Why Do Cats Like Boxes?

Orange cat laying in a box

Even if you spend hundreds of dollars on the latest in cat toy technology, nothing seems to compare to a simple cardboard box. You might be wondering exactly why cats like boxes so much, but to your cat, the answer is simple. From nap time to play time, boxes are an appropriate accompaniment to any feline activity. 

Why Do Cats Like Boxes for Sleeping?

One thing cats love to do at any time of day is cozy up for a quick nap, and no place is better in their minds than a comfortable enclosed space like a box. If you've ever observed your cat's sleeping habits, you probably know she likes to sleep a lot. In fact, cats spend up to 18 hours a day sleeping, and they spread their sleep out over short naps throughout the day, which makes finding good places to nap a big deal. In the wild, a cat might find a small natural nook to sleep in, but at your house, boxes offer one of the best options for nap-time comfort.

Cardboard is a great insulator, so once your cat is ensconced inside a box, she can easily curl up and stay warm. Since a cat's ideal environmental temperature is around 37 degrees C, giving her a convenient place to keep warm helps keep her happy. Essentially, a snug cardboard box makes your cat feel safe and comfortable, which lets her relax enough to drift off into kitty dreamland. 

Boxes as Safe Spaces

Cats feel safe and secure inside a box, which helps reduce anxiety. The high walls of a box keep your cat hidden from potential predators — or just from anyone else in the household they want to avoid. Plus, no one can sneak up on your cat from behind once she's in a box because anyone approaching must move into her field of vision before they can get to her.

In general, cats prefer to hide instead of fight, so providing boxes gives a skittish feline a place to retreat when she gets stressed out. This may be particularly beneficial if you have a cat with anxiety that makes her want to hide away from the world. To ease her mind even more, you can add a warm blanket or something with a repetitive, heartbeat-like sound to her cardboard box sleeping space.

A study on shelter cats done by researchers at the University of Utrecht found that boxes can help cats adapt more quickly to new circumstances. The researchers gave half of the shelter cats boxes and left the other half without boxes to see the results. The cats who had boxes to play with and hide inside adapted to their new environment more quickly than those without.

Why Do Cats Love Boxes for Playing?

In addition to sleeping in them, cats also love playing in boxes. You might notice your pet jumping into a box as though pouncing on something inside or rolling around in it. These instinctive actions are a throwback to your cat's inherent predator nature and her natural hunting behaviour. As ambush predators, cats have an instinctive desire to hide inside an enclosed space waiting for someone to walk past unaware so they can jump out and strike, and they love reaching into and under things to capture small prey. Cardboard boxes provide plenty of opportunity to engage in this type of mock-hunting play.

Playing with Your Cat in a Box

Because cats like boxes so much, you might be curious about the best ways to play with your cat in a box. Try placing a favourite toy in a small box or behind the flap of a larger box for your cat to find and retrieve with her paw. Always be sure that the space around the box is safe for your cat, so she can concentrate on playing while staying safe from harm.

Tantalizing Textures Add to a Box's Appeal

Cats love texture, and cardboard provides a pleasing sensation when your frisky feline wants to scratch or chew on something. Scratching and biting are natural instincts for your cat, so giving your active feline a cardboard box gives her somewhere to use her claws and teeth instead of scratching the furniture or engaging in other problem behaviours. Some cats love boxes specifically for the texture, and many will completely shred and chew a cardboard box to pieces. 

Boxes for Curious Cats

Even before your cat decides what to do with a new box that has come into your home, her instincts guide her to explore it. Cats are naturally curious creatures and like to check out the scent and texture of whatever comes into their territory. Giving your cat a few boxes to play with is a fun way to enrich her environment, provide her with mental stimulation and satisfy her natural urge to explore. Plus, encouraging her to play in a box is a good way to help your cat get more exercise. Boxes can be part of your overall strategy for keeping your indoor cat happy and active.

Do Big Cats Like Boxes?

It isn't just your domestic house cat who likes boxes. Big cats love them, too. Zoos and wildlife reserves sometimes give large felines big boxes to play with, sit inside, and jump into — and the big cats have a blast using large cardboard boxes as toys. 

Discover more tips and information to keep your cat happy and healthy and learn more about feline behaviour at Purina Canada.

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