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Dog Teeth Chattering: What's Behind This Strange Behavior?

Dog teeth chattering can have many causes, from oral pain to anxiety to cold. Talk to your vet if you’re concerned or suspect some of these causes.

Dog Teeth Chattering: What's Behind This Strange Behavior?

Dog teeth chattering can have many causes, from oral pain to anxiety to cold. Talk to your vet if you’re concerned or suspect some of these causes.

Our dogs exhibit plenty of quirky behaviors — barking at the mailman,  scooting their hindquarters across the floor, or twirling in circles before going to the bathroom. But have you ever seen your dog's teeth chatter? This strange behavior is relatively common among our canine friends, and it often throws dog owners for a loop.

What is teeth chattering, exactly? It's just what it sounds like: Your dog's top and bottom rows of teeth click together rapidly, possibly making an audible sound. It's what your teeth might do if you're shivering from the cold.

The question is, why does dog teeth chattering occur in the first place? And is it a cause for concern?

Read on to find out more about what could be causing your dog's teeth to chatter and when to contact your veterinarian. 

Why Are My Dog's Teeth Chattering?

Dog teeth chattering: Jack Russell sniffing the ground

A dog's teeth can chatter for several reasons. Some of them are not very serious, and some are. If you know the common causes of teeth chattering in dogs, you can better decide if your dog's behavior, silly as it may look, is something to worry about. 

Physical, behavioral, and health-related reasons cause teeth chattering in dogs:

Physical Reasons

Sometimes, teeth chattering occurs for a physical reason. Possibilities include:

  • Cold temperatures.  Just like you, your dog might shiver when they're cold. That could cause the teeth to chatter together. It's especially likely for small dogs who don't have thick coats of fur, like Chihuahuas or Dachshunds. As a general rule, don't keep your dog outdoors for long periods of time during extreme cold. After more than five minutes or so, you're risking your pet's health. If you see your dog's body shaking or the teeth chattering, move them inside.
  • Sniffing. Dogs use their noses and mouths to sniff the environment around them. They even have a special olfactory chamber called the  vomeronasal organ at the bottom of the nasal cavity. This lets them smell and taste at the same time. It's entirely possible that your dog will chatter their teeth while sniffing simply because they're putting the entire vomeronasal system to work. Interestingly,  male dogs’ teeth chatter more while smelling more often than females’ teeth. 

Aside from physical reasons for chattering, dogs might chatter the teeth for behavioral reasons, too. 

Behavioral Reasons

Often, the cause of your dog's chattering is behavioral. Your dog might chatter the teeth when they're experiencing: 

  • Fear, stress, or anxiety. Dogs that suffer from  separation anxiety or situational anxiety (thunderstorms, loud noises, etc.) might chatter their teeth. If you know your dog is prone to anxiety or stress and you notice your dog’s teeth chattering during stressful times, this may be the cause.
    Does your dog tend to experience an upset stomach and diarrhea when they get stressed? Giving your pet a probiotic on a regular basis may help.  Native Pet's Probiotic formula may help prevent an upset stomach by helping to maintain a proper microbial balance in the gut. 
  • Excitement. Some dogs chatter their teeth because they're excited and are anticipating something positive. You might notice your dog chattering their teeth when you come home from work or when they know you're about to feed them dinner.
  • Social interaction. Teeth chattering is often demonstrated by dogs who feel threatened by another dog or person. If your dog’s teeth are chattering while they're near another dog, it's probably wise to separate them. 

Many cases of dog teeth chattering can be prescribed to the behavioral or physical reasons listed above. Sometimes, though, the cause is related to a health issue. 

Health Reasons

A variety of medical conditions could cause teeth chattering. If you suspect the issues listed below are causing your dog teeth to chatter, it’s time to set up a visit to the vet’s office. Medical reasons for teeth chattering include:

  • Periodontal disease. Gum disease, known medically as periodontitis or  periodontal disease, is a serious issue. If you notice teeth chattering accompanied by other symptoms like drooling, bad breath, difficulty eating, and red, inflamed gums, your dog might have a case of gum disease. 
  • Oral pain. Dental problems like cavities, tooth abscesses, or physical trauma can cause oral pain. It's also possible for a dog to experience pain in the  temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the hinge of the jaw, thanks to issues like arthritis or trauma. Oral pain can lead to teeth chattering as well. 
  • Epilepsy. Seizure disorders like  epilepsy can cause a dog to clench their jaw and chatter their teeth. A dog with epilepsy will demonstrate random motor seizures that may result in collapse, muscle twitching, jerking movements, and chomping and chattering in the mouth.
  • Shaker syndrome. Multisystem neuronal degeneration, otherwise known as  white dog shaker syndrome or simply shaker syndrome, is another neurological condition that can result in teeth chattering. It's particularly common in small, white dogs like the West Highland white terrier, the Bichon Frise, and the Maltese. A symptom of shaker syndrome is full-body tremors, which might cause the teeth to chatter. 

Another reason for dog teeth chattering is simple: old age. It's not entirely clear why, but older dogs seem to be more prone to teeth chattering than middle-aged dogs or puppies. If you have a senior dog on your hands who has started chattering their teeth, it's worth setting up a veterinary appointment for your furry friend. Many times, an older dog's teeth chattering isn't something to worry about, but talk to your vet to be safe.

Should I Be Concerned About My Dog's Teeth Chattering?

Dog licking his snout

You've noticed your dog's teeth chattering. What do you do? Your response should depend on the situation. 

If there is an obvious reason for your dog's behavior, like extremely cold weather, social interaction with aggressive dogs, or pure excitement, you probably have your answer. It's unlikely that anything is medically wrong, although it's always worth calling the vet if you're concerned. However, if your dog is chattering because they're cold, move them indoors immediately.

If your dog chatters their teeth when it's storming outside, or when they sense you're leaving the house, it's likely related to anxiety. Talk to your vet about helping your dog feel more comfortable. You might need a combination of solutions. Some anxious dogs feel better when they're given a chew toy, while some will benefit from medication or  supplements. Your vet will be able to help. 

If you think a health problem is the root cause of the chattering, it's time to talk with your vet. Deal with oral health concerns right away. You don't want to leave periodontal disease, rotting teeth, tartar build-up, and other common dental problems unaddressed. 

Dogs with a neurological problem like epilepsy or shaker syndrome, will likely need anti-seizure medications and lifestyle adjustments, such as monitored playtime, a consistent sleep schedule, and a stress-free home environment. Your vet can help guide you through these steps.

Why Are My Dog's Teeth Chattering, and What Do I Do About It?

What causes dog teeth chattering? There are many reasons why your pooch might exhibit this behavior. 

It's possible that something as simple as low body temperature caused by the cold winter weather makes your dog's teeth chatter. Or, it could be a serious neurological condition like epilepsy or a dental issue like periodontitis. 

Keep in mind that some dogs chatter their teeth for no particular reason or for unknown reasons. Maybe your dog chatters when sniffing the ground as they're tracking a scent. 

Here's the bottom line: If you're concerned about your dog's teeth chattering behavior, call your vet's office. He or she will help you get to the bottom of your dog's behavior and point you toward a solution.

Would you like more information on your dog's health and wellness needs? Visit the Native Pet blog  here.

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