Have you ever been playing with your dog only to notice that their teeth are visibly — and audibly — chattering? Teeth chattering in dogs is a pretty common behavior, although it can be unsettling. But here’s good news: Fido isn’t necessarily sick if his teeth are clicking away, and in fact, it could be a good sign. We talked to veterinarians and pet experts to learn the possible causes dogs’ teeth chattering and when you should take them to the vet. (Spoiler alert: You and your dog might have more in common than you think!)
5 reasons for dogs teeth chattering
Before you get too worried about your dogs teeth chattering, read on for the top 5 causes — some of them are actually quite sweet!
1. Their senses are excited.
When you take a sip or get a whiff of something delicious, you often have a gut physical reaction like licking your lips or your eyes getting wide in delight. This is an example of a natural response to sensory input, and your dog may be chattering her teeth for the same reason, according to veterinarians.
“One of the most common reasons dogs chatter their teeth is simply sensory exploration,” says Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM and veterinary contributor at We Love Doodles. “Just as humans might lick their lips when they taste something intriguing, dogs might chatter their teeth when they pick up an attractive scent, especially in male dogs around a female in heat.”
And there’s an interesting anatomical reason too: Dogs have a bump in their mouths called the “incisive papilla” that connects to their nasal cavity. And they may chatter their teeth in order to gather more scent molecules so they can get a closer “look” at whatever they’re smelling.
2. They’re full of anticipation.
Have you ever been so excited for something — so full of anticipation — that you can’t help but shake, causing your teeth to click together? Adorably, dogs can relate. “Just as we might tremble with excitement, some dogs chatter their teeth when eagerly awaiting a treat or during play,” says Dr. Mollie Newton, DVM and founder of PetMe Twice.
It’s not always positive anticipation, however. If you’ve ever chattered your teeth because you’re so nervous or afraid you can’t keep still, dogs can relate to that, too. “Certain situations or environments might make a dog nervous, leading to teeth chattering,” she notes. “It can happen during thunderstorms or fireworks,” adds Dana Brigman, certified pet health coach and founder of The Well Oiled K9.
Check out the video below of Buddy the dog, who’s so excited for dinner time that he can’t stop chattering his teeth:
3. It’s part of their breed.
“Small breed dogs with thin coats may shiver and chatter their teeth in cold weather more often than larger breeds with thicker coats,” says Brigman. “Additionally, some breeds have a more prominent overbite or underbite, which can also contribute to teeth chattering.”
And while breed might be a part of it, teeth chattering could just be part of what makes your dog who she is. “Just as personalities vary, some dogs are more prone to teeth chattering than others, depending on their emotional makeup and sensory sensitivities,” says Dr. Newton.
4. They’re a bit chilly.
If you’re playing charades, and you’re told to act out what it looks like to be cold, what would you do? Most likely, you’d shiver and chatter your teeth. Humans chatter their teeth when they’re cold because their whole body —including the face and head — is making small, rapid movements in an attempt to raise body temperature.
Yet again, dogs are no different. “Like us, shivering on a chilly day, dogs might chatter their teeth as well as a reaction to cold weather,” says Dr. Newton. “Shivering and chattering their teeth helps them generate heat and keep themselves warm,” adds Brigman. If your dog’s teeth are chattering and she’s outside, it might be time to go in. Or if she doesn’t have warm fur, it might be time to buy her a nice sweater!
5. They have dental issues.
While dogs’ teeth chattering is often benign, it may be an indicator of dental problems in some cases. If they’re chattering their teeth excessively or in situations they wouldn’t usually chatter, you may want to consult your veterinarian. “Pain, gum inflammation or oral infections might lead to teeth chattering as a response to discomfort,” says Dr. Kong. “If your dog’s teeth chattering is accompanied by other symptoms such as excessive drooling, bad breath or difficulty eating, it may be indicative of a dental problem,” says Brigman. (Click through to learn more about what your dog’s bad breath might mean.)
To learn more about the surprising reasons behind dogs’ behavior, check out these stories: