Why Do Cats Like Boxes?

Stephanie Dube Dwilson
If you're lucky enough to have a cat in your household, then you've probably seen your cat play with boxes. Cats tend to be strangely drawn to boxes, using them as hiding spots, strategic sneak attack locations, or makeshift beds. You've probably wondered from time to time, "Just why do cats like boxes so much?" Cats like boxes because they feel safe, they provide good hunting hideouts, they keep them warm, and boxes are new and mysterious additions to your home. The mysterious connection between cats and boxes is a fascinating topic to explore.

Boxes Make Great Hunting Hideouts

Boxes provide concealment that can give cats a chance to hide from their prey, catching them unaware.1 If you have multiple cats in your home, you've no doubt seen one cat hide in a box waiting for the unsuspecting second cat to wander by. Boxes are great for sneak attacks on fellow cats and your unsuspecting ankles.

Boxes Make Cats Feel Safe

Boxes help cats feel safe.2 They have four walls around them, so it's tougher for another creature to sneak up on them. The closeness of a box might even remind cats of how they felt when they were with their moms as kittens, interestingly enough.3 This can help reduce stress.

In fact, in Gourkow and Phillips (2016) study of clicker training in shelter cats suggested that when provided with boxes, cats seemed to show lower stress levels. This means that when you're bringing a cat home for the first time, a cardboard box might be a helpful item to have on hand. Your cat might feel right at home and much less stressed if there's a box greeting him.

They Help Keep Cats Warm

Boxes can help keep cats warm. Cats' normal body temperatures can range from 99.5°F to 102.5°F. Cardboard can provide insulation that helps them retain their body heat.4

This insulation is something cats crave when they are outdoors, since boxes may also provide shelter from the weather. Even if your cat is indoors only, your furry friend still feels an instinctual need for shelter.

The Box Is New and Mysterious

The "new" factor of a box might be enough to grab your cat's interest.5 Cats love exploring the lay of the land, so they can get excited if you bring something new into your home, whether it's a toy, a grocery bag, or a box. They to explore every inch of new landmarks, and that includes finding out if they fit inside your new box.

This "new" factor might also explain why cats like paper and why cats like bags. A new crinkled-up paper or bag can be very enticing because it provides a new opportunity for exploring.

Large Cats Love Boxes Too

You might be surprised to learn that large cats love boxes just as much as your pet cat.6 This indicates the feline love of boxes is strongly instinctual.

Big Cat Rescue7 filmed their large cats reacting to several large cardboard boxes placed in their sanctuaries. The big cats acted just like your pet cat would at home. This ranged from a leopard sleeping in a box to tigers using the box as a toy for sneak attacks and play time. It's fascinating to realize that large cats have the same reactions to boxes that their smaller cat brothers have.

How You Can Help Make Boxes Safer and More Inviting

There's nothing wrong with your cat loving boxes, but there are things you can do to make sure the boxes are a little safer. Before giving your cat a box, you might want to check for any leftover staples or tape that could get caught on your cat's fur.

Consider keeping the box on a sturdy surface where it won't tip over. That means the floor could be preferable instead of putting a box at the top of a cat tree. If your cat is shy, keep the box away from areas with high foot traffic.

You might even make the box a little more welcoming by padding it with some soft blankets and throwing in one of your cat's favorite toys. Setting up a calming diffuser for cats nearby can also make the area more inviting. A calming diffuser releases a drug-free, odorless vapor that mimics the pheromones a cat releases that indicate an area is safe and secure. This is kind of like sending a signal in a cat's own language that lets her know she can relax.

A cat's love for boxes is something to celebrate and encourage. Whether your cat is stressed, needs a little extra warmth, or just wants to play, a box can be a great "toy" to add to your cat's collection.

1. Aspen Grove Vet

2. Purina

3. Catster

4. Pet MD

5. Inverse

6. The Dodo

7. Big Cat Rescue's Video