While every cat is unique, it seems to be a universal truth that all cats like cardboard boxes!
Cat parents often wonder why their cat likes boxes so much, and why they insist on sitting or sleeping in boxes—even when they’re too small! Keep reading to learn the reasons behind your cat’s obsession with boxes and bags, and even how boxes can be used for cat enrichment.
Boxes Are Like Hunting Blinds for Cats
Deer and fowl hunters use blinds: small enclosed shelters that conceal them from view so they can lie in wait for prey—some are even called “box blinds”. Cats are instinctive hunters, so they naturally seek out concealed places where they can observe their prey until it’s the perfect moment to pounce.
Try incorporating a box into playtime with your cat: when they’re inside, drag a toy across the floor in front of them so they can ambush it! A paper bag works in this scenario too.
Boxes Provide a Sense of Safety & Comfort
Cats in the wild have a natural instinct to seek out confined spaces, and boxes provide what they’re looking for:
- Warmth: cardboard is a good insulator and blocks drafts, which helps your cat regulate their body temperature
- Protection: boxes create a shielded area where predators can’t sneak up without the cat seeing them
- Security: kittens start out cuddled up with their momma cat in a safe space, and a box can help recreate that sense of security
- Sleeping: cats sleep a lot, and warm, cozy boxes that help block the light are a great place for a catnap
- Nesting: pregnant cats have a natural instinct to find a safe place to give birth, and a box can become a nesting box
It’s natural for cats to run away and hide when they feel anxious, so providing a box or paper bag (without handles) can be one way to help your cat manage anxiety during stressful times. You can add a small blanket or towel to your cat’s favorite box to make it even more comforting.
Why Cats Like Small Boxes
Small boxes create a snug, confined feeling that helps cats feel safe and secure -the same way that swaddling a baby or using a weighted blanket as an adult helps people relax.
Studies have shown that pressure on the body stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which conveys a sense of calm and promotes sleep. So when your cat squeezes themself into a too-small box it’s actually helping them relax and rest!
Cats Are Territorial
Cats display territorial behavior out of an instinctive desire to secure food and stay safe from threats.
Because of this territorial instinct, cats are always curious about new things in their environment – including a cardboard box on the floor that wasn’t there yesterday! The urge to explore all aspects of their surroundings also comes from your cat’s hunting instincts: they’re always on the lookout for new threats and opportunities.
If you notice your cat rubbing their scent on a box they’re marking it as part of their territory. Scratching the box or sitting inside it is another way of claiming the box as part of their domain.
Boxes Are Fun to Play With
Providing your cat with mental stimulation and enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated, and cardboard boxes are a great example. Different types of cardboard offer your cat a novel sensory experience in terms of size, smell and texture.
Cats love to play and they love to scratch, and cardboard boxes are perfect for both! Cats can bite, chew and scratch cardboard (or destroy the whole box when they’re in the mood). They can also jump in and out of boxes or stalk prey (a toy) around them during playtime.
Cat in a Box Safety Tips
Before you give your cat a box or paper bag to play with, make sure it’s safe for them:
- Remove staples, twine, plastic pouches (for shipping labels) and packing tape
- Remove plastic bags/linings from inside the box
- If a box has cut-out spaces (like a handle), cut them bigger or cut them out completely so your cat doesn’t get its head stuck in them
- Remove handles from paper bags for the same reason
- Don’t give your cat a box that’s been treated with chemicals to repel grease and water (typically from the food industry)
Don’t let your cat play with or chew on plastic bags, which can cause suffocation if your cat gets tangled up in them, or an intestinal blockage if your cat swallows any shredded plastic.
And if you’re moving house, make sure you don’t accidentally pack your cat in one of the boxes!
Cat Safety Around Box-Like Things
When you’re opening up an enclosed space such as a fridge, washing machine, dryer, the trunk of your car, storage locker, cooler, cabinet, closet, etc—make sure your cat doesn’t sneak inside it when you’re not looking. Cats have even been known to explore chimney flues, so use a screen and keep the damper closed when you’re not using the fireplace.
Keep learning about wonderfully weird cat behavior, starting with why cats make biscuits.
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