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Why Does My Cat Yawn So Much?

Updated on October 22, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

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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.

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.

Source

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?"

Husband: "Yawn."

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.

Source

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,either.

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Or maybe that's where your dog learned her unprintable language!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      It would make a great video if I could shoot it without worrying about my dog!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      I'll bet it's a comical sight watching your tegu, reared up on hind legs, chasing your dog!

      Our tegu was extremely docile, which made him a good education animal. We always presented him to visitors for petting tail-first, though, in case he got frightened and lashed out. He never did.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      I think his only hobby is laying on the concrete, in the sun! Good reason to yawn. He can run on his hind legs, but only for a few feet, which is not so impressive. As you know, they are normally mellow and easy to handle, but if he gets upset at my dog he will charge and lift up so he is only running on his back legs. My dog runs away, of course. Since their bite is similar to being cut with a razor blade, she is wise to do so.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Doc, sounds like your tegu needs a hobby or something...or maybe it's the company LOL :) I'm familiar with tegus, as a matter of fact! In the 90s, when I served as a docent at our zoo, we had a number of education animals, including a tegu. I brought him into many a classroom or library. Is it true that tegus can run on their hind legs like a collared lizard? I never saw ours attempt that. Thanks for stopping by...always good to have you comment. Regards, Bob

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Just more FYI, since I know you are the curious type--in the mornings, when I open my tegu´s cage (he is a large species of lizard, about 3 ft long) he goes into the sun, settles down on the warm concrete, and yawns. I don´t try to count the yawns during the rest of the day!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks, Eddy, I appreciate your visit and comment. Regards, Bob

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      A great hub.

      Eddy.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Yep - it would be better paid than the day job!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      If you had a pence for each one, it would amount to a king's ransom would it not, Nettlemere? Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      If anyone out there is will to pay me for counting how many times a day my cat yawns, I'm up for it!