Bruxism is the rather technical-sounding name for a very common phenomenon among people-grinding one’s teeth, which some people do through force of habit when awake, but that many more people do unconsciously in their sleep, and may not even realise it!
Bruxism can be displayed by other mammals too, including cats-and when performed by our feline friends when awake or asleep, it often makes a distinctive clicking or twittering sound, similar to that which cats make when they are hunting or stalking prey.
Whilst not as many cats grind their teeth as humans do, it is a reasonably common phenomenon-but one that should not be overlooked, as it can be indicative of a problem.
In this article we will look at bruxism in cats in more detail, including how to identify it, the various causes behind it, and what can be done to resolve the issue. Read on to learn more.
You can usually identify teeth grinding in cats by both the movement of the jaw and often, the sounds your cat makes while doing it, although sound cues are not present in all cases.
If your cat grinds their teeth while awake, you will likely be able to identify the process by the side-to-side movement of their jaw, and possibly the sounds that can accompany it. This sound may appear to be a clicking, twittering or squeaking sound, which may sound like a cat chattering at prey, but unaccompanied by the concentration and pose that hunting involves.
Teeth grinding while asleep is a little less common than while awake, and can be more subtle and harder to identify. The movement of the jaw remains the same but may appear to be more subtle, and may occur only for a few seconds at a time. If your cat does appear to be grinding their teeth while asleep, try to watch them for a few minutes to confirm that they are actually grinding their teeth, rather than simply making normal sleep movements.
If your cat grinds their teeth while asleep only, the chances are that they will not be aware that they are doing it at all, although it is possible! If your cat is awake, however, they will generally grind their teeth deliberately and so know that they are doing it.
However, this behaviour over the long term can become a habit in and of itself, and so your cat may not be aware that they are doing it all of the time.
In humans, teeth grinding is normally a habit-based or nervous behaviour, although we can exert little to no control over it when sleeping!
In cats, however, teeth grinding usually has a physical cause behind it, which is most commonly dental but can reflect another issue too.
Generally, cats will grind their teeth due to dental discomfort or pain, or if they have unusual dentition that causes sharp edges or an inability to close the mouth or bite normally.
When your cat has their vaccinations or annual check up, your vet should also check their teeth and notice unusual tooth formation or any other problems that develop later on, but if the issue is with the back teeth or develops between check ups, it may be harder to spot, or not get picked up until the next vet visit.
If your cat breaks a tooth this too may cause tooth grinding, as the feeling is rather unusual and may be uncomfortable. A huge number of other dental issue too, including but not limited to sore, inflamed gums, ulcers, or other problems with the teeth or gums may lead to tooth grinding as well.
Malocclusion too is a conformation issue that can lead to tooth grinding, and this means that your cat’s bite will not fit together comfortably, which can in turn lead to pain and difficulty chewing, and place pressure on the jaw bones too, which can malform them over time.
In rare cases, gastrointestinal conditions and infections and other digestive issues such as stomatitis will cause teeth grinding too, but this is less common.
Additionally, while teeth grinding in humans is usually a habitual or nervous behaviour, this too is rare in cats, albeit possible.
If your cat is grinding their teeth, this almost certainly indicates a problem that will need to be dealt with, such as a dental issue or digestive problem. The grinding itself is a symptom rather than a cause, and indicates that there is something wrong that should be addressed.
In this first instance, schedule a dental check up with your vet for your cat, and if nothing becomes immediately obvious, ask for some x-rays of the mouth and teeth, potentially a sedated deep clean and exploratory dental procedure to resolve the issue.