teeth grinding in cats
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Do Cats Grind Their Teeth? 12 Causes of Bruxism in Cats!

Teeth grinding is different from the up and down motion cats make while chewing their food. It’s easy to spot because it sounds like a clicking or chattering sound made by the side-to-side movement of a cat’s jaw.

Teeth grinding in cats (bruxism) is often a symptom of dental issues. Any teeth problems that cause oral pain or jaw dislocation is likely to lead to teeth grinding, along with excessive salivation. Other painful issues that cause a cat to grind its teeth include irritable bowel syndrome, neurological issues, liver disease, and kidney failure.

In cats, teeth grinding isn’t a tic, but rather a symptom of a serious problem. Bruxism in cats is often a sign that a cat is in pain. Teeth grinding is common, but not normal, so the cause needs to be identified and resolved.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Teeth Grinding in Cats?

Dental ProblemsAbdominal ProblemsNeurological ProblemsOther Issues
Feline tooth resorptionPancreatitisPeripheral nerve neuropathiesHypokalemia (low potassium)
Dental abscessesInflammatory bowel disease BartonellaLiver disease
Fractured (chipped) teethGastritisBrain tumorsKidney failure
Abnormal alignment of teeth (malocclusion)Gastrointestinal ulcersRabiesSquamous cell carcinoma
Inflammatory gum disease (gingivitis)Intestinal cancer  Feline herpes
Stomatitis or gingivostomatitisNausea  Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Oral traumaAcid reflux  Electrical or thermal burn
Item stuck in the oral cavityIngestion of toxins  Calicivirus

The most common cause of bruxism is oral pain. However, general body pain can cause your cat to grind its teeth as well.

Teeth grinding needs immediate veterinary attention because it’s typically a symptom of a more serious underlying cause.

1/ Feline Tooth Resorption

If your cat is constantly making a clicking or chattering sound with its lower jaw, it could be due to severe pain caused by feline tooth resorption.

Feline tooth resorption is the most common oral disease that affects 30 to 40 percent of healthy adult cats and 60 to 80 percent of kittens. Persians and Siamese are most susceptible to the condition. The exact cause of tooth resorption in cats is not known.

According to the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, older female cats, drinking city water, taking medications and playing less with toys were more likely to have oral lesions, compared to cats who had their teeth cleaned regularly and were given diets higher in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Tooth resorption is the progressive loss of a tooth (or teeth) caused by cells called odontoclasts. Tooth erosion begins on the dentine and cementum (outside of the tooth at the gum line) and commonly occurs in the lower jaw premolars. However, any tooth is at risk.

As the tooth erodes, it eventually breaks, causing loss of an entire tooth with its root.

Your vet may prescribe pain killers and antibiotics to manage the condition.

2/ Gingivitis

Gingivitis, also known as inflammatory gum disease or periodontal disease, affects 70 percent of cats ages 3 and above. The likelihood of gingivitis increases by 20 percent each year of a cat’s life.

According to the Journal of Nutrition, the accumulation of bacteria and plaque on the tooth’s surface is the most common cause of gum disease.

Inflammatory gum disease often starts with the inflammation of one tooth. When the lining of your cat’s mouth is inflamed by gingivitis, it can lead to pain and thus, grinding of teeth. Gingivitis may affect some or all of a cat’s deep supporting structures of a tooth.

If left untreated, the complications resulting from inflammatory gum disease can be irreversible. According to the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, these include severe inflammation, calculus below the gum line, gum recession, missing teeth, bleeding and pus from the gums, substantial bone loss and permanent loss of a tooth.

3/ Tooth Fractures

If you’ve seen a cat play, you’ll know it will take anything into its mouth. This can lead to trauma to the teeth, resulting in tooth fractures. Tooth fractures are painful and can cause them to grind their teeth.

The most commonly fractured teeth in cats are the tips of the upper canine. When a cat bites down on a hard object, or applies too much pressure from its teeth, it can cause the canine to crack.

Cats also love to perch and climb onto high surfaces. Unfortunately, cats don’t land on their feet all the time. If a cat jumps from a high surface and hits its head as it lands, it may suffer from one or more fractured teeth.

Why do cats grind their teeth?

4/ Feline Stomatitis

Feline stomatitis is a disease of the mouth that causes painful ulcers on the gums and mucosal lining in the mouth. Cats tend to hide their pain by nature. However, the pain from this condition can be so severe that it causes them to cry out while opening their mouths.

Behavioral changes are the first signs owners notice with feline stomatitis because ulcers and inflammation in the mouth are not always obvious. Your hungry cat may approach its food bowl, only to hiss at it and run away. Vets call this behavior “approach-avoidance,” which occurs because the cat expects eating food to be painful.

Feline stomatitis is thought to be autoimmune, according to the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. The immune system overreacts to dental plaque, causing severe inflammation inside the mouth. Ulcers and inflammation can also occur in the pharynx, as well as the underlying bone of the mouth, where an infection is a possibility.

Mouth ulcers can also be a sign or symptom of the following underlying conditions:

  • Ingestion of toxins
  • Thermal burns
  • The systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • End-stage kidney disease, or uremic poisoning
  • Calicivirus
  • Feline herpes
  • Pemphigus complex

5/ Malocclusion and TMJ

Misalignment of the teeth (malocclusion) creates grinding or friction between the upper and lower teeth. This is commonly seen in brachycephalic breeds with flat faces, such as Persians. Their short faces cause their teeth to grow out of alignment.

Siamese cats are also at risk because their long pointy faces can cause their upper canine to point forward excessively, thus leading to malocclusion.

Some cats may suffer from a condition called extrusion, where their fangs grow abnormally long. This can cause grinding as well. Poorly aligned teeth lead to a shift in how the jaw joint moves, causing teeth grinding and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain.

Although the TMJ isn’t considered an oral structure, it is one of the most common reasons why cats grind their teeth. The temporomandibular joint is a hinge joint where the jaw attaches to the skull. There are two temporomandibular joints on each side of the face that work simultaneously and allow the jaw to move.

Any issues with the TMJ causes pain when a cat tries to open and close its mouth. In addition to causing difficulty moving the mouth, TMJ pain can alter deter chewing and cause appetite loss in cats.

If your cat does not suffer from any dental issues, your vet may order a blood test and urinalysis. Talk to your vet about consulting a qualified animal chiropractor to assess the health of your cat’s TMJ.

6/ Oral Cancer

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of oral cancer in cats. Middle-aged and senior cats are more at risk, but it has been seen in younger cats as well.

Carcinomas grow very quickly and often invade nearby tissue and bone. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Teeth grinding
  • Drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Growth in the mouth
  • Swollen facial appearance
  • Swelling along the neck or under the jaw
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Weight loss

The exact cause is not known. However, Veterinary Pathology suggests that secondhand smoke may be linked to squamous cell carcinoma in cats.

7/ Stress and Anxiety

Bruxism typically occurs as a result of an underlying oral or gastrointestinal disorder. Although causes such as stress and anxiety are less common, they can be contributing factors. Cats living with unfriendly or dominant feline housemates have been reported to grind their teeth.

Stress can also be caused by oral masses, oral ulcerations, broken teeth, gastrointestinal problems and malocclusions due to the intense pain associated with these issues. Therefore, it can’t be confirmed whether it is the pain or the resulting stress that’s causing teeth grinding in affected cats.

cat grinding teeth when yawning

8/ Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is the uncontrollable upward flow of gastric fluids into the tube that connects that stomach and the throat. Acid reflux is common in cats and can occur at any age. However, younger cats are most at risk.

Cats are likely to swallow the acid repeatedly to clear their mouth and throat. This can lead to the grinding of teeth.

Gastric juices contain gastric stomach acids, bile salts, pepsin, and other substances that can damage the protective mucous lining of the esophagus. This leads to mild to severe inflammation of the esophageal lining, causing pain and discomfort.

Look out for symptoms such as regurgitation of food, signs of pain while swallowing (such as teeth grinding, howling, and vocalization), lack of appetite, and weight loss.

If you suspect your cat has acid reflux, consult a vet. Severe esophagitis affects deeper layers of the esophagus, causing symptoms such as extreme salivation and fever.

9/ Food

Teeth grinding is commonly associated with mouth pain. Therefore, if your cat has gum problems, sensitive teeth or oral pain, dry food may aggravate your cat’s condition, leading to bruxism. To avoid anorexia in your cat, skip the dry food and offer it wet food only until you’re able to see a vet.

Dental problems can occur due to a grain-rich diet. Make sure you’re feeding your cat a high quality, high-protein and zero-grain diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals.

10/ Nausea

Nausea caused by intestinal lymphoma (particularly in older cats) and inflammatory bowel disease is often linked with bruxism.

Pancreatitis is another condition that causes both nausea and abdominal pain, both of which symptoms that occur alongside teeth grinding.

11/ Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders such as absence or focal seizures may manifest as bruxism in cats.

Seizures occur when the cerebral cortex of the brain does not function normally. The body responds to this abnormal brain function by losing voluntary function, leading to violent shaking of the body.

If your cat is having a focal seizure, it will scream loudly as if it is in pain. Even if your cat isn’t an aggressive cat, it may behave in a hostile manner. Other symptoms include excessive drooling and overall atypical behavior. Some cats may seem as if they’re chewing (or grinding their teeth) and/or lose function of one leg.

An absence seizure or a petit mal seizure in cats is a mild seizure that causes a brief loss of consciousness. Your cat may appear as if it is staring into space. Your cat may grind its teeth while having this type of seizure.

12/ Dehydration

Dehydration increases stomach acid, causing acid reflux. Acid reflux is a common contributor to bruxism.

When a cat is dehydrated, it will exhibit a range of symptoms, including sunken eyes and lethargy. The classic sign of dehydration in cats is skin tenting. When you pinch your cat’s shoulders, it will stay up if your cat is dehydrated. Dehydration in cats is a serious issue that needs to be managed by a veterinarian immediately.

Most oral diseases with teeth grinding can be diagnosed through an examination of your cat’s mouth. In some cases, X-rays, CT and MRI scans may be needed to determine the exact cause. If the condition is occurring outside of the mouth, your vet may order other tests, such as blood tests to diagnose your pet’s condition.

Keep in mind that because teeth grinding is almost always associated with pain, your cat’s treatment plan will include pain management as well. Antibiotics may be prescribed if an infection is found.