Ginger Tabby cat laying in a cardboard box

It’s no secret that cats love boxes. In fact, most cat lovers have seen at least one cartoon depicting a cat sleeping in a box instead of the expensive cat bed that was inside that box.

Why do cats love boxes so much? The reasons can be multifaceted, but basically it’s a safe and cozy spot for your cat to rest.

How Cats See Boxes

Cats are naturally inquisitive. When something new shows up in their environment, they will investigate it to determine if it’s safe, if it’s a toy, or if it’s potential food. Cats are known predators. A box is an enclosed, confined space that your cat may see as the perfect place to hide and lay in wait to ambush prey.

Some folks forget that, although cats are predators, cats are also prey for a lot of wild animals. An enclosed box may also provide your cat with a safe hiding place. In fact, boxes may make your cat feel so safe that your cat may like to hide out inside one when stressed or when there are environmental changes in their home. Hiding is a coping mechanism for cats dealing with different environmental stressors.

Some cat owners may read this and wonder, if the cat carrier is an enclosed space that looks a lot like a box, why does the cat hate it so much? Unfortunately, your cat has learned what the carrier means. When they are home, going in the carrier means they are going somewhere not fun, like the vet. This is also why, when you’re at the vet, all your cat wants to do is go back into the carrier. When they are at the vet, going in the carrier means they are going home. There are tips and tricks to make it easier to get your cat into their carrier, though. If you can start early, leaving the carrier out as an extra bed (or box) can help break your cat’s association with it and the vet.

The Allure of Boxes

Cats are all about texture. This can be why it is sometimes difficult to switch diets for a cat that’s only had kibble of a specific shape, and it’s why there is a variety of canned food textures. Texture preferences are also why your cat may prefer scratching at your couch instead of the sisal rope scratching post set up right next to it. Cardboard has a texture that most cats will find interesting to both scratch at and nibble at.

Cardboard is also insulating. Cats prefer ambient temperatures ranging from the upper 80s to lower 90s (in Fahrenheit). This is, obviously, a bit warmer than most folks set their thermostat. Cardboard boxes might provide your cat with a place to stay warm.

How to Foster Positive Experiences with Boxes

If your cat has their heart set on sleeping in boxes, there are things you can do to keep them safe and comfortable. Place soft blankets and some of your cat’s favorite toys in the box. You can spray their blankets with a calming pheromone such as Feliway to make them feel even more comfortable. Cats like being near their family, so leave the box in an area of the home where you normally hang out, like the family room or the bedroom.

Safety Tips

There are things you should be wary of before giving your cat a cardboard box to play with:

  • Remove any and all staples that may be in the cardboard. These may inadvertently poke your cat or cause a puncture wound that can get infected.
  • Remove any twine or string that may have been used to close up the box as these pose a risk for a linear foreign body in cats.
  • Leave the box on a sturdy surface, such as the floor, and place it on its largest side so that it is less prone to tip over.
  • If you have boxes out to pack up for a move, ensure your cat has not sneaked into a box before you seal it up

For most cats, their box obsession is completely normal behavior. Go ahead and embrace it. Eventually they will notice the expensive toy or pet bed that came in it.

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