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Why Does My Cat Yawn So Much?
Give or Take a Few...
Researchers, who apparently have a little too much time on their hands, have arrived at the following conclusion: the average cat yawns an estimated 109,500 times in its lifetime.
The next time you get together with friends, pull out that little factoid and offer it up as a trivia question: "What does the average cat do about 109,500 times between its birth and death?" I'll bet the first few answers will be, "...takes a breath," "has a heartbeat," or "scratches."
It will probably be a while before someone has had enough libation to stumble upon the correct answer. But when the correct guess is arrived at, you can launch into the following seminar on the yawn.
Dazzle Your Friends With Your Yawn Knowledge
Be the first on your block to earn a Certificate of Knowledge on yawning. You might not think so, but it's really an interesting subject. Lots of mammals yawn. Well, come to think of it, birds and fishes yawn, too. Humans sure do. We even yawn before we're bawn, er, born. And we always remark about how yawns are contagious. Well, they are.
Beyond being merely an anecdotal observation, it's known science. Researchers say it starts somewhere in the first five years of life. Ya think? Don't newborn babies yawn? Indeed, as I pointed out in the previous paragraph, humans yawn in utero.
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But anyway, back to why cats yawn. There are a number of theories, some sounding very medical and scientific, others sounding substantially less than those.
My faves are these two:
1. This theory speculates on a physiological event in which a low blood oxygen level signals the brain for a respiratory gas exchange.
The brain fires off an impulse that causes us to take a deep breath, which completes the gas exchange.
But a yawn, being more than just a deep breath, also stimulates the heart and the flow of oxygenated blood throughout the body.
A really wicked good yawn, which involves a long, lazy stretch, also stimulates many muscles to contract, boosting the vascular system.
2. I also like what I call the primal theory. Using an evolutionary theme, this particular theory holds that cats often yawn simply to bare their teeth.
And when cats yawn they do put on quite a show of dental accoutrements. This is meant to intimidate. Works for me.
Animals very often use their bodies to dissuade would be rivals or attackers. They'll puff their feathers up or adopt various postures to make themselves look larger, or otherwise like something you wouldn't want to mess with.
But, the yawn is significant body language to non-human primates.
In baboon troops, for example, the alpha male uses the yawn display to maintain the peace. Other apes, mainly chimps and gorillas, also do this. Lesser primates usually try to bluff with it.
Another theory suggests that cats yawn as a stress release mechanism i.e. the cat wants to eat, but the dog is standing over the food bowl. Two urges, hunger and survival, are in conflict. To deal with such stress, the cat yawns.
Not a very productive method for problem solving, is it?
Wife: "Honey, will you get the phone while I answer the doorbell?"
Then, of course, there are the usual theories: boredom and fatigue. We humans strongly associate those conditions with yawning. It would be easy to put animals in that category as well. I'd support the fatigue part, but I'm not too quick to support the boredom part.
While animals may or may not yawn when bored, we generally associate other behaviors with boredom in animals.
They'll engage in self-mutilation or environmentally destructive activity, or stereotypic behaviors such as pacing, swaying, head-bobbing, etc.
The bottom line is that we simply don't know why cats yawn. In fact, we simply don't know why we yawn.
I know I don't know why, but I've been yawning like crazy since I started writing this column. I hope you haven't been yawing reading it!
If you have, you're most likely just a little over tired. What you probably need is a short break followed by a brief nap and then a good night's sleep.
It would probably help to preface these with a healthy serving of some decadent, high calorie, low food value confection.