Why Do Cats Love Boxes?

By Dr. Suzanne Wilson, DVM April 05, 2019

As loving cat owners, we’ve probably all been there. You purchase an expensive, interactive gadget online with high certainty that your precious cat is going to get hours of enjoyment out of it. The package finally arrives in the mail, and you rip it open to present the thoughtful offering to the feline of the house. How do they show their appreciation? They stick their nose up, walk off, and immediately climb into the empty box where they spend the remainder of the day. Being the unique, complicated, and fickle creatures they are, we might write this off as a personal insult. But don’t let this get you down - there is more to it than you may have thought. So what is with your cat’s obsession with cardboard boxes? Let’s investigate!

Why Do Cats Love Boxes?

  • Hiding Spot

Domestic cats are predators descended from Middle Eastern wildcats. This means that it's in their DNA to be stealthy, avid hunters. They need good cover to stalk their prey, and an appropriate hideaway to retreat back to with their kill to avoid the interest of scavengers. An empty box fits the bill as evidenced by the behavior many cats exhibit while hanging out inside boxes. We often see them hiding in their box, quickly striking or ambushing an unassuming toy and then carrying it back to their cardboard den.

  • Stress Reduction

Cats deal with stress by hiding or retreating to a solitary environment where they can avoid being bothered. An empty box is the perfect spot.  Veterinary behaviorists have spent countless hours trying to understand the feline brain and what cats require in terms of environmental enrichment. One conclusion they’ve come to is that cats hide in boxes to reduce stress. Research was conducted on cats in shelter situations to determine whether having a box to use as a hiding spot inside their cage helped reduce environmental stress. Not surprisingly, the cats that were not given boxes to hide in showed higher levels of anxiety, acclimated much more slowly, and were less likely to interact with handlers than the cats who were given boxes.

  • Warmth of Confined Spaces

Cats like small confined spots to curl up in to keep warm. If it’s not a box, it’s a bowl, a paper bag, or bed that seems two sizes too small. Cats prefer ambient temperatures that are much higher than what we typically set the thermostat to in our homes. In fact, cats would prefer we keep our homes 14-25 degrees warmer than what we typically do as the temperature at which cats can avoid expending extra energy to stay warm is close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Case in point: cats lying in that single strip of sunlight for hours on end while we are removing layers to stay cool.

  • Scratching Material

Cats simply enjoy the texture of the cardboard. Though they would prefer the corrugated type, they will still use smooth cardboard to sink their claws into, sharpening them for their next attack.

So before you get your feelings hurt because your precious pet is partial to the packaging, consider all the benefits they receive from the cheap (often free) toy. The cardboard box is not only a spot to hone their natural hunting instincts, it is also a quiet retreat to reduce stress, a sauna to stay warm, and a second-rate scratching post.

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