Dog Teeth Chattering: Causes and What To Do
While us humans frequently chatter our teeth due to the cold weather, the same can’t always be said for dogs. Even on a scorching hot day, you might sometimes find your dog’s teeth clattering away and find yourself getting worried. So, what does it mean when your dog’s teeth start to chatter and why do dogs chatter their teeth? Learn all about this unusual part of their body language and the difference between a dog jaw spasm and dog chattering teeth, below.
What is Teeth Chattering?
Before we get into the why’s and when’s of dog teeth chattering, it’s important to know what we mean by the term “chattering”. In this context, chattering refers to the quick motion in which a dog’s jaw will raise and lower, or tighten and loosen, often causing a quick, tapping sound between the teeth.
This is not the same motion as when a dog is slowly opening and closing their mouth, which we do discuss briefly, below. The two movements can be symptoms of very different moods and/or problems that your dog may be having, so the information in this article may not be relevant to you if you think your dog is not chattering according to the above definition.
Why Do Dogs Chatter Their Teeth
Chattering teeth can have a few, different meanings. However, according to the experts, the main reason why dogs chatter their teeth usually comes when their senses have been heightened, for any reason.
- Nerves and Stress
If you think your dog’s body language looks generally nervous and they’re chattering their teeth, it’s very likely that this is a symptom that your pup is under stress – usually due to an environmental factor. A good example of this is when a new animal has been brought into the house – and you may see that your dog is low to the ground and slow-moving, but their teeth are chattering wildly. This is a sign that they are stressed and intrigued – although it could also be due to the scent glands working overtime and we discuss this in more detail, later in the article.
Of course, if they otherwise seem very happy and alert, it is likely that your dog’s chattering teeth are mostly due to excitement. A great example of this is when you go to pick up the lead, ready for walkies, and you notice your dog’s teeth begin to chatter. This is a great sign that your dog is simply so excited for their adventure, that they can barely hold it in, and their teeth will chatter with happiness.
Breeds that are naturally more energetic and excitable will be more likely to chatter their teeth. So, dogs such as border collies, greyhounds and whippets may be more inclined to teeth chattering when something new or exciting comes along. This is simply because they are likely to have a greater level of pent-up energy and that energy can display itself in the form of chattering teeth.
- Cold and Temperature Regulation
Naturally, you can also find that dogs may begin to chatter their teeth when they are very cold, in the same way, that humans do. This is a method of using their energy to create heat within the muscle fibers, through fast movement. In other words, it’s a way of keeping themselves warm and is instinctual, rather than controlled. There’s nothing wrong with this happening, but if you do find your dog chattering when you’re outside, it is generally best to bring them home to regain their warmth, as soon as possible.
If your dog is a small breed or toy breed, this is much more likely to occur during the wet, windy and cold seasons. In these cases, prevention is better than cure and a good dog coat is recommended for your pup, to maintain healthy body temperature.
Another common reason for teeth chattering in dogs is that their sense of smell is working overtime. If you notice your dog begins to chatter their teeth after sniffing around at a particularly interesting spot, it could be that they’re helping the Jacobson organ – located between their front teeth – to get an extra helping of scent molecules.
Also referred to as “tonguing” this is where a scent causes your pup to instinctively, and rapidly, push their tongue against the roof of their mouth. In these cases, you might also spot some foaming around the mouth. Again, this is used to help push the scent molecules toward the organ, so that the incisive papilla – a small duct that runs directly from the tip of your dogs’ mouth to their nose.
Generally, it can be very hard to see when a dog is in pain, as they will often move and act as though nothing is wrong. Naturally, this means that, when your dog does begin to show symptoms of pain or stress, it can much more worrying than it might be for a human – especially as they can’t tell us exactly what is wrong. Given that dogs are adept at hiding their pain, it’s especially concerning if you find your dog’s teeth chattering regularly, for no discernible reason.
- Teeth Problems
The experts at PetMD argue that the most common cause of chattering teeth in dogs is oral pain. This is usually sourced through an incident that has occurred and caused trauma to your dog’s mouth, or simply down to age. In the case of the latter, this is because the enamel on your dogs’ teeth may have worn away over time, leading to increased sensitivity and even tooth resorption. This is a process that usually occurs in baby teeth, where the smaller tooth becomes loose in order to make way for new eruptions but can happen in older teeth as they become worn and begins to break down.
- Dog Jaw Spasm
Short and simple, a dog jaw spasm occurs for a brief moment or two. You will most likely notice this after your pup has yawned and this is simply a quick spasm in the muscle. In the same way they we can sometimes find our knee shaking quickly when sat down, despite nothing being wrong, a dogs jaw may spasm from time-to-time when a nerve is hit, causing the muscles in the mouth to move quickly and therefore your dog’s jaw to chatter.
When to See a Vet About Dog Teeth Chattering
Generally speaking, there should be no vet in the world who would ever consider it a waste of their time, should you give them a call because you’re concerned about your pet. Of course, if you’re able to determine a cause at home, this can often put your mind at ease and make you feel more confident about what to tell your vet when you meet them for your appointment.
If there is no discernable cause for your dogs’ chattering teeth, then a quick appointment wouldn’t go amiss. That is, you probably don’t need to call your vet if you notice that your dogs’ teeth only chatter when you grab their lead and put your shoes on, as they are most likely just excited about the possibility of going for a walk with their best friend.
Similarly, one-off occurrences such as when their scent-glands are overloading a little, as discussed above. Here, you will likely notice the chattering occurring directly after smelling something intriguing, or when another dog has suddenly arrived, and you notice your pup is trying to figure out whether they are friend or foe.
However, if you can’t see any reason as to why your dog has suddenly started chattering their teeth, this is a good reason to make an appointment with your vet. At the same time, if you notice that your dog regularly chatters their teeth together, this is a sign that they may be in pain, for the reasons given above.
Finally, if you notice some concurrent symptoms, such as a change in behavior or changes in their bowel movements, including appetite loss, then you should definitely call your vet. These are signs that something else is going on and will need checking with your vet, in order to rule out anything sinister.
Why is My Dog Opening and Closing His Mouth?
Very different to a dog jaw spasm or chattering teeth in dogs, a slower, more pronounced movement in your dog’s jaw that is happening regularly always warrants a call to the vet. The only exception to this case is where your dog is opening and closing his or her mouth because there is food lodged between their teeth or in the roof of their mouth.
While dog teeth chattering is less purposeful and occurs more upon instinct, the more deliberate movements of a dog opening and closing their mouth could be a sign that they are choking. A good way to detect this is through any other behaviors that your dog is expressing, such as panicked movements, whimpering, pawing at their nose and face or struggling but not making any noise. In these cases emergency first aid is essential.