brown dog with its teeth bared

What does it mean when an older dog’s teeth chatter?

Teeth chattering in dogs is sometimes nothing to worry about, but it can also be a sign of something more serious. Learn why your senior dog chatters its teeth below.

Have you ever wondered what that rattling sound was when you were watching TV, only to discover it was your four-legged friend chattering its teeth? Why do they do it and when do you need to worry?

Your pup might be chattering because of intense emotions, but it can also point to a more serious medical issue.

Find out why your pet’s teeth are chattering, what you can do to help, and whether dental problems can be covered by older dog pet insurance.

Why do dogs chatter their teeth?

As dogs age, symptoms like this can be worrying. As an attentive and caring pet parent, you want the best for your canine and to protect them from harm.

Older dog pet insurance is a fantastic way to show your animal how much you care. All of the policies offered through Petwise include dental cover as standard. We will cover any dental fees as a result of accident or illness, provided you have kept up to date with your dog’s check-ups throughout the year.

But why are they doing it?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question, and it can either be harmless or cause for concern due to:

  • Feeling cold
  • Excitement
  • Excessive sniffing
  • Ageing
  • Aggression
  • Fever
  • Anxiety
  • Dental issues
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems
  • Pain
  • Epilepsy
  • Gastrointestinal problems

If you’re worried about your canine companion, read through the potential causes of teeth chattering below to see if you can determine the root of the issue and if it’s time to take them to the vet.

They feel chilly

If you’ve ever waited for a bus in the freezing cold or walked home on a chilly night, you know what it’s like to shiver and chatter your teeth. Dogs are just the same. When they get really cold, their teeth start clicking together.

Certain short-haired breeds are especially prone to feeling a chill, like:

  • Whippets
  • Greyhounds
  • Chihuahuas
  • Pugs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Great Danes
  • Boxers
  • Yorkshire Terriers

Keeping your dog warm in the colder months is essential to a happy pet. Put their bed somewhere cosy and make them snuggly with blankets. You might want to invest in this season's doggy jumpers, too!

They’re extremely excited

Dogs are prone to getting hyped up for just about anything. Whether it’s their dinner being prepared, a new squeaky toy, or the sound of their lead coming out for a walk, they get excited.

Sometimes, the emotion gets so strong that their teeth start to chatter, but it’s nothing to worry about.

They’re in sniffing overdrive mode

Canines are renowned for their sniffing trait, but there’s more to it than their super-powered noses.

They have another organ that makes up their olfactory system known as the ‘vomeronasal system’ or the ‘Jacobson’s Organ’.

It’s behind your pups’ front teeth on the roof of their mouth and is particularly good at detecting pheromones – the reason why your four-legged friend sniffs other dogs' bums at the park!

You might feel awkward when your pet starts smelling a stranger's pooch, but it’s completely normal behaviour.

It doesn’t happen with all dogs, but sometimes this organ and all the sniffing can cause their teeth to chatter.

They’re getting old

The further into its golden era your pet gets, the more likely it is to develop odd behaviours. If you’ve ever noticed elderly humans tremor and shake a little, it’s the same for canines, and teeth chattering can be a part of this.

Senior pets are also at a higher risk of developing many of the health issues we mention below, which could cause their teeth to chatter.

Aggression

Excitement isn’t the only emotion that can make your pup chatter its gnashers. While most dogs grit their teeth when they feel threatened, some actually start clicking them together.

It’s usually easy to spot when your pet is becoming hostile as they’ll show other signs like:

  • Raised fur
  • Snarling lips
  • Showing the whites of their eyes
  • Lowering their body
  • Becoming stiff and tense
  • Tucking their tail under them
  • Growling and snapping

If you think your dogs’ chattering teeth are due to aggression, speak to your vet. Even if you always thought of your pet as kind and loving, older animals can sometimes become irritable and aggressive more easily.

They have a fever

Have you ever had skin that was burning to the touch but found yourself shivering at the same time? A fever can cause your body to develop the chills and start shaking to raise its temperature and fight off infection.

Canines bodies do exactly the same, and the severe shivering can make their teeth start to chatter. If you think your pup has a fever, call the vet.

If you have older dog pet insurance with Petwise, you can use the free 24-hour video consultation service to get expert advice quickly and save taking them out of the house.

Anxiety

Just like you might start to shake with nerves before a big speech or feel your knees start to wobble while you wait at the altar, your dog can also shiver when they're anxious.

If you have a particularly nervous pup, this could be the cause of their chattering gnashers. Battersea Dogs Home advises owners to look for these other symptoms of anxiety in your dog and call the vet if you think they’re stressed:

  • Holding their tail between their legs
  • Licking their lips a lot
  • Panting excessively
  • Pinning their ears back
  • Raising their paws
  • Pacing in the same spot

Periodontal disease and other oral issues

One of the most likely reasons your furry family member can’t stop chattering its teeth is due to dental issues. The Kennel Club lists gum disease as the most common health problem in canines, affecting up to 88.6% of pups in their lifetime.

Along with clicking their teeth together, your pet may develop:

  • Bad breath
  • Bleeding gums
  • Dribbling
  • Pawing at their face
  • Less interest in food and chew toys

If it isn’t periodontal disease, it could be a sore tooth. The chattering may help your canine soothe toothache or decay. If you believe your dog has an oral condition, take them to the vet as soon as possible.

As a responsible owner, you should be looking after their teeth with special chews and regular cleaning. We share some top dental care tips a little further down.

It’s also an excellent idea to invest in an older dog pet insurance through Petwise to protect your dog if they need urgent dental care due to an accident or illness.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ)

green bandage being put on dog's paw

This joint in your dogs’ jaw is vital to their biting and chewing ability as it helps them open and close their mouth properly. If they suffer from TMJ disorder, it can mean they can’t move their jaw as they should.

Various issues can cause TMJ, like:

  • Dislocation
  • Injury
  • Arthritis
  • Swelling due to gum disease
  • Irritation from a muzzle

If you notice your dogs’ teeth chattering along with stiffness, this could be the problem. A veterinarian will open and close your pet’s mouth and take x-rays or computed tomography (CT) if they suspect TMJ.

Protecting your ageing canine with older dog pet insurance is essential as the cost of treatment can soon add up with conditions like this.

Pain

Although gum disease is the most likely source of your dog chattering its teeth in pain, it can be due to them hurting elsewhere.

Ear infections and inflamed muscles are also relatively common in canines, and if you notice your pet grumbling and whining while its teeth chatter, call the vet to determine the cause.

Epilepsy

Dogs can suffer from epilepsy just like humans, and teeth chattering might be a sign they have the condition. While you may associate full body seizures with epilepsy, some canines can have tiny, localised spasms called ‘focal seizures’.

They originate in a specific part of the brain and only affect one part of their body or a certain area, like their face. In some dogs, these seizures can manifest as twitches on their face or chattering teeth.

How can you tell a neurological issue is the reason for its behaviour?

Your canine companion might show certain signs that you should be aware of, including:

  • Seeming ‘spaced out’
  • Not responding when you call their name
  • Pacing and being clingy before the seizure
  • Being overly tired afterwards

If you can, take a video of your pet to show the vet. This can help them diagnose the problem and identify whether a seizure is the reason behind the teeth chattering. Better still, call the 24-hour vet video consultation service if you have a policy through Petwise.

Gastrointestinal issues

If your pet suffers from gastroesophageal reflux, nausea, or vomiting, they may chatter or grind their teeth.

Feeling sick can cause them to clench their jaw and drool, too, which can help you discover the root of the problem.

If your dog seems to feel this way often, your vet might recommend some lab work and imaging like an endoscopy or ultrasound. Make sure you have older dog pet insurance in place to avoid the sudden need to pay a large vet bill.

Why do dogs grind their teeth?

The medical term for a dog grinding its teeth is bruxism, and like teeth chattering, there are a few reasons why they display this behaviour:

  • Pain in their abdomen or mouth
  • Jaw abnormalities like misalignment
  • Stress and anxiety

Keep a close eye on your beloved pet when you spot this distressing signal and note any changes in appetite or toilet habits, accidents or injuries, and whether they seem ill in general.

Always speak to your vet if your canine companion behaves out of the ordinary. They can conduct a thorough oral examination to check if something’s wrong and a physical examination to make sure they give the right diagnosis.

Why do dogs chatter their teeth after licking?

You may notice this peculiar behaviour in your pup after they’ve been licking something. This is usually due to stimulation of the Jacobson’s Organ mentioned above and could be them trying to pick up a scent.

It might also be an impulsive reaction or even a jaw spasm from all the licking. It’s likely nothing to worry about if it doesn’t last long, but keep an eye on it in case it’s a sign of something more serious.

Why is my dog chattering its teeth after yawning?

The answer to this one isn’t 100% clear. Most people believe it’s another sign that their Jacobson’s Organ was stimulated while others think it’s due to discomfort or fatigue.

Why is my dog chomping its teeth at me?

If you see your pup chomping rather than chattering its gnashers, it can mean a few things. It might just be overly excited and developing an exaggerated version of chattering. Your dog may also be in pain and trying to communicate with you.

However, it could also signal aggression. You can spot this negative trait if they start chomping when you go near your pets’ food bowl or favourite toy. If you suspect this is the cause, it’s time to speak to a professional to make sure no one gets hurt.

Why is my dog chattering its teeth while it sleeps?

Do you know someone who grinds their teeth while they snooze? Perhaps you do it yourself. It’s the unconscious act of clenching your jaw and you wouldn’t ever be aware that you’re doing it. Sleeping dogs do it, too, but it sometimes shows as chattering rather than grinding.

Some owners also believe their pup is in the middle of a wonderful dream, running through fields or playing fetch.

Is teeth chattering in dogs a seizure?

As mentioned, teeth chattering can be the result of focal seizures. You can usually tell if this is the cause of your dogs’ behaviour if they become unresponsive while chattering.

The Blue Cross animal charity mentions various other reasons why your dog might have a seizure:

  • Anaemia
  • Stroke
  • Organ diseases
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Ingestion of poisonous substances

These reasons are more likely to create a full body seizure, possibly making your dog shake, go stiff, or foam at the mouth. Whether or not your dog’s teeth are chattering, contact the vet immediately if they have a seizure.

What should you do when your dog chatters its teeth?

If your dog starts chattering its teeth when it has never done it before, you need to find out what’s causing the behaviour.

  • Take a look at your pet’s body language. They might just be excited and anxious if it’s getting close to dinner or walkie time. See if they’re showing that big doggy grin, lolling tongue, and waggy tail.
  • Check for negative body signals, too, like pinned back ears or a tail between their legs. They might be nervous or stressed in this case.
  • If you’re feeling a chill and concerned your pup might be cold, too, try warming them up. It’s a good idea to take their temperature if they’re shivering to rule out a fever.
  • Once you’ve dismissed the above reasons, it’s likely a sign of a more serious medical issue. Your dog might be in pain or experiencing seizures, which it needs to see a vet for as soon as possible.

Call your pet’s veterinary practice or the Petwise 24-hour video consultation service for free if you have older dog pet insurance with us.

The vet should be able to identify the underlying cause of the chattering and provide treatment if necessary.

How can you stop teeth chattering in dogs?

You can’t always stop your pet’s teeth chattering by yourself, but if you know it’s due to excitement, it should stop once your dog calms down.

If you think it’s because your dog feels nervous or anxious, you can try to comfort your pup and make them feel safe.

When your dog seems cold and you’re sure it isn’t a fever, warm them up with blankets, a cosy bed, and a jumper. Alternatively, snuggle up on the sofa and watch a good film together.

If you think your pet is chattering its teeth because of a medical issue, it’s time to call the vet. The sooner you treat the issue, the sooner your ageing dog can get back to its normal self.

Caring for your ageing dogs teeth

Looking after your pet’s teeth is just as important as caring for your own. Oral health issues can lead to more serious conditions with your dog’s anatomy, so it’s better to prevent them with proper dental care.

As canines age, they’re more prone to gum disease and other oral problems. Keep your loyal companion’s teeth clean with regular brushing.

If your senior dog isn’t a fan of toothbrushes, you can try to clean around their mouth with your finger or buy special brushes that fit over your fingertip.

Other great ways to stay on top of your canine’s dental hygiene are:

  • Doggy dental wipes
  • Bones
  • Dental chews
  • Food supplements
  • Dental sprays and gels
  • Dental treats
  • Chew toys
  • Water additives

Despite taking great care of your pets’ teeth, problems can still arise. Give your four-legged friend an extra layer of protection with older dog pet insurance for emergency dental care when they need it.

Stay alert and protect your pet

It’s not only your ageing dog’s teeth you need to take care of. As canines enter their golden years, they’re more prone to many health concerns.

As a responsible pet owner, it’s up to you to help them live a long, comfortable, and enjoyable life.

A lifetime insurance policy from Petwise protects your canine companion when they need it most and makes sure they get the care they need without you worrying about footing the bill.

Choose us to protect your senior dog and expect plenty of benefits like*:

  • Contribution towards senior food
  • Dental cover as standard
  • No upper age joining limit
  • 24/7 vet video calls
  • Farewell cover and a bereavement helpline
  • Seven levels of senior cover to choose from

*Terms, conditions and limitations may apply

To give your loyal pet the life it deserves, contact the Petwise team today and get an older dog pet insurance quote.