It’s easy to be offended when a cat yawns when it first sees you. This suggests that your presence bores the cat. In reality, cats yawn at owners for a number of reasons, many of which are highly complementary.
A cat will yawn if it feels comfortable and contented. The cat is expressing this relaxation to you, and it’s not easy to gain a cat’s trust. Cats yawn to feed oxygen to their brain. The cat is trying to stay alert, likely to spend time with you. Cats also yawn for attention and, of course, because they are feeling sleepy.
The average cat yawns once every hour. Exceptions occur when the cat first wakes up from a nap, when it will yawn and stretch. If the cat is yawning constantly, something may be amiss with its health.
Why Do Cats Yawn at You?
It’s quite common for a cat to yawn at the sight of a human. Try not to take this personally. Your cat is not usually expressing indifference to your presence. In fact, the opposite is usually true.
It’s also possible that a yawn is exactly what you’d expect. It’s no secret that cats spend most of their day sleeping, especially once older. If your cat has been active for a prolonged period, it will be feeling tired. It could just be a coincidence that your cat yawned when you looked at it.
Cat yawns can have a range of meanings. These are often behavioral quirks. Just be vigilant, ensuring that your cat is not yawning constantly.
Comfort And Confidence
The likeliest explanation for a cat yawning when it sees you is that it is expressing comfort. Cats will not yawn if they do not feel relaxed. To do so would send the wrong message. The cat worries that a competitor would see it as a soft touch.
If your cat walks up to you and yawns, it is informing you that it feels safe and secure. There is every chance that the cat has been waiting for your arrival. Now you are home, the cat feels that it can finally relax. It knows it will be fed, petted and played with.
Oftentimes, this yawn will be accompanied by other contended feline behaviors. These include:
When your cat expresses comfort, make it clear that it is wise to do so. Get down to your cat’s level and offer petting and verbal praise. This cements the belief that everything is fine and it can relax.
Cats yawn and stretch from the very moment they wake from sleep. The stretching has a simple explanation. The cat is working out any kinks in its body. The yawn is equally important to shake cobwebs from the cat’s mind.
When a cat yawns, it expels carbon dioxide from the body and takes in a deep lungful of oxygen. This oxygen reaches the brain and helps the cat stay alert. Essentially, your cat is yawning when it sees you so it can stay awake.
By yawning, the cat is giving itself another burst of energy. This means it will be able to play with you, eat and be groomed. Again, this is a complimentary yawn. It means the cat is fighting its natural instinct to doze in order to be in your company.
If you have ever been around somebody that yawns, you will likely yawn straight afterward. This is an involuntary reaction, born of our tribal natures. We are hardwired to show empathy to others by imitation. As natural imitators, cats do the same.
Cats do whatever humans do. If you eat, your cat will expect a snack. If you use the restroom, your cat will likely retreat to its litter tray. If you yawn, your cat will yawn immediately afterward. The cat is demonstrating compassion in its imitation.
Cats also yawn when other cats do so. The cat will even yawn if another pet, such as a dog, opens its mouth. Observational learning is key to felines, and they never stop aping the actions of others.
There could also be a survival instinct at play. Some experts believe that contagious yawning is a result of insecurity. When a human or animal sees somebody yawn, they worry that air is thin. The brain immediately reacts and takes in a lungful of oxygen, just in case. This theory is sound on paper but has yet to be proven.
If your cat is dozing and you pet it as you pass, it will likely yawn. This may be followed by a lazy swipe of the paw. The cat is expressing discontent at being disturbed.
If your cat is sleeping, try to leave it be. This is not always possible, as your cat may have chosen an inconvenient spot to nap. All the same, cats get cranky when disturbed.
The same applies if you get in a cat’s way while it is eating. This is the highpoint of the day for many pets. Your cat has been waiting patiently for its meal. It is not in any mood to be delayed any further.
This yawn is a demonstration of such grouchiness. It’s a subtle reminder that a cat has a mouthful of sharp teeth. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t even worry about apologizing. This was not an act of outright aggression. Just leave your cat to go about its business.
Some cats yawn for attention, especially if the behavior is followed by verbalization. The cat is trying to tell you something. It’s possible that the cat is bored and lacking stimulation. The yawn is a request for attention and play.
Your cat may also be announcing that it is tired. This is especially likely if you returned home later than usual. Cats know and understand when their routine is disturbed. If you are running behind schedule, the cat will inform you of this.
Upon sight of the yawn, attempt to get straight into a playtime with your cat. After this, provide the cat with its meal. After these activities, the cat will be ready to sleep. The yawn was a nudge in your direction to get to work.
Most feline yawns are based around behavior and communication. This only applies when the cat yawns sporadically or as a greeting, though. Constant yawning is a source of concern that must be monitored.
If your cat is yawning multiple times in an hour, consider whether it is unwell. There are three possible explanations for a cat yawning to excess.
If your cat is reluctant to close its mouth, it may be experiencing dental pain. Toothache and gum disease take many forms for cats. Some of the universal symptoms are:
- Loss of appetite
- Pawing at the face and mouth
- Drooling, especially from the side of the face
- Foul breath
- Inflamed, discolored gums
Dental pain will not go away by itself. Your cat will need a tooth cleaning, and possibly dental surgery. If it keeps yawning because closing the mouth is too painful, seek veterinary help.
Shortness of Breath
Monitor your cat’s breathing when it yawns. Does it appear to be breathing at a normal rate? Shortness of breath must never be ignored in cats. It is a sign that something is wrong.
The average cat takes between 24-48 breaths per minute. Obviously, if the cat has just exercised, it may breathe heavier. The resting breath rate should be within this range, though.
You can also check your cat’s pulse. You will find this below the armpit of your cat’s front-left leg. Count your heartbeats then multiply the total by 4.
A total between 140 and 220 heartbeats per minute is safe. Anything more or less suggests your cat is struggling. The yawning could be a side effect of this. One possible explanation is hypercapnia.
Hypercapnia is a condition in which the body contains too much carbon dioxide. If your cat is yawning constantly, this could be the reason. It is attempting to expel this CO2 and replace it with oxygen.
As explained by the Journal of Physiology, this will have a significant impact on a cat’s blood flow. Hyperventilating is also a frequent symptom. Naturally, this means that urgent treatment will be required. This may involve the use of an artificial ventilator.
Is My Cat Yawning?
When a cat yawns, it opens its mouth wide. You should be able to count every tooth in your cat’s mouth while it yawns. The action will also be silent. Is your cat yawning, or is something else occurring?
Ensure that your cat is not trying – and failing – to meow. What you took for a sleepy yawn could be a cry for help. Has your verbal cat recently been uncharacteristically quiet? Has its meow become raspy?
The cat may also be expressing the flehmen response. The vomeronasal organ is found in the back of a cat’s throat, below the nose. As per the Journal of Anatomy, this organ contains 44 different epitheliums. Cats use this complex organ to determine a new scent.
The cat may be opening its mouth as it is picking up a new aroma. This allows the scent to hit the vomeronasal organ. The cat can commit this smell to memory. The act can resemble yawning. The cat may also curl its upper lip and poke out its tongue.
Ensure that your cat is not frustrated and baring its teeth. The cat may be opening its mouth to act as a warning. This is typically the behavior of a tense or nervous feline. It is not confident enough to outright hiss or growl. All the same, it is issuing advice to back off.
If your cat yawns at you on sight, it typically means that it is happy to see you. The cat is expressing its relief that you’re home and it now feels safe. Just keep an eye on the behavior. If the cat spends more time yawning than not, something isn’t quite right.