Why exactly do we—cats, humans, and other species—yawn? Why, without thinking about it, do we fully open our mouths, partly close our eyes, take a deep breath, and then exhale? Scientists aren't sure, but the following slides explore some ideas about why cats may yawn.
Cats are often seen to yawn as they're getting ready to go to sleep. It's possible that the act of yawning can be relaxing and let the brain know that it's time to settle down and rest.
Like humans, cats often yawn when they first wake up. They usually stretch their backs out and do some scratching to stretch their toes, feet, and legs after a good nap (this is why it's a great idea to have a scratching post available near your cat's favorite beds). Yawning may be a way for cats to stretch their jaw and face muscles, too.
Cats and humans may be prone to yawning when cooling down after energetic activity. This may be the result of a decreased oxygen level in the blood triggering the body to take a deep breath to replenish it, re-energizing taxed muscle tissues.
Cats sometimes yawn as a way to peacefully end a standoff with another cat or other animal, as if to say "whatever." This may also be a subtle show of dominance because it's a way of showing teeth without escalating the situation by snarling.
Cats may sometimes yawn out of boredom. So if your cat is yawning quite a bit while in your company, it's good to be sure that you're providing him with plenty of enriching, interactive stimulation such as daily play sessions with wand and mouse toys.
When one human yawns, it often triggers others in the room to do the same. Some people have reported that when they yawn, their feline companions occasionally yawn as well, in copycat fashion. Interspecies sympathetic yawning may indicate a close connection between fellow yawners.
Cats are often observed to yawn when they are nervous or uneasy. This may be because they are predators by nature and, therefore, don't like to show fear. Yawning may discharge some nervous energy while also displaying the cat's teeth, just in case.
Among humans, simply talking about yawning can produce yawns, so by now you may be generating some of your own. Come to think of it, perhaps there's a kitty around who feels like cuddling and joining you for a catnap.