Why Do Cats Like Boxes?

The idea of a plain, brown box doesn't seem supper appealing to humans—but there are a few reasons why cats love them. Here's why vets and cat experts say cats like boxes.

Pet lovers debate whether cats are smarter than dogs, and vice versa. One thing that people do agree on, however, is that cat behavior is tough to decode. Veterinarians and cat experts do know one thing all cats love—boxes. Here’s why cats like boxes so much.

Why do cats like boxes?

Cats crave security

Although there are several theories about why cats like boxes, Mark D. Freeman, DVM, an assistant professor at the VA-MD College of Veterinary Medicine, says the most widely accepted explanation is the security factor. “Cats are, by nature, cryptic animals, meaning they prefer to have a safe hiding spot from which they can observe the world around them,” says Dr. Freeman. “Cats are both hunger and prey, so having a secure space from which they can monitor for threats from predators as well as well as for appealing prey is ideal.” Cardboard boxes, or any small, confined space, provide the perfect “safe” spot for cats to avoid predators and catch a meal, according to Dr. Freeman. I mean, cats are even afraid of cucumbers.

Cats require warmth

Cats also like boxes because they find them physically comforting, according to Daniel Rotman, CEO of PrettyLitter. “Boxes can greatly reduce a cat’s stress and help cats regulate their body temperatures,” says Rotman. The optimal ambient temperature for cats to maintain their body temperature is upwards of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Small enclosed spaces, like cardboard boxes, provide insulation that keeps your feline family member warm and safe, according to Rotman. Speaking of cats and boxes, this is why cats know how to use a litter box instinctually. 

Why do cats like boxes more than others? Cats with long hair, thyroid conditions, and some specific breeds like the temperature cooler, notes Emily Parker, a cat behavior expert at Catological. If you have a kitten, a slender cat, or a cat with short hair, however, you might find them curled up in a box when they aren’t lounging in the sun or snuggled in your fresh laundry. That craving for warmth is partly why cats purr, too.

Is it safe for your cat to be near cardboard?

Cardboard boxes have a textural element that cats really enjoy. “You’ll often find them scratching, chewing, and otherwise mangling the cardboard, which is a great source of entertainment and pleasure for the cat,” says Dr. Freeman. The cardboard is a good place for cats to scratch and bite, too. The scent glands on their toe pads leave a unique signature to the box, marking their territory, as well, according to Dr. Freeman. Cardboard is just plain fun for cats and provides hours of entertainment for your fur baby, says Dr. Freeman.

Giving your cat cardboard and cardboard boxes might even help their anxiety. “When a cat is over-stimulated, tired, or just in need of a break, a box gives them the ability to recharge until they’re ready to come out and play again,” Rotman says. It acts as a sort of meditation zone. Cats, especially recently adopted cats, often feel stressed and overwhelmed. A box provides them with some tranquility from all the commotion, adds Parker. So giving your cat some cardboard is something they’ll appreciate, unlike these 13 things you do that your cat actually hates.

Boxes are also pretty safe as long as they are on a sturdy surface away from heaters or high foot-traffic areas. Make sure no staples or tape in the box could hurt your cat, warns Rotman. “Make sure to examine any box before you give it to your cat to explore, especially since cats have a tendency to rub up against things,” says Rotman. While you’re at it, make sure you also avoid these 12 dangerous mistakes cat owners should never make.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.