What is it about cats and boxes?
The behavior of cats around boxes is marveling. You arrive home with a bunch of goods in boxes, and before you finish unpacking, your cat is snuggling inside one of the packages.
While not many felines like to be confined in carriers, cages, or other enclosed, tight spaces, most cats enjoy the safety and warmth of open cardboard boxes.
In fact, if you are looking to treat your cat to some special gifts, you don’t have to pony up for expensive items; just get him/her a simple cardboard box that he can curl in and feel safe. (Related: Why Do Cats Like Crinkly Toys?)
So why do cats really love boxes?
There are many reasons why cats love cardboard boxes. As small mammals, they are both predators and prey and cats like to operate from a safe position.
In the wild, you will see big cats resting with their back against a wall or hiding up on a tree, lying in wait to sneak up on prey. They feel safe, warm, and in control in small spaces.
Boxes provide cats with a feeling of safety and security.
Cats don’t like surprises. They do not like it when other animals sneak from behind them or on the side. That is why they crawl into boxes so any other animal, whether prey or predator, is directly in their line of vision.
Boxes help cats adapt faster to new environments
Small tight spaces help cats to recover faster and adapt to their setting. This has been confirmed by animal behaviorists at the University of Utrecht.
In a study conducted by the researchers, cats were placed into two groups, the cats in one group were given boxes, and the other group wasn’t. The researchers then observed the cats’ behavior, recovery time, and how quickly they adjusted to their surroundings.
The finding was that cats that were given boxes adapted quickly to change than those left without boxes. Therefore, assigning a box to your cat might help reduce anxiety.
Cats snuggle up inside boxes to keep warm
Boxes are a source of insulation, helping cats stay warm and comfortable. Cats don’t like to feel cold; the thermoneutral zone for a domestic cat is 86-97 Fahrenheit. If temperatures fall below this range, the cat will have to make extra heat to stay warm. Temperatures above this range and the cat will need to release metabolic energy to cool.
If you see your cat crawling into tight spaces, it could be that he/she is feeling cold or hot. A simple cardboard box is a good source of insulation. It is also tight, making it warm and comfortable for the feline to curl up inside and conserve body heat when outside temperatures fall below the 86-97F range. This heat-seeking need is one reason why cats love to sunbathe.
Boxes are great places for cats to sleep
A pastime is only as good as where you spend it; for cats, cardboard boxes’ perfect texture is inviting. It is a safe, comfortable spot where they can catch some Z’s but remain on alert for other animals. Cats love to sleep. In fact, they spend most of the day just sleeping.
Sleeping helps them conserve energy. Providing your cat with some cardboard boxes to sleep in helps him to recharge when he goes chasing after prey.
Cats are naturally curious
What’s in the box? How does the material feel? Is it chewable? The cat wants to know. They will start scratching against any box or sneak and curl up inside them even before you’re done unpacking.
Cats also find the texture of cardboard boxes inviting to chew, bite and shred to bits. A play session is essential for your kitty. Cats need rigorous exercise and play, too, when they are not napping.
If your cat doesn’t have something to play with, so he keeps clawing at your favorite couch, just get him a cardboard box to play with instead. It will surely keep the cat entertained.
Scratching at cardboard boxes also helps cats shed the exterior layer of their claws.
Boxes are a place to hide/get away from people/animals
Cats are both predators and prey; the stress that comes with this reality is immense. And cats don’t manage stress well; their instinct is to bolt and find a hiding place under the bed, behind a closet, in drawers, or behind the chair. They like to operate solo, undisturbed by other animals. Small tight spaces help felines reduce stress. It makes them feel a sense of control; they can curl in, hide, and avoid conflict but still keep an eye for other animals.
But it’s not just cardboard boxes that cats like to hide and sleep into. They also crawl into other small places as long as they can stay safe and keep an eye on their surroundings.
Other places tight spaces that cats like to include:
- Bathroom sinks
- orners of closets.
- Behind or in corners of chairs
- Grocery paper bags
Cats love to have a variety of places they can snuggle in. They love the above-mentioned tight spaces for the same reasons they love boxes. They are private and cozy. This makes them feel a sense of security.
They also curl up inside drawers to conserve their body heat. And it’s not just domestic cats that love boxes. Wild cats, too, have shown an affinity for small, tight spaces. Some zoos treat big cats to cardboard boxes so they can experience a great time just like domestic cats.
Cater to your cat’s need for security
Cats’ behavior around boxes is not irrational; felines are instinctive. They love the warmth and safety of cardboard boxes because it helps them relieve stress, keep warm, cool down, hide from predators, and lay in wait for prey. The smooth texture of cardboard boxes also makes for excellent sleeping and playing material.
Get your feline friend a gift cardboard box, not just one but several; It’s a safe zone. The more cardboard boxes the cat has, the less anxious he’ll be.
Vinke, C. M., Godijn, L. M., & Van der Leij, W. J. R. (2014). Will a hiding box provide stress reduction for shelter cats?. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 160, 86-93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2014.09.002
National Research Council. (2006). Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats (affiliate link). National Academies Press.