Why Do Cats Love Boxes?

Plain cardboard boxes don't have much of a draw for humans over the age of six, but there are a few reasons why cats love them.

Living with a cat means putting up with a wide variety of both very cute and very weird cat behaviors. Cats sleeping on us: cute. Cats’ love of laptops: weird. The fact that cats sleep so much: cute, weird, and a little perplexing. While every cat is different, there are a few things that felines the world over have put securely in the “likes” category: eating tuna, sharpening their claws on your favorite chairs, and getting into boxes. We asked the experts to answer your most pressing kitty question: Why do cats love boxes so darn much?

Why do cats like boxes?

Experts have a couple of theories as to why your kitty keeps climbing into your discarded boxes before you can toss them into the recycling bin.

1. Boxes give cats security

Although there are several theories about why cats love boxes, Mark D. Freeman, DVM, clinical 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,” he says. “Cats are both hunter and prey, so having a secure space from which they can monitor threats from predators as well as monitor prey is ideal.”

Cardboard boxes and any other small, confined spaces fit the bill. Speaking of supposed threats, here’s why cats are afraid of cucumbers.

2. Boxes keep cats warm

Cats also love boxes because they find them physically comforting, according to Daniel Rotman, CEO of kitty litter company PrettyLitter. “Boxes can greatly reduce a cat’s stress and help cats regulate their body temperatures,” he says.

The optimal ambient temperature for cats to maintain their body temperature is upwards of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Toasty! Small, enclosed spaces, like cardboard boxes, can provide insulation that helps cats retain their body heat.

Why do some cats love boxes more than others? Cats with long hair, those with thyroid conditions, and certain feline breeds like the temperature a little cooler, so you might not see them sitting in boxes as often, notes Emily Parker, a cat behavior expert at Catological, a site that reviews cat food, litter, and other tools. 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.

3. Boxes can help reduce anxiety

Giving your cat a cardboard box might even help it with any anxiety it’s feeling. “When a cat is overstimulated, 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.

Think of a cardboard box as a sort of meditation zone. Cats, especially those who’ve been recently adopted, often feel stressed and overwhelmed. A box provides them with some tranquility, away from all the commotion, adds Parker. Your cat may hate a lot of things, but an empty box definitely isn’t one of them.

Why do cats chew on cardboard?

Maine coon catAlexandra Jursova/Getty Images

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. Fun fact: The scent glands on cats’ toe pads leave a unique signature on the box, which marks their territory, he explains.

Are boxes safe for cats?

Boxes don’t pose a risk to cats, provided they sit on a sturdy surface and are located away from heaters or areas of high foot traffic. Just make sure the box is free of staples and tape, which could hurt your feline friend. “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 dangerous mistakes cat owners often make. Then, read up about this common cat behavior question: can cats cry?

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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.