You know the drill: you buy your kitty a brand-new luxury bed, and their only response is to ignore it in favour of the cardboard box it was delivered in. Why do cats love sitting inside boxes? Even when they’ve been given the choice between a nice, new decked-out pad, they opt for a cardboard shack. Is it the stiff structure of their new home? The privacy? The minimalist design? The beige walls with matching floor(card)boards?
Oh, cats. Even thousands of years after we started domesticating them, they remain truly baffling creatures.
Luckily for Cat Owners and Cat Sitters alike, experts have figured out why cats love boxes so much. Keen to understand your feline’s behaviour a little better? Read on.
Why do cats love sitting inside boxes? Let’s find out!
There’s no single reason why cats love sitting in boxes – there are actually a few!
Cats find cardboard boxes safe and secure
There’s been quite a bit of research into why cats adore boxes. Most of the findings reveal that boxes provide cats with safety and security.
You see, it all has to do with a cat’s early stages. When they were a wee kitten, they were offered warmth, protection, and lots of snuggles from their mum and siblings. This kind of closeness releases endorphins that increase happiness and decrease stress. Experts reckon cats love boxes because they provide a similar level of intimate contact and happy vibes.
As well, a box can help a cat ease into a new environment more quickly. A 2014 Dutch study found that cats who had just arrived at an animal shelter showed lower stress levels when they were given a box to hide in. These cats were also faster to adapt to the shelter compared to cats who weren’t given a box.
They also think they’re pretty cushy
While we might see a plain old box, a cat sees the ultimate place to nest. We know that felines love being in warm spots, like in front of the heater, in direct sunlight, or, in this case, inside a small box. We also know that cats like to sleep a lot. A box’s high walls keep the interior cosy and draught-free, making for a very pleasant spot to nap for hours on end.
Boxes help cats hide
Despite being housebound creatures, cats are still wild predatory animals at heart. A box offers the perfect place to hide from prey, meaning a cat can sneak up on it and catch it unawares – even if, in the home, that prey is simply their favourite toy.
On the flipside, a hidey spot also means a cat is safe from predators who might be stalking them. Because the cat is protected on all sides, and nothing can escape their field of vision, they can easily shield themselves from potential threats.
And, OK, while to you it’s pretty obvious where your cat is hiding out (the long, fluffy tail is usually a dead giveaway), to your cat they’ve found the best hideyhole ever. Just go with it.
Cats are simply fascinated by them
If you’ve ever bought a lamp/handbag/rug/pot plant/basically anything, you’ll know just how much a new purchase fascinates your kitty. They can’t help sniffing it and circling it to find out what it’s all about. Cardboard boxes are no different. If it looks strange, smells strange, and feels strange, it’s worth investigating – and sitting inside.
Some cats also love playing inside or with boxes. They might chew on the box’s edges or scratch its sides. This is because they love its smooth, scratchable texture.
Is it only boxes that cats like sitting in?
Nope! Cats also love sitting in suitcases, laundry baskets, litter trays, and other incredibly small cat-sized spaces. They also seem to enjoy 2D things: laptops, books, magazines, doormats, even squares that have been taped on the floor.
Research released only this year found that cats can also be attracted to the idea of a small box. The study used a concept known as the Kanizsa illusion. This is basically the perception of a shape or edge rather than a shape or edge itself – in this case, shapes taped on the floor.
The researchers discovered that cats favoured the Kanizsa illusion as much as an enclosed space. This suggests a flat square may make cats feel just as snug as a 3D box. We’ve never really thought of our laptops as cosy, but each to their own, we suppose.
Now I know the answer to “Why do cats love sitting in boxes?”, should I stop my cat from doing it?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting your kitty sit, sleep or hang out inside a box – as long as it’s safe. Sometimes, your cat might crawl into a riskier hiding spot. This could be your washing machine or dryer, a cabinet or cupboard, or a cranny so well hidden that no one even knew it existed.
Always check they’re not hiding inside before using an appliance or closing a cupboard door. Your kitty could get trapped, or caught in your next laundry cycle. Needless to say, that wouldn’t end well.
On the whole, though, boxes can be really useful tools for making your cat feel secure. This is especially true if a new local Pet Sitter is coming to spend time with them, you’re moving house with your cat, or if you’ve only recently welcomed your cat into your home. A cardboard box gives them a safe space where they can hide, snuggle, play, snooze, and do other catty things.