It might seem bizarre, but a lot of dogs chatter their teeth almost like they’re in a fast-paced cartoon. Dogs’ teeth might be jittering, clacking or clicking. It can be alarming, or at the very least surprising. Should a pet parent be worried about this? The answer is maybe. To explain, let’s first answer the question, “Why do dogs chatter their teeth?”
- Excitement – Many dogs chatter simply because they’re excited or anticipating something good, like the anticipation of a treat or a ball being thrown. Some dogs click their teeth when their owner comes home. It’s also normal before they’re about to be fed.
- Nervousness – Most owners know that a dog baring its teeth is a sign of feeling threatened or defensive. Chattering is a signal for stress and nervousness. Dogs can experience social anxiety just like humans, and this odd toothy behavior can be a way of distracting or communicating with other animals they’re intimidated by.
- Fear/Anxiety – Dogs that are generally anxious may also chatter, or do it in response to situations like meeting new people or being taken on drives.
- Low Temperature – It’s just like for humans. Fur might not be enough to warm your dog. Teeth chattering can just mean that your dog’s body temperature is low. If you have a small dog, this reaction to cold weather can happen long before it happens to you. For instance, a chihuahua might be feeling the effects of your air conditioning more than you do. In that case, consider getting your dog a sweater or warm place for it to rest.
- Pain – For geriatric dogs who might be experiencing other bodily pain, chattering along with other frustrated behaviors like growling may be your indication that something more severe is wrong.
- Sniffing – Dogs can make very strange faces and mouth movements while smelling new scents because they are using their vomeronasal systems. This is perfectly normal.
- Periodontal Disease – Dogs get gum disease just like humans. If the chattering is accompanied by drooling, difficulty eating, bad breath, or tooth loss, there’s a chance that it’s related to periodontal disease, which can be quite painful. Look to see if there’s blood in the dog’s water bowl or on its chew toys. Also, see if it only chews on one side, or avoids letting you touch its head or face.
- Tooth Abscess – Much of the same symptoms can be applied to other dental issues like rotten teeth, though it might come with swelling on one side.
- Seizure Disorders – Epilepsy and other seizure disorders can cause clicking and chattering, but often this behavior will happen randomly and not correspond with a specific behavior like greeting, meeting or eating.
- Neurological Issues – Check your dog’s pupils for unusual dilation, and see if it has an unusual gait. Again, if the chattering is random or continuous, this may be a sign of something more serious, like shaker syndrome.
Because these reasons range from perfectly normal behaviors of life-threatening illnesses, you may be still asking yourself, “Well, my dog’s teeth chatter. Should I be worried?”
Is a dog’s teeth chattering a cause for concern?
A dog’s teeth chattering can be a sign of normal issues like stress or severe issues like neurological problems, depending on the situation. While trying to gauge whether this is something to call your veterinarian about, use our checklist to understand the behavior:
- Does the dog’s teeth chatter only while sniffing or smelling? This is quite normal, as your dog is using what’s essentially a secondary scent-collection system in its mouth.
- Does a lot of drool accompany the chattering? This might be an indication of excitement, but it also could be a dental issue. Consider gently and carefully checking your dog’s teeth.
- Does your dog’s teeth chatter after licking? Again, this is quite normal, as it’s another way of smelling or sensing.
- Does the chattering happen only while your dog is meeting other dogs? If this is typically when your dog’s teeth chatter, it may be a sign of social anxiety. Dogs have social anxiety; yours might be a little scared. Socialising in smaller groups or having your dog wear an anxiety jacket might help.
- Does the chattering only happen in certain situations? Whether you’re just getting home or you’re playing with toys, these are pretty exciting times in a dog’s day, so chattering in this case can be chalked up to excitement. On the other hand, if the chattering is persistent, it may be a more serious issue. If it’s completely random, it could be serious.
- Does your dog avoid chewing, doesn’t bite down as hard, or eats slower than usual? These are hallmark symptoms of dental issues, whether it be rotten teeth or gum disease. This can cause the dog a lot of pain and may need removal. In this case, it’s very smart to get in touch with a vet.
- Is your dog resisting you touching its head? “Head shyness” is often a sign of dental issues or mouth pain, so the dog’s teeth should be checked.
- Are your dog’s pupils dilated strangely? This is a bit more of a concern, as it may be a sign of several seizure disorders. Contact your vet.
- Does it happen when the dog is sleeping? A dog clicking its teeth during sleep is somewhat like when humans grind their teeth. It’s called bruxism, and like chattering it can be a symptom of many causes like stress, anxiety or dental issues. Of course, please note that this also might a case of a seizure problem too; observe the dog’s behaviour closely.
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