. He may be a bit bored. You can try getting him some new toys and interacting with him every day for an hour or so of playtime.

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  9. My cat suddenly started dropping its head down and it’s almost 2 hours it’s still like that. She drops her head walking as well. HELP ME

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  10. Yesterday, my cat was sitting on a chair, and all of the sudden, she pressed her head on the chair. I have never seen her do that before, so it was very strange. She only did it for a few seconds. Is that a bad sign?

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    • Thanks for your comment, Abby. This doesn’t sound like anything to worry about. When head pressing against objects should be a concern is when other changes are occurring in your cat’s behavior.

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  11. My cat had surgery about 3 months ago she had a tumor on the side of her chest under her are. It was cancer but the vet said as long as she is eating, drinking and going in the litter box she should be ok for a time. I can’t afford chem or any thing like that and I love our baby . She likes to sleep on the top of the back of a chair but all of a sudden she is pressing her head on the back she does not to it for hours and then she will go back sleeping reg. with her face to the side. I know there is nothing we can do for the cancer and I just want her to enjoy life as much as she has. Am I wrong? I would do something if I saw her in pain. We have a kitten and she does not like her because the kitten always wants to play and she does fight back so she is not just laying around sleeping. Thank You Sorry so long

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    • Thanks for your comment, Rosemary. Given her medical history, this is something you will want to run by with her vet to be 100% certain. She likely just finds the position comfortable. You can also check in your area for holistic doctors who are trained to treat cancer for cats. It may be a cheaper alternative.

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  12. Hello, I had read this article not even a month ago and have never seen this before and I have always had cats. Today I saw my kitty laying on the window sill will his head against the wall and my son took a picture of him but I can’t attach it. He thought it was weird looking. I don’t know if he was asleep or not! Is there anyway you can email me so I can send the pic to see if I need to take him to the vet! I am a single mom and every penny is like gold these days! I am out of work on disability from complications from a surgery I had! However if he needs to be seen I will find a way! Please and thank you!

    Jennifer Pinnock

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew. Does your cat only do this against the window? If so, is it only during the daytime? Some cats like to “sunbathe” near or directly in sunlight so if the window is slightly warm, it likely feels good for your cat.

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  13. My cat head presses when he’s sitting on my lap. He’ll turn to me and rest the crown of his head on my chest or arm pit region. Is this an affectionate behavior or one I should be concerned?

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    • Thanks for your comment, Ellie. That sounds like normal affection to me. If he is showing any other signs of dietary or behavioral change, it can’t hurt to get him looked at. If not, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

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  14. I am a Lil concerned, only because he is almost 3 yrs old and never did this position of sleeping before, I am trying to find how to post a picture

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  15. My cat is almost 16. She will sometimes sit down like a loaf or lay down in a circle so her body faces one way but then turns her head the complete opposite way, putting her face up against the couch. She has also recently started snoring, if that means anything. Should I be concerned? She acts normal otherwise, eats and goes to the bathroom normally. It just looks really uncomfortable. I think she is asleep when she does it, but it is somewhat of a new behavior…

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    • Thanks for your comment Nicole J. She is an older cat so snoring is more common. What you want to make sure of is that she is getting enough oxygen. If her mouth and nose are completely covered and her snoring/breathing sounds labored, just readjust her head. If she is not getting enough oxygen, it can actually cause her to go into a deep unconscious sleep where it will take quite a bit to wake her up. If she is overweight, sleep apnea may be a concern here as well. If she is of a healthy weight, eating and drinking, and using her litter box like normal I don’t think there is any cause for concern. You can always get an opinion from her vet.

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  16. Hello,
    Tonight I noticed something different from pressing. She laid on me (not uncommon at all, pretty much all night) for about two hours but I could feel her bones (I noticed that yesterday ), and she wouldn’t lay her head down, it felt stiff actually. Her body temp felt cold as well.

    Any thoughts would be helpful

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Kelly and sorry for the delay in my response. Is she an older cat or does she have any history of medical problems? I would advise taking her to a vet asap to be looked at because she sounds like she is underweight and if her body is cold, that is not a good sign.

      Reply

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