Snakes and fish do it. Cats and dogs do it. Even human babies do it inside the womb. Yawning isn’t exactly odd or bizarre but did you ever wonder why anyone, particularly animals, yawn?
Cats’ yawns are more dramatic than human yawns because they can open their mouths wider (and show off those impressive fangs). One benefit of yawning, though probably not its primary purpose, is that it provides a gentle, relaxing stretch of the jaw muscles. Cats often yawn when transitioning between sleep and alert states.
Cats and humans may also be prone to yawning when cooling down after energetic activity. Sometimes cats yawn as a way to peacefully end a standoff with another cat or other animal, as if to say “whatever,” possibly serving as a subtle show of dominance. But why do cats, humans, and other species yawn in the way we do? Benjamin Hart, DVM, PhD, DACVB, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of California–Davis said that while the common belief is that yawning expands the lungs and oxygenates the brain, many animals yawn without low oxygen levels. The leading hypothesis is that yawning cools the brain. During inactivity, cerebral circulation slows and the brain warms up. Yawning cools arterial blood flow via the nasal countercurrent veins, and thus cools off the brain, allowing it to function better.
Some people have reported that when they yawn, their feline companions occasionally yawn as well, in copycat fashion. (No pun intended!) Interspecies sympathetic yawning may indicate a close connection between fellow yawners. In fact, a recently study found that yawns are contagious between humans and dogs and that contagious yawning in dogs is thought to develop much in the same way it does with us humans – it appears after puppyhood (or with humans after about age 4 or 5). Among humans, simply talking about yawning can produce yawns.
With that being said, excuse me, *YAWN*. I’m ready for a catnap.
Why do animals yawn? Why do cats eat grass? and more. Presented by Dr. Benjamin Hart. 2010 AVMA’s annual convention (Atlanta, GA). http://westwoodanimalhospital.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Why-do-animals-yawn-Why-do-cats-eat-grass-and-more-from-AAHA.pdf