Cats and boxes: it’s a love affair for the ages. For most cats, nothing can bring as much joy as a simple box. For some cats, any box will do. For others, size matters, and preferences vary. While some cats prefer big, roomy mansion-sized boxes, others will wedge themselves into tiny little boxes, giving rise to the “if it fits it sits” meme. Have you ever wondered why cats are so drawn to boxes and other enclosed spaces like baskets and suitcases?
Looking for enclosed spaces is instinctual behavior for cats. In the wild, this allows them to hide from predators, and to stalk their prey without being seen.
Enclosed spaces can provide a sense of security for cats. A 2014 study at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands looked at shelter cats with and without boxes. The findings will not surprise anyone who has worked with cats in a shelter or clinic setting: the cats who were given boxes adapted to their new surroundings much more quickly, were less stressed and more interested in interacting with humans.
According to a 2006 study by the National Research Council, the thermoneutral zone for a domestic cat is 86 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the range of temperatures in which cats are comfortable without having to generate energy above and beyond their normal metabolic rate. Since that rate is much higher than our human comfort zone, it might explain why cats gravitate toward tiny, enclosed spaces: the force the cat to squish herself into a ball or other contorted shape, which, of course, helps preserve body heat.
Getting creative with boxes
While most cats are probably fine with just a plain old box, some cat parents get super creative with boxes, building entire forts and castles for their cats. The video below from a few years ago is still a favorite of mine: