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Animal Update: Contagious Yawning

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(KCBS) – A bit of an unusual topic but a fun one, too: humans often will yawn when we see somebody else yawn. Animals, believe it or not, may do the same.

“It’s simply the increased likelihood that you’re going to yawn if you see or hear someone else yawn,” Jennifer Scarlett, DVM, co-president of the San Francisco SPCA explained the phenomenon of contagious yawning.

“This has been documented in several mammals, including dogs,” she continued.

It’s an issue that’s piqued the interest of vets.

“Contagious yawning has been linked to an increase in empathy in humans and, you know, we know empathy is this complex social behavior that seems to be higher with people and family that we know. But what’s so interesting is that it’s been recently documented that dogs have the ability to catch a yawn from us, from people.”

KCBS’ Jeff Bell Reports:

It remains to be seen whether it means dogs actually have the ability to feel empathy.

“Well, maybe,” reasoned Scarlett. “Dogs will yawn for many reasons, like people; because they’re tired or anxious. But it certainly makes it plausible. The other is that it could just be a biproduct of mimicry. Dogs are great at copying us, so the jury is still out. But for those of us who are bonded with dogs and even with cats who don’t have contagious yawning, I think the verdict is in, that yawn or no yawn, we feel understood and loved by our pets.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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