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Why Cats Love Cardboard Boxes

New research may prove cardboard boxes are able to supply instant comfort and stress relief for cats.

August 25, 2020 5 min read
Why Cats Love Cardboard Boxes

Cats are curious creatures full of surprises. If there is any one standard in the life of a cat, it is the fact that any cat, at any time, will climb into a cardboard box given the opportunity. Even if your cat has every toy at his or her grasp, nothing can quite compare to a cozy cardboard box from your most recent Amazon purchase. Pet owners for years have wondered why this behavior is so consistent with cats of all ages. New research suggests that not only is a cat's love of boxes an evolutionary advantage to survival, but can be a way to help relieve and reduce environmental stress.

Evolutionary Instincts

As much as your cat may believe he or she is a great hunter, the truth is that in the wild cats are both prey and predator. It is true that a cat can pounce on and hunt smaller animals, but in nature small cats often find themselves labeled as prey. Finding a small, confined area to claim as his or her own, a cat can create a secure and comforting environment that can not only be used for protection, but can be used for an advantageous hunting position.

By limiting the amount of available area around the cat, he or she forces any potential prey to move right in front of the cat's field of vision. This allows the cat to control his or her environment, and become immediately aware of any intruders entering his or her space. In the wild, a cat may choose a rock formation, dense bush, or burrow, but in our homes a cat has to resort to a cardboard box to create the same effect.

Reduce Stress

Cats can become incredibly stressed from a number of situations, many stemming from their environment. Simply being exposed to a new home, location, or area can cause a cat's stress level to skyrocket. Compared to other animals, cats really do not have a social way to help deal with stress. Instead, cats have a tendency to withdraw from stressful situations rather than face their problems head on. In this sense, a cardboard box may provide your cat with the perfect opportunity to physically escape from his or her problems.

Hiding From Their Problems

While other animals and pets may choose to deal with stressful situations and problems head on, a cat usually chooses to just avoid confrontation. This means that a cat is more likely to remove himself from the stressful situation in order to reduce stress levels. Out of sight, out of mind. A cardboard box is able to provide the perfect opportunity for a cat to escape his or her stressors, and thus offer the perfect opportunity to allow a cat to feel safe and secure again.

Recent studies have been performed to examine the impact a cardboard box has on a cat's stress level. Researchers at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands have performed an experiment testing the stress level in shelter cats. In the experiment a group of shelter cats were tested over a 14 day time period to see how they dealt with stressors using the Kessler and Turner Cat-Stress-Score (CSS). Half of the cats had access to a cardboard box, while the other half did not. Following the test, it turns out that the cats that were allowed access to a cardboard box had lower stress levels, and in fact, even adapted to their new environments faster. The cats who could relax and calm down in a box were also found to approach humans more readily, and warmed up to potential new owners more quickly.

Shelter Cats

This simple, but profound experiment can have big impacts when it comes to helping shelter cats. All too often, cats that enter the animal rescues and shelters feel stressed by the changing environment, which can make them seem aloof, reclusive, or withdrawn, certainly not qualities potential new owners are looking for in a pet. By allowing shelter cats access to a safe haven and hide, such as a cardboard box, it may mean that cats will adjust to their surroundings, and potential new owners, sooner.

The test results for this experiment found that all the cats in the experiment had a normalized comfort level at about 14 days. However, the cats that had exposure to a cardboard box were able to reach this level of comfort in just 3 to 4 days. This shorter turnaround time proved that a cardboard box was exactly what the cats needed in order to feel calm and safe. This simple connection to a cardboard box can mean that shelter cats get out of the shelter more quickly, and into loving forever homes.

Warm and Cozy

Of course, another key aspect of a cardboard box to consider is the fact that boxes provide wonderful insulation. To any cat owners that have ever had a cat sit on a hot computer monitor or lounge across a toasty laptop, cats are by nature heat seekers. In fact, the perfect temperature range for a domestic house cat is between 86 and 97 degrees Fahrenheit, much hotter than many people choose to keep their homes. For this reason alone, having a tightly insulated box to sleep in may provide enough comfort and warmth to keep your furry friend toasty and happy.

While it may be frustrating, albeit hilarious, to see your cat choose the discarded cardboard box for a toy, rather than the top of the line cat tree you purchased, there are scientifically proven reasons why your cat actively seeks out cardboard boxes. Aside from the evolutionary advantage a cat has to hunker down in a tightly confined box, a cardboard box is able to provide security and shelter, which can reduce stress levels in your cat. Further, the properties of a cardboard box are enough to keep your pet nice and warm, perfect for these heat seeking animals.

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