Have you ever noticed how some dogs chatter their teeth, much like us when we’re cold? But dogs will still do it in 100-degree weather, so this must mean that they chatter their teeth for reasons other than feeling chilly, right?
The short answer is – there are many reasons why dogs chatter their teeth, most of which are perfectly normal and healthy. Dogs are known to chatter their teeth as part of smelling, to show excitement or nervousness, to check out another dog’s pheromones, or simply because they’re cold.
There are a few cases, though, when teeth chattering in dogs is a cause for concern. Teeth chattering can be a sign of fever, oral pain, a neurological problem, or a virus. Note that teeth chattering doesn’t refer to when dogs snap and bite at the air as they do when they’re threatened or play-fighting. Dog teeth chattering is repetitive and rapid, and looks like when humans chatter their teeth. Teeth chattering may also be accompanied by foaming at the mouth.
So how can you tell what your dog’s teeth chattering really means, and if it’s cause for worry? Here are some of the clues why dogs chatter their teeth, and when you should do something about it.
Dogs Chatter Their Teeth Because Of…
Have you ever smelled a scent so strong it was as if you could taste it? Dogs actually have a special pouch-shaped organ located between their nose and teeth that allows them to taste smells all the time. This is called the vomeronasal organ or the Jacobson’s organ, and many mammals, reptiles, and amphibians possess it. Scientific evidence points to the likelihood that early humans had this organ as well but evolved out of needing it.
Consider how humans experience a wine tasting. When you swirl and sniff the wine in your glass you release the aromas, and it’s almost like you can taste the wine before it even touches your tongue. Dogs may chatter their teeth and even foam at the mouth because they’re actually tasting smells. Not all dogs react this way, though, so don’t worry that your dog’s sense of smell is broken just because he doesn’t chatter his teeth when he sniffs something.
Although dogs don’t have verbal communication like humans, they still have plenty of other ways to “talk” to each other. You know how bees do a little dance to show other bees where to find food? Dogs have their own forms of specialized communication too.
It’s not like dogs have neighborhood bars or dating apps to help them find a mate the way we do. Dogs, especially intact males, rely on their sense of smell to find a suitable partner. A male dog will sniff the urine or rear of a female dog to get a whiff of her pheromones and find out if she’s available to mate.
Instead of giving out her phone number the way a human would, female dogs can send messages through chemicals in their urine to show whether or not they’re available and interested in mating. Dogs may chatter their teeth while “reading” these pheromones, or to show excitement at discovering an available partner.
Sometimes dogs are just chattering their teeth because they’re cold. If your dog is chattering his teeth from cold, get him inside and warm him up. However, if your dog is in a warm environment but is still chattering his teeth, he may feel cold because he’s sick and has a fever.
Look out for other signs of illness, such as lethargy or not eating. Also, make sure to keep your dog warm and contact your vet if you suspect the cause of your his teeth chattering is health-related.
4. Excitement or Anxiety
Just like tail wagging, teeth chattering can be a response to excitement. Sometimes dogs will chatter their teeth when they see their owners getting their food ready or when they pull out the leash for a walk. Dogs may also chatter their teeth from anxiety, such as when a stranger approaches.
5. Oral Pain
One common reason why dogs chatter their teeth that is cause for concern is because of oral pain. Sometimes dogs asleep under anesthesia for dental work will still chatter their teeth. If your dog is chattering his teeth and it doesn’t seem related to smells, cold, .excitement or anxiety, it’s most likely dental pain and you need to take him to a vet.
Since the mouth is located so close to the brain, it’s never a good idea to leave dental problems untreated for any length of time.
6. Neurological Problem
This one is unlikely, but your dog could be chattering his teeth due to a neurological problem, like a seizure that manifests in teeth chattering. If you have ruled out all other causes of teeth chattering, or if the teeth chattering is accompanied by other seizure symptoms like convulsions, contact your vet right away.
In general, seizures are fairly common and are only cause for concern when your dog has more than one in a 24-hour period or a seizure that lasts longer than 2-5 minutes. Even if the seizure is brief and your dog doesn’t have another one, it’s still good to talk to your vet about it and try to determine possible causes and if treatment is needed.
Distemper is a serious disease caused by a virus, and one of the symptoms is seizures that almost looks like your dog is chewing gum. Again, this one is unlikely, especially because most dogs are vaccinated against it.
Dogs can contract distemper from contact with infected dogs or other animals and airborne exposure. Pregnant dog mothers can also pass down distemper to their puppies. Seizures caused by distemper indicate that the disease is in advanced stages and needs to be treated immediately.
These are the main reasons why your dog may be chattering his teeth. Remember, the most common causes are biological, which is nothing to be worried about. But if your dog displays other signs of illness or discomfort along with teeth chattering, you should contact your vet just to be safe.
Li-ran is the Founder and Executive Editor at PuppyTip. He is a holistic pet parent and believes that dogs can teach us more than we could ever teach them. He also loves cooking, especially for his dog, Richie!