Sunday 7 August 2022

Can cats "catch" yawns from each other?

Both domestic and wild cats can "catch" a yawn from each other. However, domestic cats don't, it seems, catch a yawn from their owner. The information comes from a research paper which is published online and from personal experience. And there is a video on the website of a mother cat yawning and her kitten immediately following the behaviour (see below).

Yawns are contagious between cats but must they be related?
Yawns are contagious between cats, but must they be related? Image: MikeB from Twitter images from the account of Twitter user @nanao_ssan.

With respect to cats, the question that I have is whether the yawn is contagious between unrelated domestic, stray or feral cats or whether it is confined to related cats and even mothers and their kittens. The point is not clear to me at this time. Yawns are certainly contagious between mothers and kittens. I think they are contagious between related cats or at least cats who are close associates or friends but beyond that it is unclear, and I doubt whether it exists.

Yawning is due to boredom or fatigue and if a human copies another human yawning it performs a social function. It is a form of empathy stating that they agree that they are bored and or tired. The question is whether when cats 'catch' a yawn, they perform the same social function. I suspect that they do.

There is a difference between dogs and cats in this regard. It's been found that yawns are contagious between people and their dog companions. In other words, when a dog owner yawns their dog might follow and yawn as well. This difference is probably based upon the fact that a dog considers their human family a pack in the same way that the dog's ancestor, the grey wolf, follows the alpha wolf and perhaps occasionally catches a yawn from them.

: This is an embedded video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source, or the video is turned into a link which would stop it working here. I have no control over this.

The research paper referred to: Contagious Yawning in the Domestic Cat (Felis catus) by Ariel Lombardo Aghishian submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Animal Behaviour and Conservation, Hunter College City University of New York.

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