Compact Cats: When Cats Become Boxes

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Cat owners the world over will understand, and will probably have first-hand experience with, the feline obsession with small boxes. In fact, many cat owners have experienced the frustration of buying a large and expensive toy for their furry overlord, going through the trouble of setting it up and then looking expectant and proud as they invite the cat inside the room to inspect their handiwork, only for the cat to completely ignore the toy and head straight for the cardboard box it came in.

This obsession is universal with cats, and a lot of research has been done on the subject. For instance, we know that when boxes are placed in cat shelters, there is a notable and sometimes significant reduction in the level of stress that the cats in those shelters experience. This may just be a short-term fix, but it is an instant one, which effectively means that empty cardboard boxes are the Valium and Xanax of the feline world.

No one is 100% certain why cats love boxes so much, but we can use a bit of common sense to figure this out for ourselves. Firstly, cats are predators. They like to ambush. A box is the perfect method for doing this. They can sink in and hide out of sight, only to leap out and pounce on their prey when it passes. If you have ever walked next to a coffee table that your cat has been hiding underneath, then the claw marks on your leg will testify to how much they enjoy this sort of behavior.

Cats also like tight, confined and claustrophobic places, possibly because they feel safe there. This is why cats will hide under your bed, under the covers, and anywhere else they can squeeze, and it is also why they will head straight for the first cardboard box they can find.

As discussed in the book The Domestic Cat, The Biology of its Behaviors, cats are also anti-social creatures, and ones that differ greatly from other animals (although most cat owners have already figured this out). This is because when faced with a threat, instead of resolving conflict in the typical ways — by fighting, showing teeth, being dominant/submissive or even talking through it — they have a tendency to run away and hide. This doesn’t apply to all cats all of the time, but even those who stand and fight because they are facing a threat from a neighborhood cat might still avoid a repeat of that conflict in the future. Therefore, as this book states, a box “represents a safe zone, a place [where all problems] disappear.” In that sense, a box to a cat is like a bedroom to a teenager, presumably without the musty stench and hidden pornography.

It’s not just boxes, either, as anything small, confined, and with the potential to hide inside will satisfy your cat all the same. In fact, if you use your computer a lot, whether for work, play, or to stalk your ex on Facebook, and you find that your cat won’t leave you or your keyboard alone (another strange feline habit) then simply place a bowl on your desk, or wherever you keep your computer. Your cat will choose this bowl over your lap and your keyboard, squeezing inside and curling up. Not only will it keep the hairs away while also ensuring you see your computer screen instead of your cat’s backside, but it’s also a very amusing sight.