Most fur parents agree that they love their feline companions all the more for their oddly amusing behaviors. From head bumping to crazy cat zoomies, their unpredictable natures tend to leave everyone smiling.
One of these strange behaviors you might notice is when Fluffy starts making weird mouth movements as if she is chewing on air. A cat’s predatory nature is the likely culprit here, but there are several other possible reasons behind the strange mouth twitching.
If you are curious to know more, then read on!
Why is your cat making weird mouth movements?
If your cat has you baffled by her weird mouth movements, it could be due to any of the following:
1. Cat chattering
Have you noticed your furry friend making strange chirping sounds while staring at the birds outside your window? You might find it weird, but there is nothing to worry about – this is just an ingrained response dictated by your cat’s predatory instinct!
Chattering, chirping, or twittering is your cat’s natural response when she sees potential prey nearby. She will make odd mouth movements as if chewing really quickly, while also making high-pitched chattering sounds. You might also notice her pupils dilate, eyes widen, and ears tilt forward.
According to animal behavior experts, cats do this when their hunting instincts kick in – their dopamine or adrenaline is increased as they concentrate hard on the creature in front of them. Cats might also chatter out of frustration if they are not able to reach their prey, such as when they have a pane of glass separating them from a visible bird or rodent.
It is also possible for your cat to chatter during play when she is titillated by a moving toy or other small objects that mimic prey. For example, many cats chatter over a laser pointer when they are frustrated at not being able to catch and pounce on the little red dot. That is why, when you are done teasing Fluffy, you should always provide her with a physical toy to bite and paw at, to give her a sense of accomplishment. Otherwise, the lack of closure can be mentally torturing for your poor friend!
2. Flehmen response
From time to time you might see cute and funny videos of cats opening their mouths for a few seconds, as if in a state of shock or feeling disgust. This behavior is called the Flehmen response, otherwise infamously termed “cat stink face.” But why does Fluffy do this?
First of all, when your cat has a Flehmen response, it does not mean she is disgusted – it simply means she has found a smell that interests her! It might be a familiar pheromone scent she has picked up in her surroundings, such as on your dirty laundry or in a certain location marked by another cat. When your feline exhibits the Flehmen response, she is analyzing the scent and wants to investigate further. If you have been outside and have interacted with other cats, your cat will know it right away!
So how do you know if your cat is having a Flehmen response? One common sign is a sneer or a grimace-like look. Here, the cat opens her mouth for a few seconds while her upper lip is curled up. Cats do this to collect the scent they are interested in and pass it to a special organ found at the back of their mouth – Jacob’s organ.
Basically, then, when your cat’s interest is piqued by an interesting smell, she is smelling at the same time as tasting the scent, for a deeper analysis. By opening her mouth, she can use Jacob’s organ to fully capture the scent from the environment.
Upper respiratory infections in cats can appear a bit similar to the human common cold – you will notice a stuffy nose, sneezing, and discharge from the eyes and nose. Depending on the severity of the infection, they can also suffer from congestion, leading to open-mouthed breathing.
Aside from respiratory infections, open-mouthed breathing in cats can also indicate other respiratory problems such as asthma, pleural effusion (an accumulation of fluid around the lungs), or parasites in the lungs and heart.
So, if you notice your furry friend struggling to breathe while making weird mouth movements, you must take her to the vet for immediate relief and proper treatment.
4. Foreign object stuck in the mouth
Cats are curious creatures, and they might occasionally find something extra-interesting as they explore your home. It could be a string, some aluminum foil, or a bottle cap on your kitchen countertop. Unfortunately, some of these tiny objects might end up in your cat’s mouth and could cause a life-threatening blockage in her throat.
If your cat is gagging and pawing at her mouth, it is likely that something is stuck in her throat. In this case, you need to go to your vet right away. If the cat is choking and showing signs of distress, apply the feline Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the foreign object.
Other objects that can become stuck in your cat’s mouth are kibbles and hairballs. With a few mouth motions, your cat should be able to expel these on her own. However, if she fails to do so after a couple of tries, she will probably need your help. That said, never attempt to pull out anything that is lodged in your cat’s throat as this can be dangerous. Instead, take her to the nearest veterinary clinic immediately.
Seeing your cat panting can be alarming because, unlike their canine counterparts, cats do not usually pant. And, when they do, they will not usually make much noise.
Cats pant when they feel extremely stressed or overheated, such as if they are anxious in new surroundings, or after an energetic play session in hot weather. These situations are not medical emergencies – your cat probably just needs a break to cool down. However, if the panting behavior comes with other symptoms such as difficulty breathing, it could be a sign of other serious health problems.
If your cat frequently makes weird mouth movements while panting, you need to consider visiting the vet for a proper diagnosis.
6. Misaligned teeth
Although congenital jaw abnormalities are quite rare in cats, there is a chance that they could be behind certain weird mouth movements.
Jaw abnormalities are often not visible during kittenhood, only becoming more obvious as the cat continues to grow. Then, you will start to notice a misalignment of the teeth that prohibits proper biting and causes discomfort to your furry pal. The cat can develop an overbite, wherein her upper teeth extend beyond the lower teeth, or an underbite, wherein the lower teeth extend further than the upper teeth.
Misaligned teeth, or malocclusion, may be hereditary or caused by a mouth injury. While most bite malocclusions do not need treatment, there are certain methods available if you want to correct your cat’s teeth misalignment. However, chances are your furry friend will learn to live comfortably with her misaligned jaw and will certainly not care about the aesthetics.
7. Dental problems
Several diseases of the teeth and gums are extremely common in cats. About 50 to 90 percent of felines above the age of four will likely suffer from dental disorders, ranging from periodontitis to feline gingivitis. Cats with such diseases can experience inflammation and discomfort, and this could cause some weird mouth movements.
Fortunately, most of these dental problems can be treated and also avoided with proper dental care. However, if neglected for too long, dental disease can severely affect your pet’s quality of life.
Some of the most common dental problems in cats include periodontitis, gingivitis, glossitis, and stomatitis. The severity of these diseases can vary, but they all cause pain and discomfort to your furry friend.
8. Oral tumors
Are you seeing an unusual lump in your cat’s mouth? While it is completely understandable for cat parents to be alarmed upon finding a mass inside their pet’s mouth, in most cases it should not cause you serious concern. Such swelling or enlargement can be linked to a simple infection or inflammation that can be resolved with appropriate treatments.
However, as we all know, cats are masters at hiding their pain. If anything grows inside their mouth, they would generally be able to conceal it until the mass becomes very large and painful. If your cat’s strange mouth movements become regular, it might be worth checking for any abnormal masses inside her mouth.
Taking a biopsy sample is the only sure method for a vet to determine whether a cat’s oral tumor is benign or malignant. With a proper diagnosis, you can work with your vet to decide on an appropriate treatment plan to give your furry pal the best quality of life.
9. Feline orofacial pain syndrome
Feline orofacial pain syndrome, or FOPS, is a pain disorder in cats that causes oral discomfort, leading to strange movements of the mouth such as excessive pawing at the mouth and chewing.
Cats suffering from FOPS can experience different levels of pain, which might appear on a specific side of the mouth. Aside from the oral pain triggered by mouth movements, eating, and grooming, FOPS can also damage the tongue, further increasing your cat’s suffering.
Unfortunately, the cause of FOPS is unknown, but most experts believe the condition could be linked to oral disease. Some cat breeds, such as Burmese, are also at higher risk of developing FOPS, so there is also a chance that the disease is genetic.
10. Facial injuries
Recent injuries or previous traumas to the face or jaw might also be behind your cat’s bizarre mouth movements. If your furry companion comes from a rescue shelter, it is possible that she has been exposed to an accident in the past: perhaps she fell from a height, got into a fight, or got hit by a speeding car.
Aside from such traumatic incidents, your cat could also have a swollen jaw due to fractured teeth. This can be unbearably painful, causing difficulty eating and grooming.
If you suspect your pet has mouth injuries, talk to your vet to determine the best treatment approach. Pain medications will likely be prescribed to manage the pain, as well as treatments or surgeries to correct the fractures.
11. Injuries to the soft tissue of the mouth
Cats, like us, have delicate soft tissue in their mouths that can really hurt when injured. They can injure their cheeks, gums, or lips while playing with other pets or chewing random things they find in the house, such as electrical cables. And, just like their human companions, they might also accidentally bite their cheeks or tongues while eating.
Outdoor cats are also likely to sustain injuries from cat fights or road accidents, which is why some owners prefer not to let their cats roam outdoors.
Soft-tissue traumas can cause temporary lacerations, bleeding, and puncture wounds that will need time to heal on their own. However, if the injury lasts longer than a week and severely affects your cat’s health, you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
12. Tooth removal
Routine feline dental care can include the removal of a tooth, and for a cat, this can feel a bit strange, leading to unusual mouth movements. It can also cause changes in the position of her teeth, so it might take some time for your furry friend to adjust.
Unless it severely impacts your cat’s life, temporary discomfort in her mouth after a dental cleaning or tooth extraction should not cause serious concern.
When to worry about your cat’s weird mouth movements
Your cat’s strange mouth movements are generally nothing to worry about. If you find her mouth twitching while chattering at the birds through your window or smelling your dirty laundry, she is probably perfectly fine.
However, if the mouth movements are accompanied by signs of pain or distress, it is always a good idea to give your vet a call. Cats are excellent at concealing their pain and you might not realize the severity of underlying health issues unless they are properly diagnosed. Early intervention is also critical for a full and speedy recovery, so you need to be aware of subtle symptoms, be it simple mouth twitching or a sudden behavioral shift.
Wrapping it up
Cats sometimes exhibit some weird mouth movements, and this can be for several reasons. While most mouth twitches are considered normal, this behavior can also indicate pain or discomfort. If your furry pal is frequently displaying this odd behavior along with other symptoms such as eating problems, abnormal lumps in the gums, or weight loss, it is best to contact your vet as soon as possible.
Image: istockphoto.com / Domepitipat