Head Pressing Is A Pressing Matter

Inserting a dog into your home and family's lifestyle is wonderful, but you may find the various tasks needed to care for your new family member overwhelming. From feeding and training to cleaning up after the dog, it is easy to see the challenges of having a pet. Unfortunately, many dog owners do not pay close attention to their dog's specific traits or habits. If your dog presses their head against a wall or other surface, you may think this is a quirky, unimportant behavior. However, head pressing is a sign of a serious, life-threatening condition called hepatic encephalopathy.

Using this guide, you will understand the symptoms and treatment options of hepatic encephalopathy and learn the importance of seeing immediate medical care.

Hepatic Encephalopathy

Hepatic encephalopathy affects your dog's central nervous system, but this degenerative disease stems from liver damage.

If your dog's liver is unable to filter ammonia, it will become severely damaged, allowing toxic substances to flow through their body. Without the liver's ability to detoxify, your dog's brain may swell, resulting in hepatic encephalopathy.


Fortunately, many symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy are neurological, so they are easy to notice if you pay attention to your dog's behavior. While the most common sign of the disease is head pressing against walls, doors, or other surfaces, you may notice a few other symptoms:

  • Staring – If you notice your dog constantly staring off into space, or gazing, it may be a sign of swelling in the brain.
  • Confusion – Periodic bouts of confusion, such as circling, falling, pacing, or stumbling, may also be a sign of hepatic encephalopathy.
  • Difficulty Following Commands – Dogs with neurological disorders may not be able to follow the commands they learned in the past.
  • Fatigue – Your dog may appear sluggish, lethargic, or constantly tired. They may have an increased need to sleep. In many cases, dogs with this condition will search for tight, small spaces to rest.
  • Vision Issues – Most dogs with hepatic encephalopathy are unable to see properly.
  • Seizures – Seizures are a common side effect of this neurological disease.
  • Behavior Changes – Rapid changes in behavior, such as aggression, is also common in dogs with the disease.

While surprising to hear, dogs with hepatic encephalopathy may also suffer with urinary and digestive issues due to the damaged liver. Frequent or painful urination, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive changes in appetite are also signs of this disease.

Treating Hepatic Encephalopathy

If your dog is pressing their head or showing any of the other visible signs, visit your veterinarian immediately. With early diagnosis, your dog will receive the proper treatment to treat hepatic encephalopathy.

If your dog develops hepatic encephalopathy due to a liver shunt, surgery is needed to lose the shunt. Since a shunt prevents the liver from filtering the blood of toxic substances such as ammonia, surgically placing an ameroid constrictor is essential for closing the shunt over a period of time.

If your dog does not show signs of a liver shunt, antibiotics may be an effective treatment for their hepatic encephalopathy. Oral antibiotics fight off bacteria in the liver, reducing ammonia in the bloodstream. In addition, the swelling in the brain may decrease during antibiotic therapy.

Following a healthy diet can also reduce potential liver damage, which will decrease the symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy. Work with your dog's vet to design a healthier diet that is free of processed foods and red meat, since these both increase the body's production of ammonia. Of course, protein is essential for your dog, so consider adding eggs or cottage cheese to their dry food.

Head pressing may not seem like a pressing issue, but it deserves immediate attention. Understanding how head pressing is a common sign of hepatic encephalopathy ensures your dog receives proper treatment and care. Go to sites of local vets for more information.