You are home alone with your pet and you hear a chattering noise that you cannot identify. Have you checked your dog’s jaw? Dogs can have a lot of random yet interesting quirks, one of which is a quivering jaw. If your puppy, adult dog or elderly dog has a quivering jaw he could be experiencing one of many sensations or internal shifts that is causing the quivering. Most of the reasons for a quivering jaw are purely benign and do not need to be changed unless it is bothersome to you. While it can be cute, if it is persistent you need to have him evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out any possible medical reasons.
The Root of the Behavior
You arrive home to a very happy dog at your feet but notice his jaw is quivering. He is most likely just very happy to see you and the excitement can cause his jaw to quiver. Dogs can quiver all over their body from excitement and the jaw is no exception. Are you chilly, because your dog could be? Just as our teeth chatter and our jaws quiver when we are cold, the same holds true for dogs. Small dogs such as Chihuahuas, Yorkies, MinPins and Jack Russell tend to become chilly even when the rest of the world is warm. When they are, their jaws will quiver to let you know they could use a sweater, blanket or to be held. If you are out and about with your pet and his jaw begins to quiver, there is a good chance he has smelled or tasted something that is exciting and pleasurable to him. He could smell a female dog in heat and become so excited that his jaw will quiver. It could also mean he has experienced something that he dislikes yet still finds interesting. Dogs also use a quivering jaw as a distraction. If he is sensing danger he may use ‘displacement language’, in the form of a quivering jaw, to distract another dog or unfamiliar person from harming him. Your dog is attempting to confuse his possible attacker, hoping they will begin to wonder more about the quivering than attacking him. Licking his nose or spinning in a circle may also accompany this ‘displacement language’ of quivering. Your dog could also quiver his jaw as he anticipates a treat from you or sees you holding out a treat he knows he will get soon. All of these examples are perfectly normal and will not need medical attention. If you find the quivering bothersome, you could see help from a trainer. Your dog could also be upset or uncomfortable, either from anxiety or even a dental problem. It is good measure to hold his jaw to see if the quivering stops. Check the inside of his mouth too to investigate a possible chipped tooth, cavity, mouth sore or infection. If the quivering seems to be from pain and discomfort, definitely seek the medical advice of a veterinarian.
Encouraging the Behavior
A quivering jaw may be a sign of an underlying medical issue. You dog may have been exposed to a type of poison, or have an imbalance in his sodium, potassium, calcium or sugar levels. If his jaw tightens before or after it quivers he could have a focal motor seizure. If he drools after his jaw quivers, and there is no food or presence of something new for him to smell or taste, he could be having a seizure due to epilepsy. There are some breeds that are known as ‘shaker dogs’ in that they are more prone to tremors or quivering, but typically it occurs in more than one part of the body, not just the jaw. Samoyeds, Dalmatians, Labrador Retrievers, Spring Spaniels, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinchers, Weimaraners, Bull Dogs and Dalmatians are all prone to this condition. Known as White Dog Shaker syndrome, it can affect dogs in young to middle-age, and for unexplainable reasons also affect lighter color dogs more often. The cause of the syndrome is unknown, with some researchers pointing to an immunological disorder and others suggesting it is from a swelling of the cerebellum from a viral infection. In addition to the jaw and tremors on the body, you dog would have difficulty walking, controlling his eyes or maintaining balance. His symptoms can come and go and stress and activity will exacerbate the symptoms. Multisystem Neuronal Degeneration is similar to White Dog Shaker Syndrome, and is most common in the Bichon, Maltese and Cocker Spaniel breeds. Manifesting when your dog is a year old, the hereditary condition can also cause jaw quivering. Both syndromes require medical attention. As this quivering is a sign of an underlying issue, your veterinarian will need to run tests and determine the source of the tremor is possible. For both White Dog Shaking Syndrome and Multisystem Neuronal Degeneration, there are medications available that can help alleviate the disorder and its symptoms.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Jaw quivering without any other basis is most common in elderly dogs. The condition is progressive and does not often affect his quality in life. Jaw quivering in puppies is less common, but if it occurs it is most likely from the puppy’s nervous system maturing. Targeting when the quivering occurs and the surrounding circumstances can be helpful in determining if the quiver is behavioral or medical, and whether or not you need to intervene. Quivering is often related to stimulation; so often keeping your pup relaxed and not over-stimulated can help in calming his quiver.
A dog’s jaw will quiver for a plethora of reasons. He can be excited to see you, smell or taste something, or be warding off a possible threat. He can be struggling with anxiety or oral pain. He could also have one of several disorders which cause quivering and tremors throughout his body. If his quivering jaw does not bother you nor seem to detract from his quality of life, you need not do anything except perhaps monitor it for any changes. If his quivering seems to cause him stress you can elicit the help of a trainer. And if his quivering seems to be from pain or is accompanied by other symptoms, contact your veterinarian for a complete medical evaluation.