Why does your cat yawn at you?

Cats do yawn. Maybe not that often, but there are many individual cats that do yawn a lot. If your cat yawns at you, does this mean they find you boring?

Well, that might be true, but the funny thing is that explanations for why cats yawn are not that different from the reasons why humans and several other animals yawn.

Cat yawning at his owner who did not let him sleep
Photo by Tambako The Jaguar, cc

Yawning is an involuntarily action. That is, the one yawning cannot help but yawn. You likely know that form your own experience.

Here is a list of possible reasons why scientists think that cats yawn:

  • Cats yawn to intake more air. Yawning allows the intake of a larger amount of air in one inhalation. There may, however, be several reasons why cats do this, as you will find out below. If your cat is yawning excessively, a vet visit must be considered.
  • Cats may yawn to stay alert. When an animal is tired and sleepy, but, for some reason, must remain awake (like a cat waits for a late meal to be served), they may yawn to stay alert. That is, when cats starts to fade in a sleep, they can yawn to give their brain a “restart.” There are several explanations why yawning helps to stay alert. For example, the body and brain cools down with the air intake and also receives extra extra. Additionally, cat may stay alert because he pays attention to the yawning itself.
  • Cats may yawn due to boredom. This is the same as for us. When we are bored, we yawn. Unlike humans, though, cats probably won’t use yawning in a sarcastic way to show someone that they are boring, but cats do yawn due to boredom. This might be closely tied with the previous point, simply because it is harder to stay alert when you are bored.
  • Cats may yawn in order to communicate. A yawning cat may show a relaxed mood to other cats. However, cats use their body language as a whole, and yawning alone would not tell others anything unless paired with something else. For example, if you look at still pictures of a cat hissing and a cat yawning, the mouth in both cases would appear the same. But if you pay attention to the state of the ears and whiskers, you would notice that the cat who is yawning has their ears and whiskers positioned sideways or slightly forward, instead of backwards or downwards as in case of an angry cat. You can learn more about cats’ body language here.
  • Cats may yawn because it’s contagious. There is scientific proof that if you see someone yawning, you may soon start doing it yourself; yawning is contagious. We can assure you that researching and writing this article made us yawn a lot. Did you yawn while reading it? There is also a study that shows that human yawns are contagious for dogs. While we did not find similar research done on cats, we cannot think of a reason why cats would be different.

So, here’s a challenge for you today. Go to your cat, yawn right in their face, and see if you can get them to replicate you. Maybe they will become bored and will yawn back at you.

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