If your dog's jaws are making clicking or popping noises, you may be wondering what is going on with your best friend. You may assume that those noises produced by your dog's jaw aren't normal especially considering that most other dogs you have owned didn't produce those noises and most dog owners you talk to don't report hearing such sounds from their dogs, so what's going on? Can dogs get Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) like people do? The answer is yes, even though it is not a very common finding.
A Lesson in Anatomy
To better understand any popping or clicking noises produced by your dog, taking a closer look at a dog's jaw anatomy can help provide a better insight into what may be going on.
Your dog's jaws are composed by the upper jaw (the maxilla) and the lower jaw (the mandible). Jaw anatomy in dogs may several similarities with human jaws, but also several differences.
Just like us, dogs have a joint at the junction of the jaw and the skull and the medical term for the jaw joint is temporomandibular joint or TMJ for short. The jaw joint is basically a hinge joint, meaning that when it is functioning well, the mandible pivots between the open and closed positions from the temporomandibular joint.
Problems start though when the hinge joint doesn't open and close as it should and this can occur because of several potential problems.
Popping Noise When Yawning
The popping noises from the jaw can be heard at times in dogs when they yawn. When the dog yawns, the jaw may not align as it should which can result in a typical cracking/popping noise.
Generally, if there are no other symptoms like pain, drooling a lot and having difficulty chewing, there are chances that no treatment is needed; however, it's worth having the dog undergo a veterinary exam so to check the dog's jaw and mouth, suggests veterinarian Dr. Andy.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders
If there is a scraping sound from the teeth as if they're slightly rubbing after chewing a bone, it's possible for a dog to subluxate its jaw or there may be a piece of bone stuck somewhere in the dog's mouth, further explains Dr. Andy. If there's truly a subluxation, the solution of this problem requires sedation so that the vet can manipulate the jaw and get it fixed. A dental specialist may be helpful in such a case.
As mentioned, dogs can develop problems with their temporomandibular joint, but these problems are less commonly seen than in humans. Affected dogs typically manifest pain and reluctance to chew, problems closing the mouth, clicking sounds associated with jaw movements, malocclusion of teeth (teeth out of alignment) and pain upon touching the temporomandibular joint to just mention a few, explains veterinarian Dr. Johnny D. Hoskins.
The joints may undergo several problems such as luxation; the displacement of a bone from a joint, subluxation; a partial dislocation, ankylosis, the stiffening and immobility of a joint due to fusion of the bones, dysplasia; malformation of the bony structures of the temporomandibular joint. On top of that, jaw bones may also be prone to arthritis, fractures and cancers.
Problems with the dog's TMJ joints may be diagnosed through x-rays (often multiple views may be needed) and computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These latter can help look for any abnormalities affecting the dog's jaw while taking a look at soft tissue and search for possible tumors.
A Possible Muscle Issue
Sometimes the source of the problem may not be the joint itself, but the muscles of the jaw. Masticatory myositis - an autoimmune disease that affects the muscles associated with chewing may be a possible cause of a jaw making a clicking sound and problems with chewing food, explains veterinarian Dr. Michael Salkin.
What happens in this case is that the immune system attacks several muscle fibers that are responsible for allowing chewing, in particular the temporalis, masseter, and pterygoid muscles. This condition progresses quite quickly, leading to inflammation of the muscles in the jaw causing dogs to act quite miserably. Masticatory myositis is more common in older dogs.
Upon seeing the dog, vets will suspect masticatory myositis when the extra-oral exam shows that the muscles responsible for chewing appear to be atrophied. Dogs are also often in pain when their mouth is opened, which can pinpoint the problem. Diagnosis can be obtained through an antibody test known as "2M antibody test for masticatory myositis."
A Possible Tooth Problem
Is the clicking sound come from the dogs teeth? If the clicking sound is happening repeatedly, and the noise produced comes from the teeth rather than the jaw, this is known as teeth chattering. The Mystery Behind Teeth Chattering in Dogs
" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Teeth chattering in dogs sounds similar to the noise produced by teeth when one is cold and in dogs it can have several causes and one of them is a possible tooth problem.
Your dog may have an infection below the gum line or a tooth root fracture. A dog's molar tooth may also develop what's known as a slab fracture, which means that a side of the tooth breaks off in a similar fashion as an iceberg slab does when breaking off the main iceberg, explains veterinarian Dr. Ralston.
Dogs also tend to chatter their teeth when they are excited or anticipating something they like such as going on a walk, eating or a fun training session. Some dogs will also chatter their teeth when they are smelling something.
However, in these cases, the chattering noises happen only on those occasions. If your dog's teeth chattering happens repeatedly and there is not an explanation, most likely it points to a medical problem, so have your dog checked out by your vet.
A Neurological Issue
If the dog's jaw is making clicking/clacking sounds from the teeth as if the dog was catching an imaginary fly, there are chances the behavior may be neurological, in particular caused by seizures.
When we think of seizures, we often think about the abrupt onset of severe muscle spasms, with the dog falling to the side and paddling the legs violently. These are known as gran mal seizures. Yet, there is another category of seizures that only involves a few body parts and these seizures are referred to as "partial seizures."
"Fly biting" is a behavior that has been associated with partial seizures because it only involves a few parts of the body. Also known as focal seizures, partial seizures are limited to only a part of the dog's brain which is why they are limited to only a few body parts. Consult with your vet for proper diagnosis.
- Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association January 1, 2013, Vol. 242, No. 1, Pages 69-75 Computed tomographic findings in dogs and cats with temporomandibular joint disorders: 58 cases (2006–2011)
- DVM360: Managing TMJ in companion animals
- Photo Credits:
Anatomical engraving from "1889"and 1911-1925 Source Wilhelm Ellenberger and Hermann Baum: Handbuch der Anatomie der Tiere für Künstle: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Hermann Dittrich, illustrator.