Is yawning contagious to cats?

Yawning is contagious between cats, often when a kitten follows their mother but not, according to research, from human to cat companion. In contrast, researchers found that a dog can “catch” a yawn from their owner perhaps reflecting the different relationship between dog and human as the dog considers the human family their pack and looks up to the owner as the alpha dog (or they should).

One cat catches a yawn from another
One cat catches a yawn from another. The cats are close friends living in the same home. But it does establish that to catch a yawn the cat need not be a kitten catching it from their mother. Image: MikeB from pictures from Twitter Twitter user @nanao_ssan. CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR A LARGER VERSION.
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I can rely on a Master of Arts study from the Animal Behaviour and Conservation Department of Hunter College City University of New York by Ariel Lombardo Aghishian, to confirm that domestic cats don’t “catch” a yawn from their owner. And I can also rely on personal experience and I would hope that readers might wish to comment and pass on their personal experience. I have in fact tried this out myself to see whether my cat responded and he didn’t.

Aghishian said “This study suggests that cats do not yawn contagiously in response to human yawning”. He asked the participants to yawn in the presence of their cat and in a control condition the owner made a fake yawn. The “results showed no difference in yawning between these conditions.”

Kitten copies mother's yawn
Kitten copies mother’s yawn. Screenshot.

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He also states that contagious yawning is linked to the capacity for empathy in humans. It is a type of human contagion. People yawn as a response to a lack of stimulation or fatigue. When it is contagious it serves as a communication of boredom which is a social function.

Between cats, as mentioned, yawning can be contagious and I can refer to a photo sequence on Twitter and a video on Reddit.com which establishes this. In the Reddit.com video a caracal cub copies their mother when she yawns. The video is below. Please remember, though, that this is served by Reddit.com and therefore it may disappear one day.

The Twitter photo sequence comes from Japan as I understand it (see above). It shows two (unrelated?) cats. The larger cat yawns and the smaller cat copies it. Perhaps the interesting discussion that follows would be whether domestic cats who “catch” yawns perform the same social function as humans. Does the kitten catch his mother’s yawn as an empathetic response in more or less saying to her “Yes, I am bored as well”? It looks that way.

I don’t know whether the Japanese domestic cats are related or not. I suspect that they are. I suspect also that catching a yawn between cats happens when the cats are related and most often between mother and kitten. It may even be limited to the mother-to-kitten relationship. Although I can’t be sure. Comments are welcome to clarify this point. Do you have personal experience of unrelated cats “catching” yawns from each other? I have to say I think it will be rare.

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