Whether a cat bounces off the walls, ignores you, or sleeps in tight spaces like boxes and dresser drawers, we all know cats have their quirks. Cats can be entertaining and loving animals, but they can also do some interesting and weird things.
Like other animals, if cats are acting strangely, there might be something wrong with them. If you’ve ever noticed your cat making strange movements with their mouth and jaw, then you know firsthand how disconcerting it is. So, why is your cat making weird mouth movements?
The most likely reason your cat is doing this is because it’s chattering. Cat chatter can be silent or accompanied by noise, and cats will commonly do this when they are eyeing a bird through the window. The best part about this explanation is that it is completely normal!
However, there are also some more concerning explanations you should also be aware of. In this article, I run though twelve possible causes you to can get to the bottom of your cat’s curious behaviors.
12 Reasons Your Cat Makes Weird Mouth Movements
As I mentioned, most cats that are moving their mouths are chattering. But while cat chattering is normal, there may be other causes for your cat’s weird mouth movements.
It’s important to understand all the possible causes, so you can work out whether your cat’s behavior is normal or whether they should see a vet. Read the below sections and try to work out which could apply to your cat.
1. Cat Chatter
Cat chatter is one of the strangest things to see your furry friend do. When cats are chattering, they’ll move their mouth in a rapid chewing motion. However, they won’t be chewing anything at all – their mouths will be completely empty.
Some cats will chatter silently, yet it is more common for cats to make a high-pitched noise kind of like a half meow. Their teeth may also chatter together, making a clicking noise. This is the sound of the teeth physically knocking against each other as your cat moves its mouth.
As mentioned before, cat chatter is completely normal and nothing to worry about! This behavior is typically seen by indoor cats. They will chatter at the window whenever they spot prey outside and will stare intently at the target. Therefore, experts believe chattering and a cat’s hunting instincts are closely intertwined. All cats have the instinct to hunt, and there are several current theories as to why seeing prey leads to cat chatter:
- Preparation to Hunt: Many experts believe cats chatter in preparation for the hunt. Seeing a small animal outside causes a surge of adrenaline in your cat to prepare your cat to chase and capture its prey. It’s thought that this involuntary mouth movement is a visual cue of the adrenaline surge, causing a temporary loss of control over the jaw muscles.
- Frustration: Other experts believe cats chatter when they become frustrated because they cannot reach the prey they have spotted outside. This could explain why cat chatter is more common in indoor cats than in outdoor cats. Moreover, both frustration and anticipationcan cause a surge of adrenaline and so either could explain this behavior.
- Mimicking Prey: Other theories posit the idea that cats will chatter to mimic the sound of their prey. If a cat starts chattering after it hears a loud call from a bird outside of the window, they’re likely trying to lure the bird closer by making similar sounds. The speed of their mouth movements may correlate with the rapid movements of the bird’s beak that they’re watching.
Interestingly, cats don’t only chatter at birds and potential prey. Many cat parents have noticed cats chattering at other cats!
If the cats are related, say if they are mother and kitten, it’s very likely that they have started to chatter as a means of communication. As for chattering at non-related cats, they could be preparing a playful assault on the other cat.
Other behaviorists have theorized that cats chatter because they are upset. As mentioned before, they may be frustrated, but they may also be angry if they are chattering. If you’ve noticed your cat chattering at you, then beware! It may be planning to attack your legs as you walk by or jump on your shoulder for a quick telling-off.
2. It’s Trying to Smell Something
Another perfectly normal and non-concerning explanation for your cat’s weird mouth movements is that it is trying to smell something. Cats do ordinarily smell through their noses. However, if they want to get a real whiff of something, they’ll do something called the Flehming Response.
This has to be one of the silliest things you’ll ever see your cat do! Cats roll their top lips back and hold their mouth open for a few seconds. They often also squint their eyes, which make it look like they’re grimacing or scowling. Some cats even look shocked or disgusted!
But how does this strange facial expression help your cat smell?
Well, cats have a specialized cluster of sensory cells on the roof of their mouth right at the back. Together, these cells form a region known as the Jacobson’s organ. The receptors found here bind to odor molecules and send signals to your cat’s brain, letting them know precisely what they are smelling.
The odor molecules can only reach the Jacobson’s organ when cats open their mouths and pull this strange facial expression. This explains the strange and comical expression – without making these weird mouth movements, cats can only smell using their noses.
Most of the time, their nose does a good enough job. Therefore, cats usually reserve this weird mouth movement when smelling pheromones from other cats and animals. They might also do the Flehming Response if there is something particularly stinky in front of them, such as the trash or a pair of smelly shoes.
As I said, it is nothing to worry about! It is just your curious cat wanting to know more about the smell in front of them and using their specialized receptors to do just that.
3. Something is Stuck in Their Mouth
Many of us have had food stuck in our back teeth, and no matter how much floss or how many toothpicks we use, we can’t seem to dislodge whatever is stuck. This can also be a common issue for your cat.
In fact, it happens a lot more often than you might think! When you consider your cat’s diet and its habits, they’ll likely have something stuck in their teeth every once in a while. If your cat is an outdoor cat, it may have caught a mouse or a bird. Feathers or small pieces of bone might get stuck inside the mouth and cause irritation.
Alternatively, your cat might have pieces of kibble stuck in between their teeth from eating. Or perhaps, your cat has a piece of string from a toy wrapped around a tooth or a piece of hair from self-grooming. Even splinters or thorns, could get their way inside your cat’s mouth and become lodged between the teeth or embedded in the gums.
While indoor cats may have this problem less, it can happen to any cat. If your cat is opening its jaw, trying to move it around, and is rubbing its paws over its mouth, it could be a sign that it does have something stuck in its teeth or mouth.
This can be quite scary for you and your cat when this happens. If your cat isn’t acting strangely and if they are still breathing like normal, they should be fine. In most cases, the foreign material will dislodge itself within a few hours or days. Every time your cat makes weird mouth movements, paws at its mouth, and eats or drinks, it helps to push the stuck material out.
However, large foreign objects could be problematic. If they are stuck in the way of your cat’s throat, they could cause a breathing obstruction. Also, you don’t want your cat accidentally ingesting a large foreign object. This could get stuck in the esophagus or intestines and cause a blockage here. When this happens, digestive function is impaired, and the situation can become life-threatening if the obstruction is bad enough.
If you are at all concerned, seek veterinary assistance immediately. Your vet will be able to remove the foreign object from the teeth or mouth, preventing any complications from arising.
I also recommend calling your vet if the foreign material is lodged in the gums, rather than between the teeth. The gums can heal over objects stuck here, trapping them inside. Your vet will be able to remove the object with tweezers to ensure this doesn’t happen. They may also provide antibiotics to prevent any infection from entering the open wound as it heals.
If your cat is pawing at its mouth and drooling in addition to making weird movements, then your cat might be suffering from gingivitis. Gingivitis happens when your cat’s teeth are covered in bacterial plaque, which causes the surrounding gums to become inflamed.
Plaque is a film of bacteria, saliva, leftover food material, and dead cells. Over time, plaque hardens into what’s called calculus. Both calculus and plaque can irritate the gums and lead to inflammation, causing the gums to become red and swollen. This inflammation can be pretty painful, and it may cause your kitty to stop eating. Over time, this can lead to unhealthy weight loss and other complications as your cat isn’t getting the nutrients it needs.
For many cats, gingivitis is preventable with regular brushing. Yet despite this, most cats will be affected by gingivitis in their lifetime. As plaque accumulates and hardens over time, older cats are particularly susceptible to developing this condition.
The plaque needs to be removed for the inflammation to die down and pain to ease. And time is of the essence here – the longer gingivitis goes untreated, the more damage the plaque does.
Some mild cat gingivitis will be cured by a new brushing routine, which should be done a few times a week. Other cats may have a more advanced stage of gingivitis that can’t be fixed by brushing alone. In many cases, your veterinarian will suggest getting your cat’s teeth scaled.
Scaling involves putting your kitty under anesthesia while their teeth are scraped clean of all the plaque. Their mouths will be sensitive for a few days, but they will usually be back to their regular selves soon enough. After your cat gets its teeth cleaned, it’s recommended that you start a regular brushing routine to help prevent further damage to your cat’s teeth from gingivitis.
As mentioned in the previous section, gingivitis needs to be treated early to prevent the gum inflammation from progressing and causing more damage to the mouth. If you don’t catch and treat it on time, the disease will progress to the next stage: periodontitis.
Also known as Periodontal disease, periodontitis is a much more serious condition than gingivitis. While gingivitis affects your cat’s gums, periodontitis affects your cat’s gums and their supporting structures. This includes the ligaments and bones of their teeth and jaws, and, unfortunately, this condition is irreversible. Therefore, this may mean the permanent loss of tooth support and your cat could start losing their teeth as the condition progresses.
To treat periodontitis, your cat would need to go under anesthesia and have its teeth scaled. The plaque will be removed, but the cleaning will also go deeper into the gums. Additionally, teeth that are loose or damaged will be extracted during this cleaning. Taking the teeth out will give your cat’s mouth a chance to heal from the damaged tooth.
If your cat loses some teeth, it will be okay! However, it’s very important to build a good brushing routine for your kitty. There are many different brushes and kinds of toothpaste on the market. Finding a good toothpaste that’s tasty for your cat and specifically formulated for animals is important. It can make your brushing routine a little bit easier.
Irregular mouth movement can also be a symptom of another serious condition called stomatitis. Feline stomatitis is similar to gingivitis and Periodontal disease, in that the gums in the mouth are inflamed. This is often also triggered by the presence of bacteria inside the mouth, though it can be caused by a hypersensitive immune response.
However, stomatitis has another important difference from gingivitis and Periodontal disease – this condition also impacts the fleshy structures in the mouth. Therefore, cats with this condition have inflamed gums, sides of the cheeks, the uppermost part of the throat, and the tongue!
As you can imagine, this is extremely painful for cats. Cats with feline stomatitis may struggle eating or they may even jump or hiss when they yawn, meow, or are presented with food that they know will cause them pain. Most are even reluctant to self-groom as it causes so much pain! Other symptoms of the disease include bad breath, red and swollen gums, excessive drooling, ulcers on the gums, and bleeding from the mouth.
If you think your cat has stomatitis, you need to call your vet. They will usually start by giving your cat anti-inflammatory medication to help the swelling go down, along with analgesics to ease the pain. They’ll then put your cat under a general anesthetic and clean the plaque from the teeth.
Next, they’ll discuss long-term treatment options. If the outbreak was triggered by an immune response, immunosuppressant drugs might be an option. Frequent brushing, regular professional teeth cleaning, and minimizing stress in the environment can also reduce the number of inflammatory outbreaks.
However, if none of the above provide long-term relief, your vet might suggest removing all of your cat’s teeth. This is the only way to ensure the disease doesn’t come back.
Glossitis refers to inflammation of your cat’s tongue. There are many reasons why your cat’s tongue could be inflamed, but some of the common causes are an infection or a wound, exposure to chemicals, insect stings, electrical burns, or an underlying disease such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Reluctance to eat, drooling, or odd mouth movements may all be signs that your cat has this condition. Depending on the cause of the inflammation, the swelling might last for a couple of days or until your cat gets proper treatment. Therefore, be sure to call the vet if you think your cat has this condition.
At the appointment, your vet will try and figure out the cause of the inflammation. They’ll then use this to figure out an appropriate treatment option.
Some examples of treatments they might recommend are:
- Removal of any foreign object if there is one present
- Administering antibiotics to fight off any bacterial infections
- Using antiseptic to clean any oral wounds and promote healthy healing
- Prescribing a soft food diet until your cat can eat normally again
- Treatment for diabetes or kidney disease if caused by either of these
When the source of the problem has been cured, then your cat’s tongue will usually heal rapidly. In fact, the tongue is the fastest healing part of the body! This is because it has a relatively simple structure and easy access to a blood supply. Therefore, your kitty shouldn’t be in pain or making weird mouth movements much longer.
8. Soft Tissue Trauma
It is also possible that your cat is making weird mouth movements because of an injury to the soft tissue inside the mouth. Injuries here cause localized inflammation, which can lead to pain, swelling, and discomfort. Until the wound heals, and the swelling goes down, your cat will strangely move its jaw.
There are many ways that cats could injure the soft tissue in their mouths. Below are just a few examples:
- Cheek Biting: Cats might bite their cheeks while eating food. When this happens, the inside of the cheek is caught between the teeth as your cat chews. Some bites might be minor, whereas others can bite off entire chunks from inside the mouth and bleed heavily.
- Playing: If there is more than one cat in your household, then it’s likely your cats will rough-and-tumble together. During their play, they could run into each other, or one of them could flip into the wall by accident as it tries to avoid the playful attack of another cat.
- Catfights: Of course, soft tissue trauma might be caused by an actual attack from a rival cat outside. Remember, cats can be very territorial. If your cat steps into another cat’s space, you might have a catfight on your hands! These can be very rough and lead to severe injury.
- Mouth Burns: While cats don’t usually get mouth burns from hot tea, they may get burnt from chewing on an electrical cord or by trying to eat human food that’s fresh from the oven and smells particularly tasty. This is more often the case with kittens who have yet to learn these things are hot!
Minor burns and soft tissue trauma will usually resolve on their own. Like the tongue, mouth injuries typically heal very quickly thanks to the extensive vasculature system. However, it might be necessary to see a vet if their discomfort lasts for more than a week. Similarly, take your cat to the vet if it’s refusing to eat, as this can lead to malnourishment and weight loss.
While your cat recovers – be that with or without veterinary help – keep a close eye on your cat’s wounds. All open wounds can easily be injected by bacteria. If this happens, go straight back to your vet and get a course of antibiotics.
9. Trauma to the Face or Jaw
Like trauma to the soft facial tissue, your cat may have had some recent jaw or face trauma for a variety of reasons. This causes pains and discomfort within the mouth region, and so your cat wiggles their mouths strangely.
Cats are curious creatures and get into all kinds of mischief, meaning these injuries happen more than you think. For example, your cat may have fallen from a height or been in a car accident. These injuries are much more serious than soft tissue trauma and could include multiple cuts, lesions, or broken bones. In these cases, you’ll notice that their faces or jaws are extremely swollen as well.
Ensure you go to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible! Many cats with severe trauma to the face or jaw will require surgery to fix any breaks in the skull or facial bones. All wounds need to be treated and potentially stitched together if they’re too large. Your cat should also be assessed for signs of brain injury and checked for a build-up of fluid inside the skull.
Additionally, it could be possible that your cat’s strange mouth movements are from previous trauma that has healed. If you have a rescue cat, this is even more possible as they are exposed to more dangerous situations than house cats.
10. Jaw Abnormalities
As a cat grows, it may develop jaw abnormalities that cause an improper bite, also known as malocclusion. This is where the teeth don’t align and fit together as they should. While this is rare, it could be a reason behind your cat’s strange mouth movements.
There are two main types of malocclusions in cats:
- Overbites: Cats may develop an overbite, which is where the upper jaw reaches out farther and protrudes more than the lower jaw.
- Underbites: Conversely, your cat may have an underbite where the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw.
There are several different classes or malocclusions as well – Class I are milder, whereas Class IV are the most severe. None are a major cause for concern as many cats will just learn to deal with the misalignment of their teeth.
However, malocclusions can make it painful for your cat to eat food. You need to keep a close eye on this so you can be sure your cat is getting all the nutrients it needs. Moreover, jaw abnormalities can predispose cats to develop three of the issues I have discussed already: Periodontal disease, gingivitis, and oral trauma.
Therefore, it is a good idea to get your cat diagnosed. This ensures you keep your eye out for these other conditions more religiously. Additionally, some teeth misalignments can be corrected. This can make eating easier, ease any associated pain, and mitigate the risk of developing the issues just listed.
11. Oral Tumors
Cats may be suffering some discomfort from mouth tumors, which may be making them move their mouths strangely to work around the tumors. Two types of tumors are typical for cats:
- Benign Tumors: Benign tumors, called fibromas, may appear around your cat’s lips and gums, but they won’t typically be widespread. Typically, these tumors are fine unless they grow so large that they are keeping your cat from eating or behaving normally.
- Malignant Tumors: Malignant tumors, on the other hand, are ones that you should be worried about as they are cancerous. Malignant tumors like fibrosarcomas are aggressive and harder on your cat. In addition to causing bad breath, drooling, and making your cat reluctant to eat, they will likely need to be removed.
Therefore, you must take your cat to the vet as soon as possible. Recovery depends on the type of tumor and whether it has spread elsewhere in the body. Benign tumors and generally non-problematic, but the recovery of cats with advanced malignant tumors might have a poor outlook.
12. Feline Orofacial Pain Syndrome
The last potential cause for your cat’s odd mouth movements could be due to feline orofacial pain syndrome (FOPS). This is a pain disorder some cats with oral discomfort and tongue mutilation experience.
Cats with this disorder can experience intermittent or persistent pain in their mouths. This condition is caused by a misfiring of the trigeminal nerve, a sensory nerve that relays sensory information from the face to the brain. Each time it fires, it tells the cat that its mouth hurts. Therefore, there is usually some type of trigger for FOPS, such as extreme stress or Periodontal disease.
Most cats who experience this type of pain will move their mouths strangely, but they may also lick and chew excessively as well as paw at their mouths. This is a form of mutilation, and you need to use a cone collar to stop your cat from injuring itself.
Your vet will also prescribe pain medication to ease discomfort. Unfortunately, pain medication is not always effective with neurological pain, so they are only partially effective. Therefore, your vet will try and pinpoint the trigger that is responsible for the misfiring. If periodontitis, your vet will treat this condition. Stress triggers are harder to control and must be managed through environmental changes.
While cat chatter is the most common reason why your cat is making weird mouth movements, there are other causes including some serious conditions, such as feline orofacial pain syndrome and periodontitis.
If you’ve just noticed this strange mouth and jaw movement, keep an eye on your cat for a few days. It’s possible that it might be a one-time occurrence, or that whatever was causing them pain or discomfort has gone away.
On the other hand, any persistent pain should be taken seriously. If your cat’s mouth movements are associated with weight loss or your cat’s coat looks dull, then you should go to the vet as soon as you can.