How many times have you found that you put an immense amount of effort into finding the perfect gift for a child, only to find them engaging more with the packaging it came in? Most cats are quite similar. You scour the net to find the most stimulating, hi-tech, motor-skill-improving remote-control mouse, only to discover that your cat has usurped the cardboard box it was sent in and is now keeping guard from below deck. Sound familiar?
Why are cats so mesmerised by cardboard boxes? The question is more than fair, as fancy feathers and shiny plastic seem to fade into the background when a half-assembled piece of cardboard is anywhere in sight—but why all the fuss for such a banal box?
Dr Johnathon Roberts explains that many theories are at play when it comes to the love between a cat and its box, but surprisingly, the most studied theory centres around stress. “Many studies have shown the direct correlation between the provision of hiding places (in the form of boxes) and the reduction of stress levels in cats, especially during times of high stress such as moving or the introduction of new animals to the home.” Not only does stress affect your feline’s emotional wellbeing, it can also lead to immunosuppression and greater susceptibility to infectious diseases such as feline herpes virus and calicivirus.
Moving and cardboard boxes usually go hand in hand, so your cat’s conquering of packing supplies may not be all that shocking. But what about when things are pretty calm at home? What else drives kitties into the bowels of their favourite boxes? Dr Chryle Bonk also notes that the design of a box brings out a cat’s hunting instincts. “Cats like boxes because they are both predator and prey species.” She explains that felines like to be able to switch quickly between hiding in order to eventually pounce while still protecting themselves from larger potential threats. Dr. Paola Cuevas Moreno agrees. “Have you seen how sometimes when cats go into a box, they keep observing and studying their environment from the top or through a hole?” We’ve likely all seen this, shortly before our cats leap out to pounce on our innocent legs as we walk by.
Dr Bonk admits that cats aren’t always as stealthy as they presume to be, but boxes help by providing a feeling of invisibility. “Boxes and bags provide the perfect hideout for them to survey their territory without being seen (even though they sometimes have a tail, or their whole hind end sticking out of the box!).”
Dr Cuevas Moreno also adds that not only is a cardboard box is a decent heat insulator, it also offers precise boundaries in terms of territory—something cats are quite particular about. “Cats love to know what belongs to them, and the margins of a box give them a feeling of property with a clearly defined territory.” Plus, she adds, “A cat inside a box is not losing body heat as it would in the cold environment of a large room.”
Thanks to the vets at ExcitedCats.com for keeping us in the cat-bahaviour loop.