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Why Does My Cat Yawn So Much? When to Worry (Vet Answer)

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By Dr. Lindsay Bisset

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Dr. Lindsay Bisset

BVSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Yawning is an involuntary reflex that consists of an opening of the mouth with the maximal widening of the jaw, a with a long and deep inhalation through the mouth and nose, followed by a slow expiration. Yawning is increased before and after sleeping.

Felines spend a large amount of their time sleeping cats sleep up to 15 hours a day, so it is common to see them yawning. Yawning is associated with a feeling of comfort or tiredness, or your cat might just be relaxed or sleepy.

To date, there is not much information on the exact physiological reasons for this reflex. Some of the theories and studies suggest that:

  • It induces brain activation. Alertness is increased after yawning episodes by the mechanical compression of chemoreceptors (the carotid bodies) resulting in the release of hormones, such as adenosine and catecholamines.
  • It helps with thermoregulation through several mechanisms, one of them is the air exchange and the other is the pushing of blood to peripheral veins to help release excess heat.
  • It helps regulate the ear pressure by contraction and release of internal ear structures, in this way, it helps release ear discomfort.

For years, it was believed that yawning helped with oxygenation through the release of carbon dioxide and the inhalation of oxygen; however, recent studies have proved that to be false.

cat sitting on grass and yawning
Image Credit: lam vika, Pixabay

So, Is It Normal That My Cat Yawns So Much?

The answer to this question is that yawning is considered normal and common behavior in cats. However, if you have noticed that the yawning behavior has increased in frequency, this might be indicating something else is going on. If you have noticed that lately that your cat yawns more than they used to, it is better to take your cat for a veterinary check and rule out the possibility of a medical issue.

What Medical Problems Cause a Cat to Yawn More?

1. Periodontitis / Oral Issues

Cats that are feeling pain in any of the structures of the oral cavity might increase the yawing behavior in an attempt to deal with the discomfort. Cats suffering from periodontitis or feline oral stomatitis have been known to increase yawning behavior. Take an opportunity to visually inspect the mouth when their is wide open during a yawn. If you see any obvious signs such as redness or inflammation, definitively take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Other signs that might accompany the yawing due to a medical issue in the oral cavity are:

  • Painful vocalization during yawning
  • Halitosis or bad breath
  • Drooling, especially if saliva is smelly or has a weird color
  • Your cat seems to have a difficult time eating, takes longer to swallow, vocalizes, or simply refuses to eat
cat yawning
Image Credit: Piqsels

2. Parasites, Allergies, or Infections

Your cat might be trying to deal with discomfort and pain in the ear canal by yawning. Otitis externa in cats can be caused by fungi, bacteria, and parasitic infestation of mites, ticks, or fleas. It could also be secondary to allergy to food, pollens, dust, drug, or dandler. Some of the other signs shown by cats with Otitis might be:

  • Head shaking
  • Ear scratching
  • Smelly ears
  • Signs of ear pain
  • Abnormal waxy discharge
  • Head tilting

The veterinarian needs to examine the ear canal and might also collect samples to reach an accurate diagnosis and prescribe your cat the appropriate treatment. It is very important to follow the veterinarian’s prescriptions precisely and to keep your cat under observation during the treatment. Never stop treatment beforehand, as otitis can become recurrent and more difficult to treat.

Final Thoughts

Yawning is a normal behavior in cats. They might do it when feeling relaxed or sleepy, to gently become more alert, or they might be trying to thermoregulate. It is somehow normal to notice slightly increased yawning when the weather is warmer.  However, if you have noticed that your cat keeps yawning continuously, it might be an indication of a medical issue.  Several mouth and ear medical conditions can be associated with an increase of the yawning behavior in cats. They are trying to deal with pain and discomfort. If you notice your cat is yawning more than, usual bring them to the veterinarian as early as possible to rule out or treat any underlying medical issue.

Featured Image Credit: Jacqueline VERIN, Pixabay

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