Why Does My Cat Chatter His Teeth?

If you are a cat owner, you may have noticed a peculiar behavior known as “teeth chattering”.

If you aren’t a cat owner (or haven’t seen this particular behavior), here’s what happens: the cat sees something he wants but can’t get to — like a bird or a squirrel or something on television. He opens his mouth slightly with his lips pulled back. His jaw opens and closes rapidly, making a sort of lip smacking, teeth chattering noise. It sounds a lot like a human who is shivering badly. If the cat is really excited over what he sees, he may also make little bleating noises. His body may become tense and his tail may twitch.

Quite a show! (Maybe even better than whatever the cat is watching out the window or on television… at least for us human observers.)

Some experts think this behavior is instinctual. The noise and jaw movement is similar to the killing bite that wild cats use to kill a small bird or rodent quickly and efficiently — before they have a chance to struggle. Young kittens in the wild get to practice the neck bite. Domesticated cats may not get to practice on live prey. The cat may want the prey so badly that he thinks it is already in his jaws — so his mouth makes the killing bite automatically.

Other feline behavior experts think the teeth chattering is just a sign of excitement or frustration. They see the prey, they want the prey, but they can’t get to the prey. Take a look at your cat’s tail — it may be signaling frustration. The tail may be puffed out or it may be twitching or lashing.

One thing is for sure — your cat isn’t chattering his teeth because he’s cold. It isn’t a shiver at all.