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Why Do Dogs Chatter Their Teeth?

 

Among humans, teeth chattering is often associated with the sensation of feeling cold, but what does it mean when your dog’s teeth are chattering? Turns out, a dog’s teeth chattering behavior may stem from different causes than in people, so before assuming your dog must be cold, check out what’s going on when you hear those teeth clicking noises.

Teeth chattering should not be confused for snapping, which takes place when a dog feels threatened, possessive or irritated and opens and then suddenly closes his mouth, causing an audible click when teeth make contact.

When a dog snaps clacking his teeth, he’s basically telling you that he has teeth and will have no problem using them if needed.  Teeth chattering instead is a noise caused by repeated teeth-to-teeth contact as if the dog was cold. The context in which your dog’s teeth chattering behaviors occur can reveal some interesting findings about what may be going on in his mind.

An Emotional Outletdog teeth chattering anticipation

Teeth chattering in dogs may occur as a result of good stress or bad stress. Does your dog chatter his teeth when you are getting his meal ready or when you grab his leash?

If so, the anticipation and/or excitement may be culprit, especially if the teeth chattering occurs only in these contexts.

It’s sort of similar to a young wiggly kid who can’t stay still on a chair or a person thumping his fingers on a table.

You may also notice teeth chattering briefly when your dog is playing, almost as if your dog couldn’t contain all the fun and excitement that’s underway.

Some dog owners report that their dogs will also chatter when they are being pet and when they’re happy.

Stress and anxiety may also be another culprit for dog teeth chattering noises, so if your dog’s teeth chatter when he goes to the vet, or when he sees another dog or a stranger approaching, then his feeling of uneasiness may be the trigger. If possible, remove him from the situation so to reduce his stress.

“Some dogs chatter their teeth in anxious excitement and the clicking of teeth serves as a warning that the dog is wary.” Alexandra Horwitz.

dog chatters teethA Matter of Odors

Sometimes dogs are seen chattering their teeth when they are evaluating an odor. You may see this behavior in particular in intact male dogs when they are smelling urine from a female dog in heat.

Most likely when they are chattering their teeth, they are carefully assessing the odor using their Jacobson organ, a special pouch-like structure found in the dog’s nose with a special duct called the incisive papilla found right between the dog’s front teeth.

When they chatter their teeth, and perhaps even foam at the mouth, dogs are sending large scent molecules to their incisive papilla so they can reach the Jacobson organ and then the dog’s brain center responsible for responsible for coordinating important mating functions  and other basic emotions.

“When tonguing, the dog’s tongue is pushed rapidly against the roof of the mouth with the teeth sometimes chattering and expressing profuse foam sometimes collecting on the upper lip. Tonguing is frequently observed after a dog licks a urine spot or “tastes the air” following the exchange of mutual threat displays between two rival males” ” ~Steven Lindsay

A Sign of  Dental Pain

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Sometimes the source of teeth clicking or teeth grinding in dogs is a problem in the dog’s mouth. It could be a problem with the gums, teeth or pain in the jaw.

In this case, the chattering is triggered by pain. Dogs are prone to periodontal disease or they may get fractures in their carnassial teeth which have very long roots and may cause swelling under the dog’s eye.

Sometimes dental problems may not as obvious as we would expect. Their mouth looks fine and the affected dogs may be eating normally, but then x-rays show problems under the gums

. Sometimes, dogs exhibiting teeth chattering, pawing at the mouth, loss of appetite, increased salivation and bad breath may be suffering from a painful mouth ulcer, explains Daniel T. Carmichael, a board-certified veterinary dentist.




“Teeth grinding can be a sign of the dog having oral or dental pain. Chronic teeth grinding or bruxism by dogs can result is severe dental wear.”Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery Specialists LLC

A Neurological Disorder

Sometimes dogs may develop seizures that cause a rapid onset of  teeth chattering. We often think of seizures as the whole body type that cause the  dog’s whole body to convulse violently, but in some cases only one body part may be affected. Seizures affecting only a part of the dog’s body are known as “partial” or “focal seizures.”

A way to determine if the teeth chattering may be caused by a seizure is by testing the dog’s responsiveness. Try to touch your dog or talk to him during the teeth chattering behavior, if he stops and responds, this is a sign that he has control over the chattering and that it may be caused by pain or something else rather than a seizure, suggests veterinarian Dr. Kelly.

A Matter of Cold

Greyhounds can chill easily when it's cold.
Greyhounds can chill easily when it’s cold.

Finally, just like us, dogs have an internal thermostat that goes into alert when the body temperature gets lower than it’s supposed to. The normal temperature in dogs is around 101 degrees.

If the core temperature dips too low, the dog’s body will intervene to try to bring things back to normal. One of the fastest ways to generate heat is by shivering of the muscles and that may include the facial muscles.

If it’s very cold, your dog may therefore chatter his teeth and often the chattering is accompanied with the occasional shuddering of the body. Certain dogs breeds are more likely to feel cold than others. Chihuahuas, miniature pinschers, greyhounds and whippets are dog breeds known for feeling cold in the winter and that’s why you often see these dogs wearing a coat. 

 

Disclaimer: if you notice teeth chattering in your dog and cannot find a reasonable explanation, see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. As seen, teeth chattering in dogs can be due to several health problems.


References:

  • Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, By Alexandra Horowitz, Scribner (September 3, 2009)
  • Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Adaptation and Learning, By Steven R. Lindsay, Iowa State University Press; Volume One edition (January 31, 2000)
  • DVM360,Dental Corner: Diagnosing and treating chronic ulcerative paradental stomatitis, By Daniel T. Carmichael, DVM, DAVDC retrieved from the web on March 25th, 2016.