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.
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.