Cats come with their fair share of quirks, from bouncing off walls and completely blowing you off, to sleeping in tight spots like boxes or bowls (even though that luxurious cat bed you got is just sitting there!).
Sometimes we understand their behaviors; like when your feline pet meows by the door as if demanding to be let out, but other times cats do things that don’t make sense -to us at least- and end up confusing their owners.
One of those unusual things is when you see a cat making weird mouth movements. Whether it’s a stink face with the mouth open or a chewing action with an empty mouth, there’s no shortage of strange feline mouth motions.
If you’re wondering what’s happening and why cats do such odd things, then this article is for you! Keep reading as we discuss all possible explanations.
Why Is My Cat Making Weird Mouth Movements?
There are various reasons for a cat making weird mouth movements such as cat chatter, the Flehmen response, panting, something stuck in their mouth, dental disease, trauma, jaw abnormalities, oral tumors, congestion, and feline orofacial pain syndrome. While the culprit behind the unusual movement of your cat’s mouth can be any of these, the two most common are cat chatter and the Flehmen response.
1. Cat Chatter
One of the most common reasons behind a cat making weird mouth movements is cat chatter. Not to mention, it’s also one of the weirdest things you can ever see a cat doing.
So what does cat chatter look like? It basically appears as if the cat is chewing very quickly, only there’s nothing inside your pet’s mouth. This is often accompanied by high-pitched sounds that resemble chirping.
Usually, cat chatter is a sign that the cat is very focused on some sort of prey. It’s believed that this type of unusual mouth movement is due to a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and frustration about a potential close-by prey.
While cat chatter isn’t uncommon by any means, it’s still not something that you can catch your cat doing every day. As if this doesn’t make the behavior mysterious enough, scientists are also not certain of the reason why cats chatter.
The combination of excitement/anticipation/frustration upon spotting a prey that’s just out of reach is the most popular explanation of cat chatter, but it’s not the only one.
Another theory is that cats chatter as a way to imitate the sound of the birds and other critters they want to get their paws on.
2. The Flehmen Response
One of the weirdest, silliest, and funniest mouth movements you can see a cat making is called the Flehmen response, which also goes by the infamous name “cat stink face”.
This is where cats roll up their lips while keeping their mouth open for a few seconds. Sometimes, the cat will also squint their eyes, giving an overall look of awe, shock, or disgust.
It’s easier -and much more amusing- to see the Flehmen response, so check out this cute feline doing the stink face! One thing to keep in mind here is that this odd mouth movement doesn’t mean your pet is disgusted, but rather that they came across a certain scent that piques their interest and the Flehmen response helps them experience it to the max.
How so? Well, cats have this thing known as Jacobson’s organ. Found in many reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, this organ is part of the smelling system that allows cats and other animals to detect and “smell” a specific scent more deeply.
In cats, the Jacobson’s organ resides in the way back of the mouth, so cats have to open their mouths in a way that lets them really capture the scent. This movement is referred to as the Flehmen response.
The frequency of the manifestation of the Flehmen response differs from one cat to another. However, you can almost always tell that it’s coming when your cat is doing some heavy smelling.
In other words, the cat will start sniffing and if they decide the scent they picked up is worth further investigation, they’ll break out the stink face to take their smelling action to the next level.
Your cat may be doing strange mouth movements due to panting or a panting-related reason.
Although most people are used to the sight of a dog panting, it can be a bit more surprising to see a cat doing it. Because of this, the movement of a cat’s mouth when panting can seem weird.
Unlike dogs, cats don’t make as much noise when they pant and are generally a lot more subtle.
In some cases, panting can be a normal thing, but it can also be due to a variety of medical conditions such as overheating. Like dogs, it’s normal for cats to pant to catch their breath after intense physical activity.
That said, this isn’t an invitation to just dismiss any panting even if it’s related to exercise. Panting could still be a sign of serious health issues such as asthma or heart disease.
If the unusual mouth movement your cat is making looks like panting and is happening too frequently, it’s better to consult your vet. Consider taking a video of the action to review during the examination.
4. Something is Stuck in their Mouth/Throat
Just like people often get pieces of food stuck in their teeth, this can also happen to cats. In this case, there’s a chance you’ll notice your pet making weird mouth movements.
Additionally, your cat may also paw at their mouth or even gag/retch if there’s something stuck in their throat or mouth. While the culprit can be a bunch of different things, it’s commonly either a hard kibble, a toy part, a bone, a collar piece, or the cat’s own hair.
If it’s hair or kibble, your cat is likely to loosen it up with some mouth motions. If they can’t do it, you shouldn’t worry as these items will break up with time after a short while.
However, if the stuck item is one of the other culprits, your cat will probably need help. Start by examining the inside of your pet’s mouth. Be quick about it because you may not get a lot of time to look there.
Keep an eye out for any signs of inflammation of the gums or tongue such as redness. Even if you can’t get the item out yourself, you’ll still be able to tell your vet the exact problem.
If you spot something lodged down your cat’s throat, don’t attempt to pull it because you could accidentally cause serious harm to the cat. Just leave this job for the vet.
5. Dental Disease
Not many cat owners know this, but dental disease is very common in felines. According to Cornell University, 50 to 90 percent of cats older than 4 years experience some type of dental disease.
The term “dental disease” refers to several minor and major disorders that can all lead to weird mouth movements if they’re neglected and left untreated. The good news is, most of the common forms of dental disease can be effectively prevented or treated with proper dental care.
This means that you can avoid or resolve such problems with regular visits to the vets and a tooth brushing routine at home. The following are the 4 most widespread forms of dental disease in cats:
In addition to making unusual mouth movements, symptoms of gingivitis include drooling and pawing at the mouth.
Gingivitis occurs when the gums surrounding your cat’s teeth get inflamed due to a buildup of plaque. The resulting inflammation can be rather painful to the point that your furry friend stops eating.
If left ignored/untreated and the gum irritation continues, gingivitis will develop into the next stage — periodontitis.
Unlike gingivitis that only affects the gums, periodontitis affects the bones and ligaments of your cat’s jaws as well. It gets even worse as this disease is irreversible and may lead to losing tooth support permanently.
This means that if left untreated, periodontitis could cause your pet’s teeth to start falling.
Another possible reason for your cat making weird mouth movements is a disorder called feline stomatitis. This is a serious condition characterized by the inflammation of the mucous membrane of the cat’s gums, mouth, and upper throat.
Stomatitis can cause extreme pain for your cat, resulting in trouble eating. Your cat may also start hissing or jumping when they meow, yawn, or are offered food as they know they’ll hurt.
Unfortunately, why stomatitis occurs in cats is still unclear, so there are no preventive measures to avoid the conditions.
Glossitis happens when your cat’s tongue gets inflamed. There’s a variety of possible reasons for this condition, but the most likely ones are:
- An infection or injury caused by a tough piece of food.
- Exposure to chemicals such as household cleaning products.
- An underlying disease. For example, diabetes.
- A sting or bite of an insect.
Signs that your feline pet may be suffering from glossitis include decreased appetite, drooling, as well as unusual movements of the mouth. You may also notice swelling after a couple of days, which can persist until the condition is treated.
6. Trauma to the Soft Tissue
People and cats share many similarities in this aspect. It’s common for us to accidentally bite our tongues or cheeks while eating, burn our lips or mouths when we get too excited to eat or drink hot stuff, or even get hit in the mouth when doing physical activities.
These incidents can result in trauma to the mouth’s soft tissues. Likewise, cats can experience the same issues that lead to tissue irritation.
For example, cats may also bite their tongues or cheeks while munching on food. They may run or flip into walls. In multi-cat households, cats could acquire such trauma during play.
Although cats don’t typically burn their mouths on hot drinks, they may get burnt from trying to eat some fresh-out-of-the-oven human food or from chewing on electrical cables.
Other than accidents, there’s a chance that your cat gets soft tissue trauma due to an actual fight with a rival animal or another cat outside. You shouldn’t forget that cats are quite territorial.
Luckily, in most cases, traumas to the soft tissue of the mouth will go away on their own. However, if your cat’s discomfort lasts for longer than a week or if you notice them starting to lose weight, a visit to the vet is necessary.
7. Face or Jaw Trauma
As with soft tissue trauma, your cat may be the victim of a recent face or jaw trauma, which could have a variety of reasons. A couple of common ones are accidents or fractured teeth.
In both these cases, the cat’s face or jaw can become very swollen and you should seek veterinary care right away.
There’s a good possibility that the bizarre mouth movements of your cat are caused by a previous trauma that has already healed. If your cat is a rescue, the likeliness of this is even higher due to being exposed to more harmful situations compared to house cats.
8. Congenital Jaw Abnormalities
As your cat grows, some jaw abnormalities may occur that can, later on, lead to an improper bite or alter the way the teeth fit together. Despite being rare, there’s a chance that such abnormalities are the culprit behind the weird mouth movements of your cat.
Your cat may end up with an overbite where the upper jaw extends out beyond the lower jaw, just like in humans. Alternatively, your cat may develop an underbite where the lower jaw extends out farther than the upper jaw.
The good news is, neither of these conditions affects the health of your feline pet and they’ll simply learn to live with their misaligned teeth. Chances are you’re just now catching the issue and the consequent odd mouth movements.
9. Oral Tumors
Your feline pet may be suffering from oral tumors that lead to discomfort, which forces them to move their mouths in odd ways to be able to work around the tumors. Typically, cats can get two types of oral tumors:
- Fibromas or benign tumors — these may appear around the gums and lips, but they usually won’t spread to other spots. Typically, these tumors aren’t dangerous unless they become so large that they interrupt the normal eating and other oral behaviors of your cat.
- Fibrosarcomas or malignant tumors — these, on the other hand, are the tumors you should be concerned about because they’re more aggressive and tougher on your cat. They typically cause drooling, bad breath, and decreased appetite. They’re also likely to require surgical removal.
10. Feline Orofacial Pain Syndrome
Your cat’s bizarre mouth gestures could be the result of a pain disorder called feline orofacial pain syndrome (FOPS). Rare but possible, this condition causes pain in varying degrees in a cat’s mouth and often manifests in oral discomfort and teeth or tongue mutilation.
Cats suffering from this disorder can experience persistent or periodic pain in their mouths that’s usually concentrated on a certain side and often triggered by mouth movement.
Depending on how bad it hurts, this pain can lead to strange mouth movements including excessive chewing, exaggerated licking, and even pawing at the mouth.
The tricky thing about FOPS is that it involves nerve misfiring and causes weird mouth movements similar to a bunch of other oral conditions, so it’s pretty difficult to diagnose.
Although it’s relatively uncommon in house cats that live in low-stress conditions, upper respiratory infections can, unfortunately, be quite frequent in felines living in shelters.
This disease is comparable to our colds and also leads to sneezing, sore throat, and congestion. Like cold in humans, its severity in cats can widely vary.
Sometimes, the congestion can develop to a point where it’s harder for the cat to breathe through the nose, and so, they breathe through their mouth. However, most cats won’t keep this up for a long time; they’ll just do it for short periods.
If you know that your cat suffers from an infection in the upper respiratory tract (for example, nasal polyps) and they’re making weird mouth movements, it’s likely they’re breathing through the mouth. If your pet is congested enough, you can probably hear these breaths.
In this case, the movement you’ll notice is the opening and closing of the mouth in a gulping-like action. If this is what you’re observing, be sure to contact your vet as soon as possible.
To sum up, there are several potential reasons behind a cat making weird mouth movements including cat chatter, the Flehmen response, panting, something stuck in their mouth, dental disease, trauma, jaw abnormalities, oral tumors, congestion, and feline orofacial pain syndrome.
Today’s guide can help you pinpoint the exact culprit so you can better understand your feline friend’s behavior.