Why do cats love boxes so much? According to the researchers, the box to them is like what your favorite knitted sweater is to you

Hangai Lilla

2022. December 18 - Source: Photos by Getty Images Hungary

What secret magic attracts and repels cats to boxes that seem uncomfortable and cramped, even when there are plenty of cat boxes, baskets, cushions and blankets in the home?


Your cat’s continued indifference to her expensive, multi-storey, velvet-covered kitty ladder with scratching post can cause a little tension in your stomach; especially if she has been happily playing with its box ever since. But actually, that box doesn’t even have to be big. Cats love boxes exactly as Gombóc Artúr loves chocolate. The round one, the square one, the small one, the big one and the one with the hole with same enthusiasm. However, this phenomenon is no magic, science even has the answer to that! At least roughly.

Is this also to do with the predatory instinct?

Science is still searching for an explanation for the many strange, yet fascinating habits of the Felis silvestris catus. In vain, they are not only beautiful, but also mysterious. Wow, we are just beginning to understand the secret of Marilyn Monroe’s success…

We wandered a bit. So, science’s most likely answer to this interesting behavior was that it was probably related to the hunting instinct, since a box can be a great hiding place while hunting for prey. However, the researchers realized quite early on that this alone is not a sufficient explanation, there must be something else.

Fortunately, behaviorists and veterinarians have come up with some other interesting explanations. In fact, when all the evidence is  taken as a whole, it may be that cats not only like boxes, they actually need them.

The box and stress correlation

Understanding the minds of these velvet-footed animals is notoriously difficult, and it’s also obvious that they’re not the most ideal test subjects either. Despite this, a significant amount of behavioral research is conducted on cats, which are used for other types of research. These studies have been going on for more than 50 years, and they make one thing abundantly clear: our little furry friends find comfort and safety in enclosed spaces.

Claudia Vinke, an ethologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, studied the stress level of shelter cats and is considered one of the most important researchers in the field. She worked with domestic cats at an animal shelter in the Netherlands, where she provided cardboard boxes for one group of newly arrived kittens, while completely depriving another group of them. She found a significant difference between the stress levels of the two groups. The box cats got used to their new environment faster, were much less anxious and more interested in interacting with people.

This makes sense when you consider that almost every cat’s first reaction in a distressed situation is to retreat and hide. “Hiding is a behavioral strategy of the species. This is how they cope with environmental changes and stressors.” – explained Claudia Vinke.

This is as true for wild cats as it is for domesticated cats. Instead of climbing a tree or hiding in a cave, indoor cats find solace in a pretty cardboard box.

Difficulty in managing conflicts

It is also very important to know about our pets that handling conflicts is not their strong point. Quoted from John Bradshaw, The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behavior: “Cats do not seem to have developed conflict resolution strategies to the extent that other social species have, so they try to avoid unpleasant encounters by avoiding others or reducing their activity.”

So instead of solving things, cats simply run away from their problems. In this sense, a box can often represent a safe zone where sources of anxiety, hostility and unwanted attention simply disappear.

The only problem with this explanation is that it is only a valid reason for the behavior of stressed cats; but if you have observed, perfectly balanced and happy animals are equally fond of these magical objects.

“If it fits I sits”

This could even be the secret catchphrase of cats. As a good observer, you must have already noticed that, apart from the boxes, many cats love to squeeze themselves into other, less than ideal, places. Some people curl up in the bathroom sink, others prefer to sit in shoes or slippers, but many also like different bowls and plates or shopping bags.

Which brings us to the other reason why cats may like extra-small boxes and other seemingly uncomfortable places: it’s brutally cold out there. The domestic cat’s thermally neutral zone is 30-36 degrees Celsius. This is the temperature range in which cats feel comfortable and do not need to generate extra heat to keep themselves warm. That range is about 6.6 degrees higher than ours, which explains why a cat sprawled on hot asphalt in the middle of a warm summer day is not an unusual sight.

Huddled in small cardboard boxes and other strange places also serves to retain valuable heat, because corrugated cardboard is a great insulator. And tight spaces force them to curl up as small as possible.

anxiety body temperature cat and box cat and tight spaces cat human relationship cat instinct happy cat hunting instinct Life predatory instinct safe home Security stress stress reduction Study why

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