Do cats have a sense of humour?

My opinion is that domestic cats do not have a sense of humour. I explain why in this article. Firstly let’s define “sense of humour”. It is a “person’s ability to perceive humour or appreciate a joke.”

Note that the definition only applies to people! That doesn’t mean conclusively that cats can’t have a sense of humour but it does mean that, in general, people believe that they don’t, otherwise the definition would say, “a person or an animal’s ability to perceive humour or appreciate a joke”. Also, we can all agree that cats can’t tell jokes! Or appreciate them.

Do cats have a sense of humour?
Do cats have a sense of humour? Image: PoC.
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So what does “humour” mean? It means, “the quality of being amusing or comic”. It means, therefore, to find amusement in actions, behaviour, situations and in words. It seems to me that we do this by observing crazy situations which are often events which are abnormal compared to the norms of society. And we have to be self-aware, I believe, to appreciate humour as we have to be able to look at ourselves objectively (i.e. as if we are a Martian looking at these strange humans).

And I think this is the root cause of why domestic cats don’t understand the concept of humour. Although it’s a big discussion point, my opinion is that domestic cats are not self-aware. They do not look at themselves and say to themselves, “That is me in the mirror”. When cats look in a mirror they think that they are looking at another animal. They don’t recognise themselves.

So, to recap, I believe that self-awareness or self-consciousness is part of the operation of humour.

Domestic cats like to play. In play they charge at each other and do all kinds of crazy things which amuse us. Domestic cats feature in countless YouTube videos messing around and amusing us when doing what we consider to be strange things. But this is cats playing which is not the same thing as cats having a sense of humour.

Some people say that their cats have a sense of humour because they wait in ambush and then unexpectedly leap at their ankles. I don’t think this is a sign of a sense of humour. It is to do with play. These young cats want to play with their human companion because they treat their humans as another cat and the ankle is the only thing which they can get at. So this is play activity.

Sometimes domestic cats clown around when they are hungry to get attention. But this is a conditioned response because when they try to get attention in doing these activities it works; they get their food. And therefore they learn to do it again and it becomes a ritual.

Dr Bruce Fogle DVM, veterinarian and author, would agree with me. He says in his book Complete Cat Care that, “Some cats always look on the bright side of life, but personally, I have a little difficulty calling that a sense of humour.”

What do you think? There’s no science on this (i.e. studies) so each of us will have our own opinions. I’m not saying that I’m certainly correct. I’m just thinking through the issues as best I can and coming up with this answer.

2 thoughts on “Do cats have a sense of humour?”

  1. To answer the title’s question: ABSOLUTELY!!! Without a doubt!

    Two cats come to mind, although all of my cats had/have a fantastic sense of humor. They have all played some form of “Hide and Seek/Tag” with me.

    Arnold was a DSH tabby/white cat we adopted from a shelter many years ago. He and my husband played a game. Hubby would try to startle the cat, who would pretend to it worked. This went on for several years. At the time, we lived in a small house with tiny rooms. The master bedroom had a double window facing the front of the house. We placed a tall dresser under the windows so that Arnold could look outside and place the foot of the bed just off the side of the dresser. One evening at bedtime, Arnold was napping on the dresser. He waited until hubby had just dosed off. With extreme force, Arnold jumped down from the dresser onto the foot of the bed near hubby’s feet and shook the whole bed. Hubby sat straight up in confusion, and I almost fell out of bed laughing. Arnold just looked at hubby and gently strolled away knowing he won the game.

    Rex, my current male kitty, also has a sense of humor. He likes to hear me laugh. We play “Hide and Seek/Tag.” I make a gesture at him, and he runs off. A few moments later, he sneaks back to see where I am, and we repeat the play. Many times, he will wait till I peak around the corner, and when he sees me, he will poof into a “Pi” shape similar to the regular arched back but with his tail drooped down into an “S” shape. It’s much more hilarious in person. Evidently, he likes to hear me laugh.

    Unfortunately, the frequencies of Pi are slowing down as Rex ages. I will sorely miss them when he says goodbye.

    The picture is of Cleo and Rex. We caught her in the act of pestering him, even though the look on her face says she denies any knowledge of being a pest. LOL! She’s rotten! 😀

  2. To everything there’s a degree, so the problem I see with this is the recurrent error of looking at them through our eyes; judging them by our standards. We also wouldn’t say cats have a language, but they do use body language as means to convey their thoughts, intents or feelings to others. It’s a different kind of language but still valid. So saying cats don’t have or understand humor makes a similar mistake. They also have micro facial expressions too; they’re to a lesser degree than us, but again valid. They don’t “tell jokes”, but they do pranks and I can tell when my cats think some happenstance is amusing, even if it’s kind of slapstick. The Three Stooges were valid purveyors of what some of us considered humor. So I think cats have a sense of humor; it’s just on their level, at their speed, to a different degree. That’s my opinion, which as I recall wasn’t very welcome on here but I just saw this topic and thought I’d comment. That’s my contribution for 2021.


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