Cats do a lot of interesting — and sometimes frankly bizarre — things. Chattering their teeth is one of them. The feline chatter is distinguishable by a slightly agape mouth and the up and down movement of the jaw. A quiet "ack-ack" sound usually accompanies this facial position.
So why do cats chatter anyway? We know this peculiar yet adorable behavior isn't because your cat is cold. However, scientists are still unsure of the purpose of the chatter.
We'll explore the possible reasoning behind this unique feline phenomenon, how to encourage it, and things to consider when you spot Fluffy chattering. First, let's delve into the root of this behavior.
The Root of the Behavior
While experts can't seem to agree on the reason behind the feline chatter, they do agree that it is some sort of evolutionary response to prey. Indoor cats often chatter when staring out a window at small animals that they can't reach.
Some scientists believe it is a result of frustration when a cat can't reach their prey. Many pet parents also support this theory since cats often chatter when birdwatching and may get anxious or overstimulated.
Other scholars think it's a feline's way of mimicking their prey, and some studies back this up. Studies of big cats in the wild found that these animals would chatter to mimic the sounds of monkeys, which are their natural prey. It's thought that by chattering, these big cats might lure the monkeys to them. Just like big cats, your housecat may be chattering to imitate their natural prey like squirrels and birds.
Still, other experts seem to think chattering is cats practicing their "kill bite," a particularly deadly move cats perform on wild prey. The kill bite happens when cats grab the neck of their prey and crush it with their sharp teeth and strong jaws, ending the prey's life. It’s hard to imagine your cuddle buddy gearing up to kill something, but you have to remember that cats are natural predators and are very adept at hunting.
Encouraging the Behavior
There are a few ways to encourage your indoor cat to chatter. The simplest way is to get them a window bed. Try putting a bird feeder outside of your window to bring your cat's natural prey to them. This way, no birds are at risk, but you still get to enjoy this adorable behavior. Your cat will love being able to bird watch from their new bed, and you'll get the amusement of watching them chatter away. No room for a cat perch? Try putting bird-watching videos on your TV to stimulate your cat to chatter.
Playtime can also encourage your feline to chatter. For this, you'll need a feather wand and maybe some catnip too. Stand across the room from your cat and gently move the feather wand along the floor. You may notice your cat crouching and chattering before pouncing on the toy. Giving your cat some catnip before your play session can also arouse their predatory instincts and make chattering more likely.
Other Solutions and Considerations
You may notice your cat chatter at you when you enter the room. Don’t freak out. Fluffy isn’t planning on having you for dinner — they’re probably just happy to see you or hoping you will bring them some kibble.
If you catch your kitty sleep chattering, you’re not alone either. Many pet parents find their fur-babies chattering while resting. Sleep chattering could be a sign that your kitty is dreaming of catching that red bird they’re always watching.
While sleep chattering is completely normal, constant chattering without stimulus is not. Chattering combined with other symptoms may signal a dental problem since cats often express mouth pain by chattering their teeth. If your cat isn't eating, has bad breath, or is losing weight, it might be time for a check-up.
Tooth reabsorption is a common cause of tooth grinding and chattering and is extremely uncomfortable for cats. Other painful conditions like mouth ulcers, gum inflammation, and some forms of mouth cancers can cause felines to chatter their teeth too. Vets can prescribe pain meds and, once they identify the root cause of the chattering, formulate a treatment plan for your kitter. Depending on your cat's diagnosis, the vet may prescribe antibiotics, steroids, or chemotherapy to get your pet feeling better.
This perplexing behavior has scientists stumped on its exact cause, but there are some interesting leads. Whether your cat is practicing their kill bite or mimicking their prey, just know when you hear Fluffy chatter that they're pining for prey. Chattering is a common and typically healthy behavior. But if your cat is behaving unusually or seems to be in pain, you should seek help from a vet.