Why Do Dogs Chatter Their Teeth? [11 Reasons]

You’re cuddling with your pup on the couch, or maybe you’re watching him run around the dog park with his friends when suddenly his teeth start chattering. Seeing this for the first time can be alarming, especially if you can’t get him to stop. 

why do dogs chatter their teeth
Why do dogs chatter their teeth?

There’s probably no reason to panic, as there are many completely normal reasons why your dog chatters their teeth. Read on to find out what might be causing the chattering and if there’s a reason you might need to be concerned. 

Benign Reasons for Dog Teeth Chattering

There are plenty of totally benign reasons your dog might chatter their teeth. Any of the reasons listed below are no cause for concern, and your pup will usually stop chattering once they are out of their current situation.

french bulldog in a football jersey
A passionate NFL fan! A French Bulldog in a football jersey in the snow.

1. Temperature

Just like her human shivers when she’s cold, your pup sometimes chatters her teeth to warm up. If you have a smaller dog or a short-haired pup, this is even more likely. 

2. Excitement 

This is one of the most common reasons that your dog might chatter his teeth. If he’s having so much fun at the dog park or getting worked up staring at a bird or squirrel on a walk, he might just be too excited to keep all that emotion in.

3. Sniffing

If you have a dog who loves to smell everything they pass on a walk, she might be prone to chattering when she’s sniffing extra enthusiastically. This is because your dog has what’s called a vomeronasal system, which allows her to smell things more strongly by exerting facial muscles humans don’t have. 

dog in field
A brown and black dog loving life in a field. Always check your dog for grass seeds and ticks after outdoor play!

4. Anxiety

Just like humans, some dogs are more prone to anxiety than others and can experience that anxiety, particularly during times of change or when he’s meeting new animals and people.  

5. Nervousness

You’ve probably seen your dog baring her teeth plenty of times when she feels threatened or defensive, especially around new dogs. Sometimes she might take that a little further by chattering her teeth when she’s trying to distract or communicate with a dog she’s intimidated by. 

6. Pheromones

Your pup might chatter his teeth if he smells a dog of the opposite sex. This is especially common with male dogs that have not been neutered but can also happen to female dogs. 

Potentially Concerning Reasons for Dog Teeth Chatter

There are some other reasons that your dog might be chattering that can indicate an underlying health concern. While there’s still little reason to panic, here are a few possible causes of chattering that might warrant a trip to the vet. 

long haired chihuahua
What a shot! A longer haired Chihuahua enjoying the sun and grass outdoors.

7. Periodontitis/Gum Disease

No one likes to brush their dog’s teeth; it’s no fun for a human and even less fun for a dog. However, not brushing your dog’s teeth or not taking your dog for regular oral exams and cleaning can lead to gum disease. Periodontitis is one of the most common ailments that affect dogs and is usually mild if caught early but can develop into something much more severe if not treated. 

8. Seizures or Neurological Issues

Dogs can suffer from epilepsy and other neurological conditions just like humans. If your dog is unresponsive when he chatters his teeth, or she has unusual pupil dilation, she might be experiencing seizures or potentially something even more severe like shaker syndrome

9. TMJ

Again, just like humans, your dog can experience pain in his Temporomandibular Joint. This can be a bigger deal for dogs than humans because your dog uses her jaw a lot more frequently and aggressively than you do. Your dog might experience temporary TMJ from stress after carrying something heavy in her mouth, but it can also be caused by a fracture or arthritis. 

happy puppy toy
A super happy puppy with a toy

10. Gastrointestinal Issues

If your pup is experiencing nausea, vomiting, or gastroesophageal reflux, she might move her jaw or grind her teeth. This can happen when your dog clenches his jaw excessively to try and curb stomach pain or the urge to vomit. That jaw clenching can cause chattering if done for long periods of time. 

11. Ear Infection or Inflamed Muscles

These are less common causes of teeth chattering than the conditions above, but sometimes a nasty ear infection or muscle inflammation can make her chatter her teeth. 

How to Tell if There is a Problem

Any strange behavior from your pup is going to concern a loving dog owner. So how can you tell if your dog is chattering for one of the benign reasons or one of the more concerning reasons? 

If the chattering is only occurring in these situations, it’s probably totally normal:

  • Only when he meets other dogs: This probably means your pup just has a little social anxiety. Try introducing her to smaller groups of dogs or while wearing an anxiety jacket.
  • Only while sniffing or smelling: This is entirely normal behavior and just means your dog is exerting the power of his superior vomeronasal system. 
  • Only while licking: Again, this is a totally common behavior that just means your dog is trying to smell or sense something a little more enthusiastically. 

Ultimately, if your pup is only chattering in very specific situations, he’s just using the chattering as another way to express himself. However, if chattering persists all day or specific symptoms accompany the behavior, it might be time for a trip to the vet:

  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling
  • Swelling or bleeding in the mouth 
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of muscle tissue
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Extra dilated pupils
  • Resistance to pets on the head
french mastiff dog getting pat
A French Mastiff dog getting a pat on the head. Look at those jowls!

The Bottom Line

So, why do dogs chatter their teeth? Most of the time, your pet is probably totally fine and just expressing some funny dog behavior. However, there may be underlying health issues signaled by chattering, mainly if the chattering is persistent or accompanied by other symptoms. 

If you think there’s a chance it might be something significant, taking your pup to the vet is always the safest choice. You can never be too careful when it comes to the health of your favorite furry companion!