This is something we see often— raccoons curled up with their heads pressed against the ground, their eyes shielded from sunlight.
To well-meaning bystanders, it’s easy to project human experiences onto these situations. People assume they’re frightened, cold, or even depressed. Unfortunately, the reality is usually far worse than that.
Animals head-press when they have terrible headaches. Ever have a sinus headache and felt a little better when pushing the heal of your hand against your forehead? Head-pressing is a lot like that.
Raccoons rarely have severe headaches for benign reasons. In the best-case scenarios, head-pressing in a raccoon is a sign of a bad concussion. In the worst cases, it is a symptom of inflammation in the spine and/or brain, caused by a viral infection.
Canine distemper is the most common infectious cause of head-pressing in raccoons. In fact, out of nearly 100 patients we’ve seen with head pressing as a symptom, every single one was suffering from canine distemper.
If you see a raccoon pressing its head against the ground, please do not touch or approach it, but contact your local animal control, game wardens, or wildlife rehabilitators for assistance.