Updated: Nov 13, 2021
Teeth chattering in humans is generally associated with the sensation of feeling cold. But have you ever wondered why do your dog’s teeth chatter? Dog teeth chattering can be a harmless case of over-excitement, or it could be a sign of something more serious, including oral pain or a more advanced neurological problem. Therefore you need to know the reasons why a dog’s teeth chatter to better understand when to ignore his teeth chattering and when to take him for immediate medical consultation.
Also, it’s important to clarify that, as with many other odd dog behaviours, you can often only make a few assumptions because, until your dog can talk, you won’t ever be able to get into his head and deduce what’s really going on, even if you were blessed with special psychic powers. However, you can sometimes make some educated guesses based on the context in which these behaviours occur.
So next time you hear that teeth chattering noise from your dog, make sure you pay extra attention to what is happening. Chances are, you may get a better insight on what is triggering it. In the meanwhile, here are some reasons why dogs chatter their teeth.
Low Body Temperature
Like humans, your dog’s teeth may also start chattering, when he is shivering from cold or is having a fever.
Twitching muscle fibres cause friction, which in turn generates heat that helps to raise their body temperature. These muscle movements can involve the jaw and neck muscles, which can cause the teeth to chatter. In such cases, you should consider buying a sweater for him so that he can remain comfortable during the colder months.
Excitement or Anticipation
As already mentioned, your dog may start chattering his teeth when he is excited. If you notice that your dog chatters his teeth, the moment you get back home from work or while you’re pouring dog food into a bowl, then it simply means that the chattering is caused because of excitement. Sometimes, teeth chattering may also occur during playtime, when you tease him with his favourite toy, or if he is about to go out for a walk to the park or a drive. Or perhaps you’re cooking something that smells delicious and they’re hoping for a few table scraps. It happens because the dog gets overexcited and is unable to contain it and consequently, his teeth start chattering. This is very similar to the feeling you get when a pizza man knocks on your door, yup, lots of anticipation for those pizza lovers out there! In such cases, where the excitement is the cause of teeth chattering, there’s nothing to worry about.
Anxiety, Stress or Acute Fear
Teeth chattering can also arise in response to fear or anxiety. Dogs who chatter because of anxiety or fear may knock their teeth together at any time of the day, but it is most likely to occur immediately before, during or after the stressful event. For example, if your dog chatters immediately before you leave for work, he is likely to be doing so because he is suffering from separation anxiety. In such a scenario, it becomes very important to first fix his anxiety or fear to help him with his teeth chattering.
Also, If your dog is naturally nervous (Breeds with a high drive and/or nervous tendencies may be more likely to chatter their teeth), you may have noticed their teeth chatter while around new people or in new environments. The chattering can become a coping mechanism to help them stay calm.
Sometimes dogs may chomp or chatter their teeth when interacting socially in order to create a distraction for the perceived threat. This is also known as displacement language, which usually occurs in dogs who are feeling threatened by another dog. For instance, if a dog perceives a threat from a larger, aggressive dog, or from a human that he does not trust, he may begin to chatter. Through chattering his teeth, he might be trying to divert the attention of the other dog, or the person, hoping that the one threatening him will be more interested in figuring out what that strange noise is. In such cases, the chattering might also be accompanied by spinning or nose licking. So, if you see that your dog exhibit those other symptoms of stress, it is probably best to end the interaction.
In some cases, teeth chattering can also be a reaction to a particular taste or a smell. Irrespective of whether he tastes or smells something gross or interesting, the reaction could go both ways. For instance, if a dog licks something gross, he may chatter his teeth. And on the other hand, he may also chatter his teeth when he loves the taste or smell of something and is over-excited. it’s usually just an impulsive reaction and nothing to worry about! Remember dogs’ sense of taste and smell is much stronger than ours and sometimes this results in chattering teeth. And on the other hand, he may also chatter his teeth when he loves the taste or smell of something and is over-excited.
Odour detection and interpretation is an incredibly important part of a dog’s life
Odour detection and interpretation is an incredibly important part of a dog’s life, and they even have a secondary odour-detecting system aside from their nose. Called the vomeronasal system (or vomeronasal organ), the openings of this apparatus are located within the mouth.
Dogs will move their mouths in a wide variety of strange ways to help bring scent molecules into contact with this system, including chattering. Often, this type of chattering is slower and more deliberate than chattering that results from stress or low body temperatures, and it is more commonly exhibited by males than females.
There you go, now you know why your dog poses a deaf ear when you call him while he’s sniffing! He’s super concentrated on analyzing the scent!
More information about sniffing and dog’s nose you can find on my other blog.
Additionally, male dogs, in particular, are often eager to sniff urine of female dogs to determine if they are in heat. Teeth chattering in this case, allows the dog to carefully analyze the smell and determine if the female dog is in heat and if she is, perhaps even at what point she is. The teeth-chattering behaviour, in this case, is somewhat similar to the flehmen seen in horses. Some dogs may also foam at the mouth while chattering their teeth. For neutered dogs, you may notice the same chattering behaviour. Just because they are neutered doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in certain smells! Either way, teeth chattering in these instances is simply impulsive and shouldn’t be a cause for worry for you.
In some cases, a dog chattering his teeth could be a sign of a serious medical condition, specifically related to the dog’s dental health. If he’s suffering from oral pain including broken teeth, cavities, and gum disease, it can lead to the chattering of his teeth. It could also be a sign of enamel loss, which makes the teeth more sensitive. Teeth chattering can be caused also by strong plaque and periodontitis accompanied by stomatitis (A condition that causes painful swelling and sores inside the mouth). Symptoms include a bad smell from the mouth, drooling, sometimes drops of blood in saliva, teeth are covered with an abundant coating, they often move additionally causing pain and it is biting when closing the mouth of a painful tooth gives symptoms of snapping. Dogs with dental problems may also eat less food than normal, chew in odd ways or take longer to eat than they normally would, so it is very important to keep an eye out for these symptoms as well.
Teeth chattering is such a common symptom of oral pain, that some dogs will chatter their teeth even when they’re under anaesthesia.
Since most instances of teeth chattering are caused by oral pain, this is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why it is very important to maintain the oral hygiene of your dog to keep his dental problems at bay. For good oral hygiene, regularly brush his teeth (a few times a week) using canine formulated toothpaste and a toothbrush. You can also offer your dog dental chews to help keep plaque and tartar build-up at bay. Additionally, provide him with good chew toys as chewing will help in cleaning his teeth naturally. You should also take your dog to your vets for regular check-ups at least once a year, so they can identify any potential oral health issues before they take hold.
While most such problems can be treated, it is always best for your pup’s health and quality of life (dental problems are very painful) to treat them at the earliest possible opportunity. Dental work on dogs is also quite expensive, but heading to the doggie dentist sooner rather than later may save you from more expensive and intensive surgeries.
On rare occasions, prolonged teeth chattering may also be a sign of a more serious neurological condition. But usually, there will be additional warning signs that something is seriously wrong, such as palsy or facial paralysis. The dog may have a droopy eyelid or may exhibit unnatural eye rotations. Dogs with neurological conditions drool intensely and may also be unable to hold their head straight. Consult your vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms in your dog.
Some of the most common examples of these types of causes include:
Epilepsy and related seizure disorders may cause jaw clenching and teeth chattering. However, unlike many of the other causes of chattering, which seem to occur in a predictable fashion, epileptic or seizure-induced chattering is usually somewhat random and occurs out of the blue.
Also called multisystem neuronal degeneration or white dog shaker syndrome, this malady causes damage to a dog’s neurons. This damage leads to full-body tremors, which can cause their teeth to chatter.
This condition can occur in dogs of any colour, but small white dogs — particularly West Highland white terriers, Malteses, and similar breeds — are the most frequently afflicted.
Dogs can also pick up this behaviour as they get older. And that’s why teeth chattering is far more common in senior dogs. Very often older dogs also are getting neurological disorders, which include disorders of the facial nerve: accompanied by drooping of the eyelids, nostrils, lips, loss of food from the mouth, head skew.
You’ll still want to have your vet check out your geriatric pooch, but if there is no obvious cause and your pup doesn’t seem to be suffering or exhibit symptoms from above, teeth chattering is simply a matter of old age.
Other rare causes are foreign matter or a cut in the mouth or inflammation of the masticatory muscle (masseter).
Therefore next time when you hear the teeth chattering noise of your dog, make sure to pay attention to it and take a mental note of the occasions when this chattering occurs (try to find out the root cause).
Always play it safe when it comes to your pet’s health. If your dog’s teeth chattering happens regularly or if you ever think anything is wrong, a vet appointment should always be your first port of call. Because a wide range of conditions can cause teeth chattering, it’s best to get your pet checked out by a professional. It can be helpful to record a short video of your dog chattering, as this will allow your vet to see the behaviour in action, even if your dog doesn’t begin chattering while in the office. On a lighter note though, in more cases than not, teeth chattering is nothing to worry about. In many social situations, it’s just as common as talking.