Head Pressing in Raccoons

Head pressing in raccoons is usually a symptom of canine distemper or another central nervous system infection.

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.

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