teeth grinding in cats
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Do Cats Grind Their Teeth?

Cats are born imitators and can take on the personas of their owners. Sometimes, a simple habit learned from a human can be harmful to cats. Teeth grinding (bruxism) is one such example. But there are various medical reasons why cats grind their teeth when eating or being petted.

Why do cats grind their teeth? Usually, it’s a dental problem. Issues with tooth alignment, infected gums, and abscesses in and around the mouth could be responsible. However, cats also grind their teeth to soothe pain elsewhere in the body. Your pet may have renal failure, liver disease, or cancer. They need veterinary attention.

Teeth grinding in cats can look innocuous, but it must be taken seriously by a pet owner. It often points to a health problem, so a check-up will be necessary to identify the underlying cause.

Is My Cat is Grinding Their Teeth?

Next time your cat is eating, watch their mouths. You will notice that they tend to chew vertically, often with their mouth open. This is because cats do not grind food down with their teeth.

If your pet starts moving their jaw from side-to-side, they will be grinding their teeth. This will most often happen immediately after eating or grooming – at least at first.

This habit will also typically be accompanied by a chattering or clicking sound. A cat that grinds their teeth will also drool excessively.

Cats grinding their teeth is comparatively common, but this doesn’t mean that it’s normal. It isn’t harmless. If your cat grinds their teeth, they are in pain and attempting to soothe themselves. The discomfort may stem from their mouth, or another part of the body.

Why is My Cat Teeth Grinding?

Cats grind their teeth to soothe the pain. Your pet is gritting their teeth to tolerate a surge of discomfort. This means that an older cat with arthritis, for example, may grind their teeth.

The most common medial explanations for the behavior are as follows:

  • Dental problems
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Renal failure
  • Neurological problems
  • Issues with the liver or pancreas
  • Dehydration

1) Dental Problems in Cats

By far the most common explanation for a cat grinding their teeth is a dental problem. Almost every cat will experience an issue with their teeth before the age of 3. This will usually be a result of plaque and tartar building on the teeth, causing infection.

Feline dental problems come in all different guises. However, the most common are as follows:

  • Periodontal Disease – the build-up of plaque and tartar, which causes a gum infection.
  • Stomatitis – a very painful inflammation of the gums.
  • Abnormal Tooth Alignment – cats do not have orthodontists, so their teeth occasionally grow misaligned and rub against each other.
  • Tooth Resorption – the enamel of the tooth begins to rot away, leaving raw nerves exposed.
  • Broken Teeth – cats that experience trauma or impact can fracture teeth – above or below the gum line.
  • Mouth Ulcers – you won’t need to be told how painful these can be.
  • Teething – kittens teeth lose their baby teeth so they can be replaced by adult equivalents.

It’s best to avoid these conditions, rather than treat them. This means placing you on a strict oral health regime. They may not like it, but it’s better than any alternatives.

Any of these conditions are painful, and will lead to tooth grinding. This will damage the teeth further, and aggravate the original problem. This cycle will continue.

Why do cats grind their teeth?

Inspect your cat’s teeth regularly, and invest in a quality toothbrush. If you clean your pet’s teeth once a week, they’re less likely to experience dental problems.

You can also help your cat’s teeth by selecting an appropriate diet and treats. Sugar should be avoided, not least because cats cannot waste sweetness. Tough, uncooked bones and hard treats, however, will also clean your pet’s teeth. They’ll find this more agreeable than brushing.

In addition to your inspections, a vet should check your cat’s teeth at least once a year. This is to ensure that they are in good condition.

This will involve putting your cat under anesthesia, and thoroughly scraping their teeth. This removes all traces of plaque and tartar, and prevents periodontal disease from taking hold. Your vet can also check for warning signs of mouth cancer.

Periodontal disease is the most oft-diagnosed condition of all cat ailments. It is also linked to significant health issues such as renal failure. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by keeping on top of your cat’s dental health.

2) Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Cats

Problems with the bowel and gastric tract are often connected to tooth grinding in cats. This is mainly because of the pain that such ailments cause your pet.

Your cat may not let on that their abdomen feels like it’s on fire. As a result, they’ll grind and gnash their teeth as they soldier on in agony.

Let’s take irritable bowel syndrome as an example. As Wag Walking explains, this condition can leave a cat experiencing inflammation in the gut. That will be painful enough.

Also, however, cats with feline IBS will struggle to pass waste, and regularly feel nauseous. Nausea has also been linked with tooth grinding in felines.

IBS can be treated, either by medication or diet and lifestyle changes. A vet will perform the relevant tests, and advise action accordingly.

3) Renal Failure in Cats

There’s a direct link between feline renal failure and tooth grinding. As cats grow older, their kidneys function with less efficiency. This makes an enhanced oral health regime increasingly vital.

A vet will always check for signs of renal failure in cats at an annual check-up. Any pet older than seven could be susceptible to the condition, so regular reviews are essential.

Although blood and urine will be tested, a visual teeth and gum check reveals a lot. If your cat’s teeth a clear of tartar and plaque, renal failure is less likely.

Bacteria in the gums can wreak havoc on a cat’s body, including the kidneys. This, in turn, will become very painful for your cat. As a result of this discomfort, your pet will grind their teeth.

It’s so important to head these conditions off at the pass and take early action. If you do so, your cat will live considerably longer.

4) Feline Neurological Problems

Of all possible explanations for cats grinding their teeth, neurological conditions are arguably the most frightening. Tumors, brains lesions, and inflammation can all cause tooth grinding in felines.

It’s always worth asking for a CT scan when you take your cat to the vet. Erratic or unusual behavior can often be traced back to the brain.

If your vet finds something of concern, immediate action will be taken. This could be surgical or medicinal, depending on the severity of the issue.

5) Liver or Pancreatic Concerns in Cats

Liver disease can have a variety of impacts on a cat’s health. Unfortunately, these are often subtle. However, one of the critical symptoms of liver problems includes tooth decay and gum disease.

Liver disease is quite rare in felines. As International Cat Care explains, the organ needs to almost entirely cease function before impacting your pet.

All the same, it’s nothing to ignore. Your vet will test for liver disease when assessing your cat’s teeth, and take action if necessary. The problem is typically resolved with medication.

Concerns with the pancreas are similarly tough to spot, according to Pet Health Network. Acute pancreatitis, however, can strike very suddenly – and be very painful.

This is because the entire organ becomes inflamed upon onset. If your cat loses interest in eating, and grinds their teeth, they may be experiencing pancreatitis.

6) Dehydration in Cats

Cats rarely drink enough water, which can often lead to dehydration. When a cat is dehydrated, they will experience a spike in stomach acid. Your pet will then swallow repeatedly to clear this acid.

The trouble begins when your cat struggles to swallow. The lack of moisture in their mouth and throat makes this painful. As a result, a cat will grind their teeth to combat this pain.

In a perfect world, a cat will acknowledge this correlation and head to their water bowl. In reality, their teeth hurt from gnashing, so they may avoid all food and water.

Ensure that your cat is drinking sufficiently throughout the day to combat this issue.

No Medical Reason Found

A cat will undergo tests, including a full oral exam. A vet will also check blood and urine for signs of infection. X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasounds may also be necessary.

It’s possible that your vet will find no medical explanation for your pet’s behavior. This doesn’t mean that all is fine, however. In such a scenario, your vet will take a look at your cat’s jaw. Felines can be prone to Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TJD).

The temporomandibular joints in your cat’s mouth are where the top and bottom jaws connect. If these jaws are out of sync, it can cause problems for your cat. Veterinary treatment will usually involve surgery at this point. Your vet will rewire the jaw as though it was broken using pins and wire.

cat grinding teeth when yawning

This will be inconvenient for your cat in the short-term, and painful. Expect to be sent home numerous painkillers, and instructions to help your pet rest.

Surgery is not always the only option, however. You may wish to consider consulting an animal chiropractor to see if they’ll aid your cat. You’ll find a list of practicing chiropractors at the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

Consider whether your cat is grinding their teeth through stress. Just like humans, felines grit their teeth when uncomfortable. Your pet may be attempting to soothe themselves through a difficult time. Observe your cat’s general demeanor, and look out for signs of emotional anguish.

Grinding Teeth While Yawning

This suggests that your cat’s jaw is misaligned. This could be a result of trauma or an accident, or it may be genetic. Breeds with long or flat faces often experience this problem as a matter of course.

Observe your cat when this grinding occurs. Does your cat stop as quickly as they start, or do they continue grinding their teeth? Does your cat stop what they’re doing, such as eating or playing, or act as if nothing happened?

Some cats are largely indifferent to misaligned jawbones. Their jaw aches after yawning, they gnash their teeth to relieve that ache, then move on. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the problem. In such an instance, consider contacting a feline chiropractor.

If your cat continues grinding teeth for a period after yawning, something more serious is afoot. This suggests that your pet’s misaligned jaw is causing them significant pain. This, in turn, can lead to a TJD. Surgery will likely be required to fix this problem.

Grinding Teeth During Sleep

Cats are sometimes prone to grinding their teeth in their sleep. If this is the only time they engage in the activity, it’s nothing to worry about. Your cat will be dreaming, and experiencing a reaction.

If your cat grinds their teeth during waking hours, however, bruxism in their sleep is concerning. This suggests that the habit is wholly ingrained in your pet’s psyche. Additionally, your pet is in so much discomfort that they’re subconsciously, as well as wittingly, self-soothing.

If tooth grinding becomes a constant, unrelenting activity, upgrade your concern from ‘worrying’ to ‘emergency.’ Your vet will understand your concern, and act accordingly. It’s clear that something isn’t right with your cat, and they need help.

Can I Stop Bruxism in Cats?

Teaching a cat to stop grinding their teeth can be challenging. There is no such thing as a cat retainer, or mouth guard. Treating teeth grinding will need to be tackled through training.

There are three critical steps to the process of eliminating teeth grinding in cats.

  1. Treat the root cause of the tooth grinding. Your priority must always be to treat the reason why your cat behaves this way.
  2. Break the habit of teeth grinding. Cats are creatures of routine. You’ll have to get them out of this particular habit.
  3. Prevent the cause reoccurring. Once you know why your cat was grinding their teeth, stop the symptoms from returning.

Treating the Cause

If the habit is due to a dental concern, get this fixed ASAP. Your cat will be in significant discomfort, and only professional help will relieve it.

Even if your vet cannot diagnose an explanation, seek other advice. You could start with a second opinion from a different vet. If you get the same response, find an animal chiropractor.

Breaking the Habit

Treating the cause of the tooth grinding may not be the end of it. Your cat may have got into the habit, and we all know that cats love routine. Repeating the behavior as a self-soothing act, or even doing so subconsciously, must be stopped.

Training your cat not to grind their teeth is the same as any other unwelcome habit. Distract them with a loud noise, such as a handclap or a whistle. Use a squirt gun if you must.

Never use physical admonishment or raise your voice. You’ll also have to be patient. Your cat will not immediately understand that its tooth grinding that elicits such a reaction.

If it continues after attempted correction training, consider seeing a vet again. There could be a new or recurrent underlying cause. Even if there isn’t, a professional can offer further training advice.

Preventing the Cause from Reoccurring

Sometimes, this is impossible. If your cat was grinding their teeth due to a tumor, for example, you have no control. What can be managed is your pet’s general oral health. As tooth grinding is so often caused by dental problems, prevention is vital.

Keep brushing your cat’s teeth, at least once a week. Twice is ideal, especially if your pet roams outside. If your cat will not allow you to do so, get external help. This may be awkward, and potentially expensive. It’s still better than the alternative, though.

You should also ensure that your cat is seen at least once a year by a vet. This also includes a full oral examination. If a vet or nurse spot warning signs of dental problems, they can quickly rectify them. Again, this is much better than placing your cat under anesthesia for a full tooth clean.

At the first sign of bruxism, get your cat’s health investigated. No matter what the cause, the prognosis will always be better if caught early. Cats are remarkably adept at hiding illness, but grinding their teeth is a telltale sign.