What does a cat yawn mean? It can be hard to decipher our pet’s behavior, but there are a few common theories about cat yawns.
Some people believe cats yawn when they are relaxing. Others suggest it could have more practical purposes, such as to increase intracranial circulation and brain cooling.
Yawning in cats is also commonly seen as a stress signal, often known as a displacement behavior.
Let’s take a closer look at the most common explanations about what a cat yawn means, and why cats yawn so much.
Do Cats Yawn?
If you own a cat, it’s likely that you’ve seen them yawning from time to time. Sometimes it might actually seem like they’re yawning at you.
All mammals are known to yawn. So, it shouldn’t surprise you to see your pet kitty doing it every now and again.
We know that cats do yawn, but what’s more of a mystery is what a cat yawn means.
There are plenty of studies out there investigating the topic, but most conclude that further research is required.
Cat Body Language
Cat’s can’t speak to us to tell us what they’re thinking, or what they want. Instead, they use complex body language and vocalisations, like meows and purrs.
So, it’s natural that we’ll want to learn what a cat yawn means. Especially if your cat seems to yawn at you.
Learning about cat body language can help to improve the way we interact with our cats.
Let’s find out more about what a cat yawn might mean.
What Does a Cat Yawn Mean?
There are plenty of studies looking at the causes of yawns in humans, dogs, cats, and other animals. But, there are a number of competing theories.
Some people believe that cats use yawning behaviors to help them relax.
One study suggested it has a more practical purpose. It suggested that yawning has a neurophysiological function to increase intracranial circulation and brain cooling.
But, another suggests it is to do with emotional arousal levels. This study suggests that mammals use yawning to maintain or increase their arousal levels when the surrounding environment provides little or no stimulation.
So, perhaps cats yawn because they are bored!
Another key theory focuses on yawning as a stress signal. We will look at this in more depth in just a moment.
Do Cats Yawn When They’re Tired?
It’s a common picture – your cat wakes up in the morning, has a lovely big stretch, arches their back, and yawns before trotting over to their bowl for breakfast.
Lots of owners find that it’s more common to see their cat yawning in the morning than in the evening.
This suggests that our cats aren’t necessarily yawning just because they’re tired. If this was the case, surely we would see them yawning whenever they were going to sleep!
It’s unlikely that your cat is yawning because they’re stressed first thing in the morning.
Perhaps the reason is as some studies suggest, for neurophysiological purposes. Or, maybe your cat just enjoys having a good stretch and yawn when they first wake up.
Do Cats Yawn When They’re Stressed?
It’s entirely possible that our cats yawn when they are feeling stressed out by something.
In fact, several studies list yawning as a stress signal for cats.
It’s also possible that cat’s use yawning as a displacement behavior. A displacement behavior occurs when a cat is stuck between two conflicting motivations.
Perhaps your cat wants to do something, but feels threatened by something else, so is conflicted about performing the action.
If this happens, your cat may yawn as a displacement behavior. Studies believe displacement behaviors are a way to dissipate energy from conflicting motivations.
Grooming is another common displacement behavior in cats.
Why Does My Cat Yawn So Much?
Usually, yawning is nothing to worry about. In general it is a completely harmless behavior.
But, if you notice that your cat seems to be having any problems with its jaw – such as struggling to close it fully after yawning, you should take them to the vet to see what the problem is.
And, as we’ve learnt, cats may yawn when they are feeling stressed, as a displacement behavior.
So, if your cat suddenly starts yawning a lot more than normal, it’s possible they’re feeling stressed out by something in your home.
Check if there are any obvious things that might be stressing out your cat, or if there are other signs of stress.
You can try to reduce yawning from stress by making your cat’s environment feel as comfortable and safe as possible.
Why Does My Cat Yawn At Me?
Because we can only guess and theorise reasons that cats yawn, we can only guess why cats might yawn at their owners.
Studies have suggested that cats have developed behaviors like a slow blink because humans appear to perceive them as positive.
So, perhaps the same is true of yawning.
You shouldn’t worry too much if your cat yawns a lot around you. Perhaps it only seems this way because you only pay attention to your cat’s yawns when they are near you or facing you.
And it could just be a sign that your cat feels relaxed around you.
What Does a Cat Yawn Mean? A Summary
So, as you can see, there are lots of suggestions to answer the question: what does a cat yawn mean?
Studies suggest it may have a practical purpose, or it could be a more emotional response, such as a displacement behavior.
But, most times, yawning is nothing to worry about in your cat.
What do you think a cat yawn could mean?
References and Resources
- Gallup, A. (et al), ‘Yawn Duration Predicts Brain Weight and Cortical Neuron Number in Mammals’, Biology Letters (2016)
- Provine, R. ‘Yawning: The Yawn is Primal, Unstoppable and Contagious, Revealing the Evolutionary and Neural Basis of Empathy and Unconscious Behavior’, American Scientist (2005)
- Aghishian, A. ‘Contagious Yawning in the Domestic Cat (Felis Catus)’, School of Arts & Sciences Theses (2019)
- Vitale Shreve, K. & Udell, M. ‘What’s Inside Your Cat’s Head? A Review of Cat (Felis Silvestris Catus) Cognition Research Past, Present and Future’, Animal Cognition (2015)
- Baenninger, R. ‘On Yawning and its Functions’, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (1997)
- Merola, I. (et al), ‘Social Referencing and Cat – Human Communication’, Animal Cognition (2015)
- O’Malley, C. ‘Cat Body Language: The Way Your Cat Communicates’, Petozy (2019)
- Breed, M. & Moore, J. ‘Homeostasis and Time Budgets’, Animal Behavior (Second Edition), (2016)
- Humphrey, T. (et al), ‘The Role of Cat Eye Narrowing Movements in Cat-Human Communication’, Scientific Reports (2020)
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