So, why do cats like cardboard boxes so much? Watching your cat play around with a box can be incredibly entertaining. After all, cats in boxes make up a hefty portion of many brilliant cat videos on YouTube.
But what’s the real reason why your kitty is so into hiding, sleeping, sitting, and playing in boxes?
Animal behavior is a growing science that attempts to give answers to why animals do the things that they do. Believe it or not, scientists have actually thought long and hard about cats’ box fetishes, and there are some answers.
1. Box = Predator Play Time
Large cat diving into small boxes (funny video!)
It doesn’t really matter what size the box is: big, small, awkward, or medium, boxes of all kinds attract literally every feline. Cats may approach a box to leap into it, knock it over, or cuddle up against. So what’s in it for them?
One reason why cats like boxes may have something to do with their natural predator instincts. Barn and feral cats survive due to their strong hunting instinct.
But even domestic cats have an instinct towards chasing and hunting, something that comes from their original roots as felines roaming the wild.
As a cat owner, you have already noticed these predatory instincts. Perhaps you keep your cat outdoors in order to let it indulge its love of chasing and hunting. Maybe you offer toys that it can bat around, such as catnip-stuffed mice or balls of yarn.
Boxes top the list of play time items because boxes give cats a chance to be predators. Think about a cat leaping into a box. This presents the perfect “ambush” scenario: the cat gets to sneak up on the box and then claim dominance by literally plunging its physical body inside.
In this sense, boxes are like unassuming rodents, or helpless prey in the wild. Cats like boxes because they provide a tame and satisfying means of exercising natural dominance.
2. Boxes Offer Warmth & Security:
This may seem like an obvious reason why cats like boxes, but a box gives your kitty the tantalizing option of an enclosed space. After all, cats sleep upwards of 20 hours a day, so the security of being in a box makes sense. Plus, a cat’s normal body temperature is between 100 and 102 degrees(fahrenheit), so they like that extra warmth.
While cats have an ancient history rooted in being wild and surviving on their own in a variety of climates, domestic cats appreciate the security that enclosed spaces offer.
But this instinct towards shelter may also have primal roots in your cat’s psychology. Enclosed spaces are warm, or at least enable your cat to warm up quickly. Wild animals of all kinds seek warmth, sustenance, and water. Your cat is no different.
Domestic cats also have a propensity to sleep during most hours of the day. They may be active during play time, but they sure do like to cozy up. Boxes present a warm, familiar, and safe opportunity to do so.
3. Boxes Are Feline Stress-Relievers
This explanation takes the above point one step further when discussing why cats like boxes.
Your domestic cat may appreciate having boxes around for warmth and security. But your kitty may also have a fondness for sitting or sleeping in an old fashioned cardboard box because it presents an option to relieve stress.
Unfortunately, not every cat enters the world happily and safely. Animal shelters exist for a reason, and every day shelters tend to stray, abused, or abandoned kitties. In general, most animals at shelters have a history of neglect, psychological impact, or abandonment.
Because boxes offer the impression of a safe, warm, and secure hiding place, stressed-out cats may seek boxes in order to relieve anxieties of being in vulnerable places.
Science: Studies actually have been conducted with animal shelter cats in this exact respect. Animal behaviorists are always working with shelters because they give them a great chance to assess animal stress levels and response to the environment.
One such study, performed in 2014 by C.M. Vinke and L.M. Godijn, analyzed shelter cats’ reactions to having open boxes near them. They pretty much concluded that shelter cats who had the option of hiding in an open box were less stressed than the cats who did not have the option.
This is because the option of hiding is actually a means of coping with a stressful world. This is a behavioral instinct that even humans exhibit. Having the option to hide away for a time from stressful situations can actually lead to better handling of demanding or taxing climates.
Strange, how similar cats and humans really are, isn’t it?
So, if you want to improve the psychological health and well-being of your feline friend, make sure you leave a few open boxes lying around. Cats like boxes because they present options –boxes are in this sense roadmaps to comfort and a stress-free life.
4. Boxes Let Cats Stake Their Territories
Predator cat in box
Another reason why cats like boxes is because these cardboard spaces let cats be cats in a very important way: boxes let cats mark a specific territory. Boxes that are always available means that cats can always have the option of independence.
When it comes to why cats like boxes, this may be one of the most compelling reasons. It pretty much groups everything that we’ve discussed in this post together: a box is a safe option, a play toy, a chance to ambush and hunt, and a place of warmth and security.
A box is also territory, and while cats don’t go around peeing on bushes or trees in order to mark their territory, they also like to lay claim to what is theirs.
This is why cats may seem to have really snarky personalities sometimes, because they cultivate particular habits. They like having space to themselves, even if it looks like they’re being anti-social or evading conflict.
But this type of nose-in-the-air personality may just come from the fact that your cat likes having its own space, and space that it can feel. Boxes let a cat feel completely dominant, because the box fits your cat’s entire contours.
Cats also have an affinity for small, tight spaces –like kitchen sinks, drawers, paper bags, hats, and shoes. They do jump into big boxes, but boxes that are well contained are often more sought after.
Cats like boxes because boxes are the ultimate, claimable territory. They feel good because the cat can feel all parts of its body contained, and can know that it’s in control.
From a more primal perspective, cats like boxes because they feel safe inside them. When contained in a box, cats can’t be “snuck up on.” They can survey the playing field and know exactly when to pounce.
5. Boxes Present A Challenge (Cats Like That!)
Lastly, cats like boxes because they may constitute a challenge to your cat. This is especially the case if the box is large, awkward, or strangely shaped.
If you have a minute, stroll through a pet store sometime, or browse an online shop specializing in cat toys. You’ll see the usual plethora of catnip, mice, and toys with bells and squeaky things. But you’ll also see cat towers.
Cats like to climb, leap, and explore. They scale amazingly high walls and can land on their feet when jumping from nail-bitingly high precipices.
A big box is just like a cat tower, but more complex. It has strange flaps sometimes, and the entry point is facing up, rather than to the side. Cats looking at big boxes see an intriguing challenge, and may even visualize one of these larger boxes as a curious competitor to be challenged.
Cats like boxes for the challenge even though they can have a propensity for lazy afternoons and complete indifference. But this may not last for long–kitties may still be evolving.
Summary: Why Cats Like Boxes
Cats are entertaining to watch for a variety of reasons. They like to hunt, stalk, and catch toys or what they consider to be “prey.” They sometimes fall off of walls or couches.
There’s a reason why so many cat videos exist, and why LOLcat is a thing. But sometimes cats just do inexplicable things. People puzzle over why cats like boxes, but the answer really lies in the natural behavior of your cat.
An open box is many things to your cat: an opportunity for play and ambush, a battleground that can easily be won, and a challenge. In this sense, boxes exercise your cat’s primal instincts for control and predation.
But cats like boxes because they also give them options for security, safety, and warmth. In this sense, boxes are stress-relievers rather than just playthings.
Have an experience with cats in boxes, or a great video to share? Post your comments below! Or check out more offerings about cats and their habits from Chairman Meow.
Dear Chairman Meow, is “crazy cat lady syndrome” actually real? Please educate me with your vast knowledge. – Jim S. of Winfield, PA
Yes, Jim, it’s a real thing. Allow Chairman Meow to educate you about a tiny parasite, called toxoplasma gondii, that creates crazy cat ladies who hoard many kittehs.
How toxoplasmosis helps cats control humans:
There are many ways that a kitty can take control of humans, turning them into mere servants.
While good old fashioned psychic-kitteh mind control usually is enough to break the will of any human, recently scientists have become wise to one of their sneakier methods; a parasite found in their poop called, Toxoplasma gondii.
What is toxoplasma gondii?
Toxoplasma gondii is a microbe commonly found in cat poop.
How does the toxo get into a cat in the first place, you ask? Toxo is initially found in infected mice, so outdoor or barn cats who catch mice are more prone to contracting it.
Actually, toxo seems to slow mice down, so your cat is more likely to catch an infected mouse than a healthy one.
If ingested by humans, it causes toxoplasmosis; (aka t. gondii, or toxo) a disease that causes flu-like symptoms, especially dangerous to people with weakened immune systems. “Toxo” is the reason pregnant women are told to stay away from litter boxes.
Scientists used to believe that people with strong immune systems quickly fought off toxo, and it just went dormant after being defeated. However, shocking recent evidence from scientists like Jaroslav Flegr suggest otherwise.
Toxoplasma gondii – It’s All In Your Head
It seems that scientists have vastly underestimated this organism, which may be affecting the behavior of millions of humans around the world by literally getting into their heads. In fact, the CDC estimates that some 60 million Americans are carrying the Toxoplasma parasite.
Although few people have symptoms, it’s thought that toxoplasma gondii can affect and control the connections between neurons in our brains, directly impacting our actions and emotions; possibly even turning us into “crazy cat ladies.” (and gentlemen)
Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome & Toxoplasmosis
Toxo is likely what puts the “crazy” in crazy cat lady, causing OCD(obsessive compulsive disorder) depression, cat hoarding, and even an increased rate of suicide.
In male cat owners, toxo infection can affect behavior; encouraging anti-social behavior such as suspicion and withdrawal.
It’s as if toxo wants you to isolate yourself with cats to improve your chances of being eaten by one!
So, why does Toxo want to get in our heads?
The only place that Toxo can sexually reproduce is inside a cat, and it seems to know that. It appears that toxo takes over the brain of it’s host in an attempt to get back into a cat.
And, it’s not just humans that Toxo controls. Infected rodents become less cautious, more active, and have delayed reaction times; making them easier prey for cats.
Also, these infected rodents are actually attracted to the smell of cat urine, which normally should signal danger.
It’s as if the parasite is leading them into the belly of the cat where it can then reproduce!
This may also be why if you die alone with a house cat, they will only wait a day or two to start eating you; (known as “postmortem predation”) dogs will wait much longer.
Toxoplasmosis & schizophrenia
Toxo also seems to be a trigger for schizophrenia in people who are already genetically susceptible. Recent tests also implied a link between childhood exposure to cats and schizophrenia, and many schizophrenia patients have also tested positive for the presence of Toxoplasma gondii.
In fact, schizophrenia itself didn’t become a commonly diagnosed disease until the late 18th Century; the same time that house cats became popular pets. Coincidence?
Does Chairman Meow Spread Toxoplasma gondii?
Chairman Meow denies intentionally spreading Toxoplasma gondii to soften the brains of humans; turning them into mindless kitty puppets. (Although he does admit to pooping in neighborhood sandboxes, and in an occasional Starbucks.)
Scientists: Are Cats Rapidly Evolving? – In a shocking press release today, Chairman Meow’s Ministry of Science has provided scientific evidence that cats are evolving at a stunning pace.
The stunning video clearly shows a kitty walking upright like a human.
shocking proof that cats are evolving
Believing that she was not being observed, the kitty reportedly walked into the kitchen, made a tuna sandwich, and binge-watched Game of Thrones before turning out the light and going to sleep:
Indisputable evidence of kitty evolution
Scientists are astounded at this documentation, as it provides more hard evidence for the “Theory of Kitty Evolution,” first proposed by Charles Darwin in 1858, that has been gaining momentum and respect in the scientific community.
This recent documentation is just the latest in a series of photos and eye witness accounts from across the world that seem to support the controversial theory.
What is next, a “cats” musical!?
One scientist believes that if this rapid evolution continues, the felines may begin to show human-like characteristics, possibly even learning to use their thumbs.
He went so far as to commission an artistic rendering (see below) of where he believes this shocking feline evolution, combined with global warming, will lead in the coming decades.
“Dear Chairman Meow: I have a great idea for an invention. What should I do?” – Kenny D, Moorestown, NJ
Well, Kenny, don’t do anything just yet. You see, many people have “inspired” ideas and dreams, but some of them are just stupid, and better off kept to yourself.
Take for example, Hugo Gernsback and his foolish invention, “The Isolator” helmet.
“The Isolator” Invention By Hugo Gernsback
Working from home has a lot of challenges. The phone rings, the kids barge into your office… What’s a self-employed person to do?
Well, apparently Hugo Gernsback had the same issue in 1925, and instead of complaining about it, he went out and (sort of) changed the world by inventing something really dumb: The Isolator helmet.
Hugo himself was not just a crazy guy off the streets; he was actually editor of Science & Invention Magazine, which I assume was a legitimate publication. (hey, it has the word, “science” in it!) He also is considered by many to be one of “The Fathers of Science Fiction.”
OK, maybe it didn’t gain the popularity that Scotch Tape did (invented the same year) but I bet it helped at least a few people concentrate out there.
I’m thinking maybe this invention could help fix the ADHD epidemic in this… look, a butterfly! Sorry, I got distracted, let me put my helmet back on:
Anyway, let’s just hope that helmet material isn’t asbestos, and that no smart-aleck kids out there got the idea to switch Mr. Gernsbeck’s oxygen tank with helium. (or nitrous?)
Well, in conclusion, Hugo never succeeded with his invention, or even copyrighted the name “The Isolator.”(which I imagine is now being tarnished by a “sexual well-being” gadget of the same name sold at Walgreens?)
Chairman Meow Says: In conclusion, let Hugo’s failure be a lesson to us all: “we all have dreams, but some people’s dreams are stupid.”