One of those timeless truths is that cats like boxes. Not only do they like boxes, cats love boxes. Sitting in a box, sleeping in a box, hiding underneath a box, chewing on the sides of the box: the box is an endless source of grade-A kitty entertainment. It’s the cat’s equivalent of an HBO drama.
Do boxes emit pheromones that only a cat’s nose is sensitive enough to detect? No. That would be almost too silly. What isn’t silly is that boxes definitely exert a magnetic pull (metaphorically!) on cats.
I wanted to find out what’s happening and here’s what turned up after some deep-dive digging.
The Ultimate Safety and Security Box
In the same way boxes keep whatever package you’ve ordered safe, they also keep cats safe. At least as far as the kitty is concerned.
Cats need hiding places. Secure locations like an Iowa bunker they can run to in times of trouble. It makes them feel protected because they’re hidden, and sometimes it does protect them when a bumbling friend visits.
Considering a cat’s gut instinct when they’re afraid is to run and hide it’s no surprise that a box might be the perfect place.
It turns out the protection boxes afford isn’t just physical.
A Box Reduces a Cat’s Stress
A study in Applied Animal Behavior Science found that cats newly introduced to a shelter became more comfortable with their surroundings when given a box to hide in.
The boxes enrich the shelter cat’s environment. They made dealing with the sudden change of being thrust into a pen of cats a little more tolerable.
The report reads, “In summary, the hiding box appears to be an important enrichment for the cat to cope effectively with stressors in a new shelter environment the first weeks after arrival.”
But as of this writing the researchers haven’t determined if the same holds true for household cats. Not that we need a leap of faith.
So my cats use a box when they’re afraid?
Not necessarily. Again the study only delved into one aspect of cats and boxes in a very specific setting, i.e.cats that were given boxes at a shelter.
Still, it should be anecdotally clear to anyone who has a cat that cats don’t curl into a box just to lower their cortisol levels.
Persephone sits in any box she can. If there’s a new box in the house, she sits in it. The meme “If it fits I sits,” is one of those rare honest ones that’s invariably true. When Persephone probes a new box she’s not afraid; she’s nosey. We would know if she was afraid because she runs to the closet.
Curiosity sits her butt in the box. Maybe it’s enough to hypothesize that boxes are just plain comfy. In the same way that little kids will hop into boxes and turn them into a pirate ship, a fort, or a rocket. I wonder what cats imagine their boxes turning into?
As it turns out, their imagination probably envisions a warm place.
A Cat’s Body Temperature in a Box
The box itself isn’t what attracts cats. It’s the fact that a box is an enclosure. Boxes have walls that hide the cat, giving them a sense of protection, and bounce back the cat’s own body heat.
A cat’s average body temperature hovers between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees. That means they like it warm.
Apparently, there’s a 2006 study that determined the perfect temperature for an indoor cat to be between 86 and 97 degrees F. But I can’t find the study Nobody seems to link to it. They just talk about it. Still, the point isn’t lost. (I will update this with a reference and a link if I do).
Cardboard boxes provide just enough insulation for cats to soak up the heat. It may not be a Turkish bath, but cardboard gets the job done.
And so do bowls, shoes, laundry bags, cabinets; anything small and confined keeps a feline feeling fine. Anything that reflects a cat’s body temperature right back at them is going to attract them. They’ll waddle up and squeeze into whatever container that might be.
Before you fill your home with boxes like your starting a new show on HGTV we need to lay down some ground rules.
Remove staples, tape, handles—anything at all that might harm your kitty. Do I need to say more?
You may also find it beneficial to add a towel or blanket to the box to make it a little more comfortable for your kitty to relax and snooze.
We tend to order quite a bit from Amazon so we always have boxes lying around. Every now and then we’ll replace the cat’s boxes, especially if we notice that they’ve gotten bored of a box that’s been around for a while. It’s funny how a new box always has the magic that an old box has lost.
Are your cats as obsessed with boxes as ours are? Have you combined duct tape and cardboard to make a cat condominium for your spoiled kitties?
Let us know any thoughts you have about the charms boxes have over cats!
“Will a hiding box provide stress reduction for shelter cats?,” Applied Animal Behavior Science: