Why do dogs chatter their teeth?
Our dogs do the darndest things sometimes, which includes making some strange noises or having bizarre reactions to things. Stuff like rubbing your dog’s tummy can cause their leg to kick, or your pooch might be licking something to death and suddenly get chattering teeth.
Other times you might hear a clacking only to find your pup’s jaw trembling and their teeth chattering as if they’re out in the cold! But why do dogs chatter their teeth, and is it a cause for concern?
Why do dogs chatter their teeth?
Your pup’s chattering teeth isn’t necessarily anything to worry about. It might seem weird, but chattering teeth can be one of the many weird and wonderful ways our woofers communicate their emotions.
However, teeth chattering can also be a sign that your pooch is in pain. That’s why it’s important to know why dogs chatter their teeth, and what could be causing your canine’s click-clacking teeth. So let's take a look at the different reasons why dogs chatter their teeth.
You’ve got a chilly canine
Just like us humans, dogs will shiver and have chattering teeth when they get really cold. Despite their fur, dogs do feel the cold and some little breeds like Chihuahuas, or lean breeds like Whippets, tend to be more sensitive to the cold than us humans!
If your dog’s teeth are chattering and you know it’s a bit chilly, you can try to warm your pup up by moving their bed somewhere warmer, or popping a jumper on them, or giving them a blanket to snuggle in.
Weirdly though, teeth chattering and shivering can also be a sign of fever, so it can be worth checking your pup’s temperature and examining them for other symptoms of illness.
They’re super excited
Other reasons why dogs chatter their teeth are due to high emotional states, like excitement. Sometimes a dog might chatter their teeth when they’re really excited, like before dinner or when they get a new toy. This can affect any breed of dog, but there is a theory that it tends to happen more to dog breeds with working backgrounds and high prey drive.
Cats chatter their teeth too when they’re excited, and they tend to do it more often than dogs. If you have a feline in the house, you’ve probably heard your cat chittering to themselves and chattering their teeth if they see a bird outside.
It’s a sign of anxiety
In a physiological sense, excitement and anxiety are very similar and trigger similar responses from the body. That’s why a lot of the doggy body language for excitement and anxiety are similar. In this case, your dog chattering their teeth could be a sign of nervousness or anxiety. Some pups will even shiver and chatter their teeth as if they’re cold when they’re anxious or nervous.
If your dog has a nervous personality, they might be more likely to chatter their teeth. Flighty, shy breeds of dog like Greyhounds might be more likely to chatter their teeth when they’re uncomfortable.
They’re in hardcore sniffer mode
As well as your dog having a super-powered nose, they actually have another organ that makes up part of their olfactory system called a “vomeronasal system” or the “Jacobson’s Organ”. It can be found in the roof of your dog’s mouth just behind their front teeth, and it’s specially adapted to detect pheromones.
Believe it or not, we humans have this strange sniffy organ as well. In fact, most mammals have it and it’s almost always behind their incisors!
This special organ sniffs out pheromones, but for some reason using it can sometimes trigger your dog’s teeth to chatter. It doesn’t happen all the time, or for every dog. Although this could be the cause of your pup’s chattering teeth, it’s still much more likely that your dog is cold or has a sore mouth.
It could be a sign that something’s wrong
Chattering teeth doesn’t always mean your pup is cold or excited about playing with you. Teeth chattering can be a symptom of illness in your furry friend so keep an eye on them for other symptoms and always ask your vet for advice. But what can teeth chattering be a symptom of?
One reason why dogs chatter their teeth is because they’re suffering from periodontal disease, or gum disease. Gum disease is sadly really common in canines, affecting 88.6% of dogs. Teeth chattering can be an early sign of this condition, and because of how common the problem is, it means it is one of the most likely reasons your dog's teeth are chattering.
A sore tooth and other oral problems
As well as jittery jaws and chattering teeth being a possible sign of gum disease, it could be a sign that your pup’s got a sore tooth. If your dog is suffering from toothache or tooth decay, chattering their teeth might be helping to soothe the pain. Teeth chattering is often caused by some kind of oral pain, whether that’s caused by gum disease, tooth decay, toothache, or something else.
They’re in pain
Although dogs often chatter their teeth when they’ve got a sore mouth, sometimes dogs chatter their teeth as a sign of pain in general. If your dog chatters their teeth and shows other signs of pain, such as grumbling and whining, you should call your vet for advice.
Sometimes, teeth chattering can be a sign of epilepsy. Some dogs can have very small, localised seizures called “focal seizures” which originate in one area of their brain and only affect one side of their body or one specific area of their body, such as their face. For some dogs, a focal seizure could manifest as facial twitching and teeth chattering. Other neurological conditions can also cause teeth chattering.
Why do dogs chatter their teeth after licking?
Sometimes if your dog’s been licking something, their teeth might start to chatter. Your dog’s teeth might chatter after licking because their Jacobson’s Organ has been stimulated, and they’ve been licking and sniffing to try and pick up a specific scent. Otherwise, teeth chattering can happen as a kind of impulsive reaction, or maybe they’ve got a spasm in a jaw muscle after all that licking. We don’t really know why dogs chatter their teeth after licking, but as long as it doesn’t persist it isn’t anything to worry about.
Why do dogs grind their teeth?
Grinding teeth and chattering teeth are two very different things, and they’re easy to tell apart because of the sound they make. Chattering teeth “click” together quickly, with the jaw mostly moving up and down very fast. Meanwhile, grinding teeth scrape together in a forwards and backwards motion.
There are three main reasons why dogs grind their teeth, also known as “bruxism”. The first is that your pooch is suffering from some sort of oral pain. Like chattering, grinding could be a way of trying to soothe the pain.
Dogs can also grind their teeth when they’re nervous or anxious, similar to how we humans can often grind our teeth and tense our jaw when we’re stressed!
Finally, teeth grinding can be a sign that something is wrong with your dog’s jaw, causing it to move differently to normal. If your dog is grinding their teeth, it’s always best to contact your vet.
What to do when your dog chatters their teeth
If your dog starts to chatter their teeth and they have never done it before, it’s important to work out what could be causing your pup’s teeth to chatter.
You should also call your vet for advice because they can help you to understand why your dog’s teeth are chattering. They can identify if an underlying health issue is causing the problem, such as gum disease, and provide treatment for your pooch. If your dog’s teeth are chattering persistently, they definitely need to see the vet.
You can try and read your dog’s body language and see if they’re excited. Look for signs like a doggy grin and a lolling tongue, and consider if anything is happening that could be making your dog waggy-tailed, like a new toy or whether it’s time for walkies or dinner.
Similarly, you should assess your pup’s body language to see if they’re anxious, such as showing pinned back ears and a low tail. Think about whether anything has happened in your house recently that might have put your dog on edge, like a new person visiting, driving, or even a strange cat in your garden.
If you’re concerned that your dog is cold, check their temperature to make sure they’re not too chilly or suffering from a fever which could be causing their chattering teeth. Encourage your dog to sit somewhere warmer and maybe give them a blanket to see if it helps.
Otherwise, it’s possible your dog’s teeth are chattering because something is wrong. Oral pain is one of the most common causes of chattering teeth, which is why it’s always best to call your vet for advice. You should also make sure you’re protecting your pooch’s oral health by brushing their teeth regularly.
- Prevalence of periodontal disease in dogs and owners’ level of awareness - a prospective clinical trial 59, (4), July 2012, 446-451