Cats and boxesOur pets each have a spot our homes where they’re most comfortable. Maybe that’s on your pillow, under the bed, within any available sunbeam—or for many cats—in any accessible box.

In my home, the second a box hits the floor, it’s immediately investigated by both the dogs and the cats, but since the dogs don’t fit (and there’s no food in it), they’re quickly bored. The cats, however, do fit, and are eager to view their world from a seemingly whole new vantage point—from within the box.

But why?
A box represents a secure spot for cats—safe on all four sides. Take any cat into a stressful room and what is the first thing he’ll do? Hide. Hiding seems to be a behavioral coping strategy for the majority of cats, allowing them a break from life for a bit. As any of us who has a cat has seen, cats aren’t great at conflict resolution. An upset cat may make his displeasure known (if at all), but quickly retreats to a quiet area. Cats in the wild have dens and trees. Our furry companions have cat trees and cardboard.

Studies with shelter cats have shown that cats given boxes in their cages are less stressed, get sick less, and are more interested in interacting with humans, when compared to cats not provided a cardboard hiding spot.

Seeking out small spaces seems to come instinctively to cats. In the wild, a small and confined space might be the only thing between them and a predator—or the only thing hiding them from their prey. Nothing can sneak up on them, and they’re still able to pounce and quickly return to a safe hiding spot.

Boxes are also cozy and warm, and even though a cat might not look entirely comfortable squeezed into a tiny box (the smaller the better, it usually seems), they will nap, seemingly forever, in there. A warm napping spot is important for an animal whose thermoneutral zone (the zone in which they don’t need to use up energy to stay warm) is about 20 degrees warmer than ours, at a balmy 86 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Finding a warm and safe spot to nap away is a priority for many cats, who nap up to 20 hours a day.

Boxes are safe, cozy, and warm—possibly the top three priorities of a house cat’s life whose biggest stress is seeing the bottom of the food bowl.

By Rachel Leisemann Immel

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