By Helen Anne Travis
In dogs, teeth chattering can be a symptom of many conditions and emotions. It could be caused by something as simple as excitement over a new ball, or it could be a sign of something more serious, including oral pain or a more advanced neurological problem.
Here’s what you need to know about teeth chattering in dogs, and how to tell if your dog needs immediate medical care...or is just excited about a new toy.
Why Do Dogs Chatter Their Teeth?
Some dogs chatter their teeth when they’re anxious or excited, says Dr. Audrey Wystrach, co-founder of ZippiVet, a full-service pet hospital in Austin, Texas. Their teeth may chatter when they know you’re about to throw their favorite ball or engage in a game of frisbee. Or perhaps you’re cooking something that smells delicious and they’re hoping for a few table scraps. Breeds with a high drive and/or nervous tendencies may be more likely to chatter their teeth, she adds.
Dr. Lisa Fink, a staff dentist and oral surgeon at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists, says she’s seen a lot of Greyhounds click their teeth together in her exam room. Many come from racing backgrounds and may be more nervous in a hospital setting, she explains.
But teeth chattering is not a breed-specific tendency. Wystrach says she’s seen patients ranging from Border Collies, Jack Russell Terriers, and Labrador Retrievers to Chihuahuas and Poodles exhibit this behavior.
Like humans, a dog’s jaw may also click together if the pet is shivering from the cold or has a fever, Wystrach says.
But both experts agree that the most common cause of teeth chattering is oral pain. The pain could be due to an injury, Fink says. Teeth chattering could also be caused by loss of enamel, which makes the teeth more sensitive, or a painful condition like tooth resorption.
Teeth chattering is such a common symptom of oral pain, Fink says, that some dogs will chatter their teeth even when they’re under anesthesia.
If your dog starts exhibiting a new behavior like teeth chattering, call your veterinarian, Wystrach advises. Because a wide range of conditions can cause teeth chattering, it’s best to get your pet checked out by a professional.
Diagnosing and Treating Dogs with Chattering Teeth
During your dog’s appointment, your veterinarian will inspect his teeth and mouth, looking for fractures, signs of disease, and exposed nerves, Fink says. If the physical checkup is inconclusive, your veterinarian may also have the dog anesthetized for X-rays and a more in-depth exam.
Be prepared to answer questions about your dog’s recent behavior. Your veterinarian may ask if your pet has exhibited other signs of mouth pain, including a strange odor or blood coming from the mouth, Wystrach says. Additional symptoms may include avoiding dog toys or dog food, excessive drooling, and shyness about having his face touched.
On rare occasions, teeth chattering may be a sign of a more serious neurological condition, Fink says. But usually there will be additional warning signs that something is seriously wrong, such as palsy or facial paralysis, Wystrach says. The dog may have a droopy eyelid or exhibit unnatural eye rotations. Dogs with neurological conditions may also be unable to hold their head straight. Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Since most instances of teeth chattering are caused by oral pain, this is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Your best bet is to bring your dog in for regular exams, as recommended by your veterinarian. This will help your veterinarian find and fix any potential oral issues before they become painful enough to cause your pet’s teeth to chatter, Fink says.