Why do cats yawn?
Cats yawn for many of the same reasons humans do. Cats frequently yawn before or after sleep, to relax or to stretch and help them wake up. Yawning is also the equivalent of taking a big breath. Some cats may yawn due to excessive stress, or boredom. Cats may also yawn to communicate dominance.
Yawning for air
Cats may yawn when their bodies signal that they need more oxygen. A huge yawn expels excess carbon dioxide from the lungs, making room for extra fresh air and more oxygen. Humans only use about 70% of their lung capacity at any given time, meaning there is a certain amount of air that isn’t circulated with every breath.
Yawning due to tiredness
When cats are winding down to sleep, they may curl up into a ball or stretch their muscles. As they loosen their bodies, you may see your cats yawn as part of their relaxation routine. This is a familiar process, as tired humans also tend to yawn as we approach sleep.
Yawning upon waking
Upon waking, cats can be found doing a complicated series of stretches. They stretch their legs, feet, toes, back and neck. Cats will also stretch their jaws and face by doing a huge yawn.
Yawning for temperature regulation
Because cats do not sweat through their skin, their respiratory system plays an important role in regulating their temperature. Air is typically lower than body temperature, so breathing can help to cool overheated mammals. A big yawn could help a cat to regulate his temperature.
Yawning as a show of dominance
Felines who are comfortable and confident in a space will display relaxed behavior. Think of lions on a savanna: if the lions are not threatened by the presence of other animals, they may lounge, stretch, and yawn. Yawning widely has the additional impact of showing off long, sharp teeth to any spectators. This show of strength, ability, and confidence reinforces any feline’s position as a dominant predator, even if the kitty is much smaller than a lion.
Yawning as a sign of boredom
Just like in humans, yawning can be a sign that your cat is bored. Be sure to provide a stimulating environment for your cat. This can include a new climbing structure, stimulating cat toys, or a human, feline, or canine companion.
Do cats yawn when stressed?
Cats may exhibit a number of behaviors when stressed. Yawning may or may not be one of these behaviors. If you notice that your cat is yawning excessively, you may want to consider factors causing your cat stress. Excessive yawning can be a sign of concern in some felines, as is rapid, shallow, labored, or noisy breathing. Contact your vet if you are concerned about your cat’s lung health.