Why Does My Dog Keep Making Chewing Motions?

dog chewing at nothing

When a dog makes a chewing motion, it usually isn’t a huge cause for concern. In most cases, they simply have food caught in their teeth or a foreign object in their mouth. However, in rare cases, it could be a sign of cognitive dysfunction. It’s best to take your dog to the vet for a quick checkup.

Dogs can’t tell us when something’s wrong, so we have to be on the lookout for signs of unusual behavior to tell us when something’s going on. If a dog keeps making chewing motions, for example, there can be several potential reasons.

Why Do Dogs Make Chewing Motions?

Most of the time, a dog making a chewing motion isn’t a huge cause for concern. However, it can sometimes be a sign of a serious issue.

Food Caught in Teeth

The most common reason for a dog to make chewing motions when she’s not eating is because she’s got something caught in her teeth. This is especially likely if it happens only occasionally, usually after a meal.

If it resolves itself quickly, it’s nothing to worry about. But if she really seems to be struggling with it, take a look in her mouth to see if you can help remove the food.

Foreign Object in Mouth

Along the same lines as having food caught in her teeth, your dog may be making chewing motions in an effort to dislodge a foreign object embedded in her mouth.

If your dog is a big chewer and has just been outside, take a look to make sure she doesn’t have a small stick or anything caught in her mouth.

The most common places for foreign objects to lodge themselves are:

  • the roof of the mouth
  • under the tongue
  • between the cheek and the gums

Obviously, if this is the case, you’ll need to carefully remove the object or have a professional do so. Be sure to have a vet take care of it if:

  • the object is difficult to reach
  • trying to remove the object causes pain or bleeding
  • your dog is prone to biting

Foreign Object in Throat

A more serious situation resulting in a dog making chewing motions can be a foreign object lodged in the throat.

The chewing can be the dog’s attempt to dislodge the object or a sign of trouble breathing. This will often be accompanied by coughing and sometimes pawing at the face.

It’s important to act quickly if your dog is choking by performing the doggy Heimlich maneuver. Rushing him to the vet might take too long if he’s having difficulty breathing. Be sure to get on the phone with an emergency vet ASAP.

Nausea

Dogs experience nausea in much the same way that humans, with the gag reflex getting activated and salivation increasing.

This will sometimes result in the dog making chewing motions as she swallows the excess saliva. She might also be trying to rid herself of the sensation since dogs don’t like vomiting any more than humans do.

Dental Issues

Chewing the air can also be a sign of dental issues that are causing pain or discomfort.

If your dog regularly makes chewing motions, especially if she seems to have trouble eating, it’s a good idea to have a vet take a look and make sure she’s okay.

The most common dental issues that would result in chewing motions are:

  • chipped or cracked teeth
  • cavity or decay
  • gingivitis
  • loose tooth

Oral hygiene is just as important for dog health as it is for humans’, so make sure to brush your dog’s teeth regularly and have them checked annually by a professional.

Hair in Mouth

Food and sticks aren’t the only things that often find their way into dogs’ mouths – hair is another common culprit that causes chewing motions.

Imagine how annoying it is to get a hair caught in your mouth and to have no good way of getting it out. That’s basically what happens if hair (or stuffing from a toy) ends up in a dog’s mouth.

She’ll appreciate you helping her remove it.

Hair in the mouth is especially common for long-haired dogs, although they can pick up hair from anywhere

Bug Bite or Sting

Occasionally, chewing at nothing can be the result of a bug bite or sting, which is causing pain, numbness, or other discomfort.

If the chewing is going on for a long period of time, take a look and see if you can find any red or swollen areas that might indicate a bite.

Why Do Dogs Snap at the Air?

Sometimes, your dog might snap at the air as though catching a fly for seemingly no reason. Just like making chewing motions, this can be for several reasons.

Distemper

Canine distemper is a potentially deadly virus that’s unfortunately also very contagious. 

A few of the symptoms include:

  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Seizures (which often cause snapping at the air)

Fortunately, there’s a vaccine for distemper, so make sure to keep up to date on your dog’s shots to keep her from getting sick.

Seizures

As mentioned in the previous section on distemper, certain partial seizures (often referred to as “fly biting seizures”) can sometimes cause a dog to snap at the air as though catching a fly.

This will often be accompanied by:

  • licking the front legs
  • seeking out the owner for comfort

If you suspect that your dog is having seizures, a trip to the vet is in order.

Eye Issues

Humans are familiar with the idea of “floaters,” tiny black spots that sometimes pass across the field of vision. But have you ever thought about your dog getting them?

If a dog gets floaters (or suffers from certain eye disorders), she won’t know that her vision is playing tricks on her. In her opinion, there’s an insect nearby, invading her space.

This will cause her to reactively snap at the air, trying to catch the perceived insect.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to cognitive dysfunction, especially as they age.

Canine cognitive dysfunction is essentially what we would call dementia in humans and can result in strange behavior such as:

  • snapping at invisible flies
  • staring at walls
  • excessive tail chasing in older dogs
  • disorientation
  • unusual interaction with caretakers or other pets

If your dog suffers from this condition, ask your vet what you can do to make her more comfortable.

Digestive Issues

As we’ve seen, nausea can result in chewing motions, but other digestive upset can also result in chewing, as well as snapping at the air.

GI disorders in dogs can result in air snapping combined with excessive licking or lip-smacking, so keep an eye on your dog’s appetite and look out for other signs of discomfort.

Lip Smacking

Similar to chewing motions, but a little more subtle, is lip-smacking. Some of the most common reasons for lip-smacking are:

  • Dry mouth: usually caused by thirst or dehydration, occasionally by more serious conditions like diabetes
  • Excessive salivation: caused by hunger, some digestive disorders, or salivary gland issues
  • Anxiety or pain: lip-smacking is sometimes a self-soothing behavior
  • Seizures: some seizures cause lip-smacking

As with anything else, use common sense when trying to figure out why your dog is lip-smacking. If it’s excessive or accompanied by other symptoms, don’t hesitate to get her checked out by a professional right away.

Chewing Motions Are Usually No Cause For Concern

For the most part, occasional strange behavior like making chewing motions is no cause for concern. However, if it’s excessive or accompanied by other symptoms, it’s definitely a good idea to check with your vet.

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