Any cat owner knows cats love cardboard boxes. No matter what size or shape, a cat will gravitate toward any box as soon as it enters the house. But why do cats love boxes?
My own Persian cat, Milo, loves any kind of box, I’ve bought him many a fancy toy to be disappointed when I find that he would rather squeeze himself into a small cardboard box than sleep in a nice new cat bed. I’ve often wondered about his attraction to boxes, so I decided to research the topic a bit further.
Cats and Their Instincts
Cats, especially our domestic breeds, are both predator and prey. They are known as silent and deadly hunters. However, most cats are kept inside these days, we feed them, and shelter them. This makes them easy prey if they do go outside, especially at the times of day other predators hunt. Coyotes, dogs, raptors (eagles and hawks), sometimes humans. If you live in an area where you have big cats such as pumas (also known as cougars) roam, your kitty can fall prey to them as well.
Cats like places that are high up or enclosed. These places are safe for them. A common cardboard box fits the bill as a great place to hide and feel safe.
A study carried out by Utrecht University in the Netherlands was conducted to determine whether hiding in a box would reduce the stress of 19 newly arrived shelter cats. They separated the cats into two random groups to determine the stress levels of the research animals. Behavioral observations were made during 14 days with the help of the Cat Stress Score.
They found that the group that had boxes were significantly less stressed than the group without boxes. You can find a link to the study here.
A cat’s instinct, whether fleeing a predator or on the hunt, is to hide. Cardboard boxes are perfect for this, and what household doesn’t have cardboard boxes available most of the time? We all know that most cats live inside and don’t need to hide, but boxes become more than a hiding spot. These boxes become playgrounds, especially for multi-cat households.
Cats in the wild will hide from predators and they will monitor their prey before they pounce just as a lion or tiger would. Cats feel safe and secure whilst in a box because they feel that they can’t be attacked from behind and everything else is in their vision range.
Naturally, cats run from danger and hide, therefore some people often refer to cats as anti-social animals who prefer solidarity over socializing. Again, this confirms the box as a favorite toy of the cat as they can relax on their own and feel safe in doing so.
Why Do Cats Love Boxes – Especially Cardboard?
Besides boxes fitting into cats’ instinctual needs, another reason cats like cardboard boxes are due to the warmth and insulation they provide. A cat’s body temperature is about 101.5 degrees and most households have an average temperature of 70 degrees so your cat will naturally try to find warmth in your house.
Cardboard boxes allow a cat’s body heat to stay confined in that space, thus your cat will find their box toasty warm.
As mentioned above, cardboard boxes provide hiding spots. For house cats, this can provide a playground, especially if there is more than one box or cat. They can hide from one another and jump out at each other. Fun stuff for kitties.
Cardboard boxes provide a great toy for cats. I often notice when Milo gets into a cardboard box for the first time, he will claw or bite bits of the cardboard off. By doing this he’s marking the box as his own, creating a nest or his own home just as you would paint or wallpaper your new house.
I’ve also noticed that cats love to sit on paper. Have you ever been working and had all your papers laid out and your cat has decided to sit in the middle of them? Your papers have the same insulating quality that the cardboard does, which makes the papers warmer than the tabletop to sit on.
Benefits of Cardboard Boxes
Cats feel safe in boxes. Since they are predators, they will use boxes as cover while stalking prey. In the house that may mean another cat or perhaps the dog. They use their play with cardboard boxes to keep their instincts sharp.
When in a box they know that other animals can’t approach them from behind, which makes them feel safe. This is how they’d have used caves or dens. Their wild cousins still do. Cats sleep anywhere from 18 to 20 hours a day. Again, a box would keep them feeling safe as they sleep.
If your kitty feels safe it stands to reason they will not be stressed. That helps your furry feline stay happy.
It should come as no surprise to multi-cat owners that introducing a new cat into the home can cause stress. Boxes can help the resident cats as well as the newcomer. The new cat can hide and assess the new surroundings without being attacked and the resident cats can check out the stranger without feeling they need to be on the fight.
It’s known that stress can cause health and behavioral issues. A stressed cat can experience many health risks that lead to behavioral issues. These can include urinating outside the litter box, over-grooming, digestive issues, depression, and aggression.
What a simple solution. Get a cardboard box. Your cat won’t care what size or shape.
Cats tend to retreat rather than confront. They would rather not fight. There can be exceptions. They will defend themselves but would prefer to hide and cool down. If your cat has a box available, he will most likely go there to settle down, letting his anger and stress melt away.
The cardboard helps retain body heat. This will make your sun-loving feline happy. A cat’s average body temperature is between 99-102.5 degrees F.
The perfect ambient temperature for domestic cats is 86 to 97 degrees F. Most people keep their houses around 70 degrees F., which can be a bit chilly for our kitties. Cardboard boxes help your cat retain their body temperature, which makes them comfortable.
This theory dates to a time when felines were wild. They lived and hunted outdoors. Most prey came from wooded areas. To put this simply paper is made from tree pulp, cardboard boxes are made from paper, thus the scent of a cardboard box may be as enticing as the forests our cats’ ancestors lived and hunted in. This is thought to be an instinctual memory.
This is also why your cat may redecorate or tear up their cardboard box, besides marking it to make it theirs.
Enrichment and Entertainment
You don’t want a bored cat on your hands. It can be unsafe for your home décor. Cat’s love to claw, run, play. A cardboard box can help give your cat a place to, as we say, sharpen their claws on, it becomes base in cat tag whether your cat plays it alone or with other cats in the house, they can play hide and seek. The point is, a box can alleviate boredom and keep your cat entertained. If your cat isn’t kept happy with activities, it can lead to problems such as destructive behaviors, aggression, depression.
DIY Ideas for More Kitty Fun
If you don’t like the idea of plain cardboard boxes cluttering your home you can build your cat, castle, forts, mazes, etc. and paint them bright colors. Always make sure to use non-toxic paint. You can cut holes in the boxes and stack them so that your cat can climb vertical as well as horizontal, leading to more fun for your furry feline. What cat doesn’t like to climb? Well, there are few out there that don’t, but they can stay on the ground floor.
I hope we’ve covered the how’s, why’s, what’s, and when’s about cats and cardboard boxes. When you bring your fuzzy friend a box, it’s more than a toy. Boxes help relieve stress, alleviates boredom, give them a safe, warm place to sleep, and can keep them from having behavioral issues that could cause problems.
Do you have any cardboard box stories about your cat or cats? We’d love to hear from you.