Why Do Dogs Chatter Their Teeth?

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Have you ever found yourself asking “Why do dogs chatter their teeth, much like the way humans do when they’re cold?” While it may seem strange, there are perfectly normal reasons for this behavior. However, your dog’s chomping could also be a sign of something more serious.

Why do dogs chatter their teeth?

So how can you tell what your dog’s teeth chattering means, and when it’s cause for worry?

Here are some of the clues.

1. Smells

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 (or Jacobson’s) organ, and many mammals, reptiles, and amphibians possess 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 they don’t chatter their teeth when they sniff something.

2. Pheromones

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 our furry friends 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.

3. Cold

Sometimes dogs are just chattering their teeth because they’re cold. If this is the case, get your dog inside and warm them up. However, if your dog is in a warm environment but is still chattering their teeth, they may feel cold because they’re sick and have a fever.

Look out for other signs of illness, such as lethargy or not eating, and make sure to tell your veterinarian if you suspect the cause of of your dog’s teeth chattering is health-related.

4. Excitement or anxiety

Just like tail wagging, teeth chattering can be a response to excitement. Some 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’s cause for concern is because of oral pain.

If your dog is chattering their teeth and it doesn’t seem related to smells, cold, excitement, or anxiety, it’s most likely dental pain and they need to see 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 their 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 only cause for concern when your dog has more than one in a 24-hour period or a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes.

Even if the seizure is brief and your dog doesn’t have another one, it’s still good to talk to your veterinarian about it and try to determine possible causes and if treatment is needed.

7. Distemper

Distemper is a serious disease caused by a virus, and one of the symptoms is seizures that almost look 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.

In conclusion

There are many reasons why dogs chatter their teeth, most of which are perfectly normal. Dogs are known to chatter their teeth as part of smelling, to check out another dog’s pheromones, to show excitement or nervousness, or simply because they’re cold.

There are a few cases, however, 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. If your dog displays other signs of illness or discomfort along with teeth chattering, you should call your vet just to be safe.

About the author

Li-ran Bukovza

Li-ran believes that our dogs can teach us more than we could ever teach them. He's fascinated by the dog-human bond and loves researching and writing about new pet trends. With the help of Richie (his trusty Maltese sidekick), he hopes to help as many people as possible understand the beautiful, complex world of canine companionship.