Since dogs can't communicate with words the way humans do, pretty much everything they do with their bodies can be considered some kind of clue as to what's going on with them. Dog teeth chattering sounds much like it does in humans when we chatter our teeth when we're cold. In dogs, however, teeth chattering can be caused by a few different reasons and not necessarily because they're cold, although that is one possibility.
PetMD says that dog teeth chattering can be a symptom of something as simple as being excited over a new toy or something more serious, such as a problem with the mouth. It could even be a sign of a nerve issue.
Types of dog teeth chattering
Most dogs don't chatter their teeth for very long. You may hear the clicking of their teeth but not actually see it happening. Sometimes, says Pet Helpful, what you hear is actually them snapping their jaws open and shut. They may be snapping at a bug. Pet Helpful says that dog jaw chattering when they are just snapping their teeth in the air could be a warning sign that they are about to bite.
Dogs also engage in a behavior known as "jaw sparring." This is the sound that occurs when dogs are playing and snapping at each other. Dogs often wrestle with each other just for fun, but if the snapping gets too aggressive, it could turn into biting.
Causes of dog mouth chattering
The context in which you witness your dog's jaw chattering will go a long way toward helping you figure out why he is doing it. If you are outside in cold weather, that could be why. Or, if he often chatters his teeth when he knows you are going to give him a treat, it could be from excitement.
He's just sniffing
Dogs' noses are one of the most powerful tools for picking up scents. Pet Helpful says they have about 300 million scent receptors, compared to a human's mere 5 million.
Their powerful sense of smell is helped by an organ known as the vomeronasal organ. This small, pouch-like organ is located between the nasal cavity and the roof of the dog's mouth. This organ kicks in to send the chemical messages that your dog senses to her brain so she can make sense of it.
Dogs also have a duct called the incisive papilla located behind the top incisor teeth that connects the dog's nose with her mouth. Pet Helpful explains that a dog who is concentrating on sniffing something interesting may snap her teeth together. She may do this because she is trying to move the scent molecules to the incisive papilla and the vomeronasal organ, where she can smell them better.
Your dog may be cold
Just as in humans, a dog's teeth may clack together because he is shivering from cold. This happens most often in small dogs who simply can't make enough heat to keep themselves warm. Miniature dogs such as pinschers, Chihuahuas, and Jack Russell terriers are some small breeds known to have a tendency to chatter their teeth. Giving your dog a sweater or coat and a warm bed in which to curl up can help.
Your dog may be excited
Your dog may chatter her teeth when she hasn't seen you in a while. For instance, when you get home after a long day of work or after a vacation, your dog may become excited. The organization Dogs, Cats, Pets says that anticipation over something fun, like going for a car ride, may be enough to trigger dog teeth chattering.
A sign of pain or distress
The veterinarians at PetMD say that oral pain is a common cause of dog teeth chattering. An obvious cause might be if your dog has an injury to his mouth. A not-so-obvious cause might be a loss of tooth enamel, which can make your dog's teeth more sensitive. If tooth chattering is a new problem, and it doesn't seem to be occurring during periods of excitement, such as when your dog knows you are about to play a fun game, or from obvious cold weather, consider giving your vet a call.
You might also see signs of oral pain if your dog is avoiding eating or is avoiding chewing on toys he normally likes. If your dog suddenly won't let you touch his face, for instance, this could indicate that the problem is more than your dog just being cold. If there's a strange odor coming from your dog's mouth, this could also be a sign that something is wrong.
While it is less common, PetMD says a neurological issue can also be a more serious cause of dog teeth chattering. If this is the case, your dog may likely exhibit other more serious symptoms such as palsy (shaking) or facial paralysis. Other potential neurological symptoms are a droopy eyelid, unnatural eye rotations or an inability to hold the head straight. If any of these occur, give your vet a call right away.
Focal motor seizure
A seizure is a scary thing to witness, especially in a dog who can't tell you what's wrong or what causes it. Seizures originate in the brain. In dogs, focal motor seizures are also called partial seizures.
VetInfo says these seizures commonly affect the face and if left untreated, they can become worse and affect the dog's entire body. When the symptoms affect the face, you might see behaviors such as twitching or blinking on one side of the face.
Since the seizures affect different areas of the brain that control movement and behavior, you might see abnormal behavior such as lip smacking, hysterical running, aggression, biting and hiding. One behavior that relates to dog teeth chattering is "crouching and fly biting," when the dog looks like he's snapping at imaginary flies around his head.
Shaker syndrome is another disease that causes dog tremors that could include teeth chattering. While PetMD says a dog of any color can suffer from this, it is most common in dogs who have white fur, in particular Maltese and West Highland white terriers. When this occurs, the dog's whole body shakes, and it could be misinterpreted as shivering from cold or from anxiety. The cause of this condition is not known.
Breeds who chatter their teeth
The vets at PetMD report that if you have a certain type of dog, teeth chattering may be a more common behavior. Greyhounds, for instance, are known to click their teeth together. This may be out of nervousness. Their racing background comes into play, and the dogs are simply more nervous in a hospital setting.
Other dogs who commonly chatter their teeth are border collies, Jack Russell terriers, Labrador retrievers, Chihuahuas, and poodles.
Going back to a neurological cause of teeth chattering, Dogs, Cats, Pets explains that Cocker spaniels, Maltese, and Bichon Frise breeds are likely to suffer from something called multisystem neuronal degeneration. This is a hereditary neurological disorder that can cause dog teeth chattering. This disorder is likely to present itself when your dog is around one year of age.
- petMD: Dogs and Teeth Chattering: What You Need to Know
- Pet Helpful: Understanding Your Dog's Teeth Chattering
- Dogs, Cats, Pets: Dog Teeth Chattering; Why do Dogs Chatter their Teeth while Shivering, when Old, after licking and Smelling?
- VetInfo: Partial Seizures in Dogs
- petMD: Shaker Syndrome in Dogs