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Dog’s Teeth Chattering: Here’s What It Means and What to Do

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

close up husky

Has your dog ever started chattering her teeth, and you thought maybe it was because she was cold? After all, when people are extremely cold, we also tend to shiver and chatter our teeth, so why not our dogs?

Well, being cold is definitely a possibility, but there are a variety of other reasons why your pup might start exhibiting this behavior. Sometimes it is nothing to worry about, but there could also be a medical reason why your dog chatters her teeth. We’ll walk you through what might be the cause and whether or not you should take action.

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Top 5 Harmless Causes of Dog Teeth Chattering:

Some of the reasons your dog might chatter her teeth are usually quite harmless and tend to be behavioral responses. You will still need to address some of these issues, but you don’t usually need to rush your dog to the vet if she is chattering her teeth for any of the following reasons.

1. Cold Temperatures

Yep, just like we said. Dogs can feel cold and start chattering their teeth in response. When you’re chilly, your muscles tighten and relax very rapidly, which is your body’s natural response to warm up. Your teeth chatter because your whole body is shivering, which includes your face and teeth.

If you have a small dog, she might be feeling the cold before you even do, so be sure to have a warm place for her to curl up in and invest in a dog coat for outdoors and a sweater for inside, particularly if you have air conditioning.

dog in the snow
Image By: AuKirk, Shutterstock

2. Fear and Anxiety

The chattering could also be your dog’s way of trying to tell you that she’s upset and in some kind of distress. Your dog might start teeth chattering in response to a stressful event, such as going to the vet, or she is suffering from separation anxiety when you leave for work.

Depending on how severe your dog’s anxiety is, you might need to find solutions that will help alleviate any stress. For example, if your dog park is close to noisy traffic and you suspect that could be adding to her anxiety, try to find another quieter park. In some cases, using medication and/or finding a dog behaviorist could help ease some of your dog’s stress.

3. Excitement

Many dogs will start chattering their teeth to show how happy and excited they are. They might chatter in anticipation, like before you throw the ball or when you’re about to give them a treat. Maybe your dog regularly chatters her teeth when you come home or while waiting for you to feed her.

close up excited dog
Image Credit: David P Baileys, Shutterstock

4. When Feeling Threatened

This is similar to when a dog feels anxiety and fear, but, in this case, your dog might be sending a warning signal to other dogs. Displacement language in dogs is when a dog will display a normal behavior but out of context.

An example of this is when a dog is afraid of an object and yet wants to approach it but will yawn or scratch herself instead. Teeth chattering is a more subtle way of letting other dogs know that she is feeling threatened, and it actually helps the threatening dog to stay calm.

5. Sniffing

Dogs love to sniff out all kinds of interesting scents. They have something called the vomeronasal organ (also known as the Jacobson’s Organ), which is located inside the upper part of the mouth and inside the nasal cavity. It allows dogs to smell pheromones and scents that would normally be undetectable.

When dogs use this particular organ, they will do all kinds of strange things with their nose and mouth to get a good whiff of a scent. This can include chattering teeth.

dog sniffing
Image Credit: Prostock-studio, Shutterstock

Top 5 Medical Causes of Dog Teeth Chattering:

There are times when teeth chattering could be medical in nature, which will need treatment by your vet. Some health issues are obviously more serious than others, but all need to be looked after.

1. Pain

Unfortunately, when some dogs feel pain, they might start shivering, which will also cause their teeth to chatter. If your dog seems to be anxious and stressed out and the chattering has occurred seemingly out of nowhere, there’s a chance that she’s experiencing some bodily pain.

2. Dental Issues

Oral pain and periodontal disease are the most common reasons why dogs chatter their teeth. This can be anything from a cavity, gum disease, injury, or loss of enamel, making the teeth much more sensitive.

If your dog starts to suddenly chatter her teeth and is also:
  • Eating less than usual
  • Taking longer to eat
  • Drooling
  • Has bad breath
  • Chewing her food in an unusual way

These all could be signs that she’s having issues with her mouth and teeth. Take her to your vet as soon as possible.

vet examining dog's gums
Image Credit: Diego Cervo, Shutterstock

3. Seizures

If your dog has already been diagnosed with epilepsy or any other kind of seizure disorder, this can most definitely present itself, in part, with teeth chattering. This type of teeth chattering will occur randomly without any warning and will not be in conjunction with some of the other causes (excitement or stress, for example).

4. Neurological Issues

A neurological problem can consist of tremors, dilated pupils, or walking in an unusual way. This can include the shaker syndrome, which is the inflammation of the cerebellum (the part of the brain that is responsible for managing the body’s voluntary movements).

It tends to be called white dog shaker syndrome because while dogs of any coat color can suffer from this condition, dogs with white coats tend to be more primarily afflicted. The all-over body tremors can also cause teeth chattering.

5. Senior Dogs

Teeth chattering seems to be more common in older dogs than is seen in younger dogs. This might not indicate any kind of medical problem, but it’s always a good idea to have your senior dog checked out. Particularly if her teeth start chattering for no reason and she’s never done it before.

Senior dog during snow
Image Credit: baxtertatt, Pixabay

When Should You be Worried?

You’ll need to use your own knowledge and judgment in most cases when you notice your dog chattering her teeth. If she seems to do it at specific times, such as during playtime or before you give her a treat, chances are she’s just reacting to the situation. Likewise, if it’s cold inside or outside or when you’re on your way to the vet.

If the chattering occurs while in one of these situations, is easily stopped, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with your dog, it’s probably harmless and nothing to worry about.

However, if the chattering occurs randomly or it seems to happen while she’s trying to eat and you notice other peculiar symptoms, it’s time for a veterinarian to check your dog out. If your dog doesn’t let you touch her head, this could also indicate dental pain, and definitely watch out for any other unusual behavior.

It would be very helpful for you to record a video of your dog when she chatters her teeth. Your dog will probably not chatter on demand while in the clinic, so it could prove quite helpful for your vet to observe the behavior firsthand.

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Teeth chattering is usually harmless, but it can be quite serious, depending on the circumstances. You know your dog best, and chances are, you probably already have an idea if your dog is being a goofball or if she needs to see the vet.

Just keep an eye out for other symptoms, and of course, if in doubt, just go ahead and speak to your vet. They will help to alleviate any concerns you may have and help your dog if she is actually going through a medical issue.

Featured Image Credit: Kseniia Mitus, Shutterstock

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