Everything you Need to Know About Why Cats Yawn

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A brown cat relaxing next to a yawning orange cat

Table of Contents

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.

A big cat yawn

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.

A cat yawning

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.

A compilation of cat yawns!

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.

A big yawn from a seated cat

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.

A white cat yawning

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.

A lion shows off huge teeth with a big yawn

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.

A tabby cat yawning

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.

Are yawns contagious for cats?

When humans see other humans yawn, it makes us yawn. Yawning is contagious! But can we spread our yawns to our cat? It turns out, we can’t! Cats don’t yawn when they see people yawn. Next question: can a cat yawning make a human yawn? Well, have you yawned yet looking at all these pictures of cats yawning? I know I have 🥱.

A huge, jaw-stretching cat yawn
A sleepy cat yawn
A kitten showing off tiny teeth mid-yawn
A relaxed cat yawning
A toothy feline yawn
A small cat in the middle of a big yawn
A cat in the middle of a gigantic yawn
A bicolor cat giving a giant yawn
A tiger subtly showing off his chompers with a big yawn
A huge cat yawn
A kitten giving a huge, relaxing yawn
A kitten stretching and yawning
A yawning cat
Why do cats yawn

Kelsey Madison

Kelsey Madison is a cat lover, fostering enthusiast, part time vet tech & writer. She has fostered close to 300 animals over the last 10+ years, and currently has 3 beautiful tabby cats who love to stick their faces in her morning lattes. She is passionate about helping others develop a deeper understanding of their beloved felines and learn more about fostering.