Why do cats love cardboard boxes? Pet experts decode the obsession

cats are not strange to cardboard boxes, as any feline owner knows. But what is it about these flimsy square boxes that make our kitties go crazy?

While we can’t say for sure, pet experts and feline scientists have begun to delve into the mysteries of the cat’s mind in recent years.

“If your cat has become attached to a cardboard box, why deny him that pleasure?” Molly DeVoss, a certified feline training specialist who runs the nonprofit Cat Behavior Solutions, tells Reverse.

Why does my cat like to sit on cardboard boxes?

One of the reasons cats may like to be in cardboard boxes: it serves as an object to rub against and mark their scent with their pheromones. Getty

Cats can be attracted to cardboard boxes for many reasons, but a common explanation is the novelty factor. Cardboard boxes may contain odors or an interesting texture to rub.

“Cats are very sensitive to changes in their home and many cats like to investigate anything different,” says Mikel Delgado. Reverse. Delgado is a cat expert at Feline Minds.

There’s also a more complex evolutionary reason why cardboard boxes are like catnip to your pet: They provide a sense of security from predators and a good vantage point for stalking potential prey, or dangling toys in the modern world. .

“Cats are both predators and prey. Hiding in something like a cardboard box can protect them from detection by their prey until they are ready to pounce,” says Katherine Pankratz, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. Reverse.

“Chewing cardboard can be simply because it is fun and entertaining”

Chyrle Bonk, a PetKeen veterinarian, tells Reverse that cats like the small, confined nature of boxes, which “helps them feel safe from predators or other scary things in their environment.”

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DeVoss says cats can remember toys you’ve previously thrown into empty boxes, so any new box serves as an invitation to play.

“I also wonder if the cat is trying to sniff the box by lying down and rubbing it; cats feel more comfortable when everything in their environment smells like them,” adds DeVoss.

Cardboard boxes are also insulating, so cats may find them particularly useful for keeping warm.

Surprisingly, there is some scientific data on cats and boxes. A 2014 study looks at what happens when you give shelter cats boxes to hide in. According to the data, cats that received the boxes were less stressed than those that didn’t, confirming that “hidden boxes” provide some sense of stress reduction in new environments.

A more recent article looked at the cat’s obsession with the closed, square shape of objects like cardboard boxes, laundry baskets, and simple outlines on the floor. The researchers confirmed that cats have “illusory contour susceptibility,” meaning they perceive contours that don’t exist in reality. In the experiments, the cats sat in an illusion of a square shape, known as a Kanizsa square, just as often as they sat in a real square.

While the study confirms that cats, at some evolutionary level, are attracted to sitting in boxes, it doesn’t propose to explain why the behavior occurs.

“My studio just tapped into cats’ attraction to sitting in close quarters and didn’t really light why they do,” Gabriella E. Smith, currently Ph.D. Comparative Cognition Candidate at the Messerli Research Institute, tells Reverse.

Why does my cat chew cardboard boxes?

Cats may enjoy chewing on the unique texture of cardboard. Getty

Some cats go beyond sitting in the box and also chew or eat the box. There can be several reasons why your cat chews on cardboard.

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Cats may have a compulsive tendency to chew on inedible objects, a phenomenon known as “pica.” Pankratz says pica is a concern when it comes to boxes because cardboard could be dangerous if consumed in “significant amounts.”

DeVoss says that pica is “relatively uncommon,” but adds that eating cardboard boxes could be a warning sign that you should talk to your vet.

But there is also a simpler explanation: your pet loves the corrugated texture on the edge of the boxes. The texture is smooth and may be easier for cats to pierce than other objects, giving them easy satisfaction from both chewing and scratching.

“Chewing on cardboard may just be because it’s fun and entertaining,” says Bonk, though he adds that it could also be a way for cats to relieve gum pain due to dental disease, so it may be time to get a dental checkup. to her kitten. .

DeVoss says your pet may also chew on cardboard as part of “attention-seeking” behavior, in other words, to get your attention.

Other factors include boredom and stress. Delgado suggests talking to a veterinarian if he suspects that environmental factors might be stressing his pet.

Finally, if you notice your cat chewing on the flaps or sides of the box, DeVoss says it could be your pet’s way of marking the scent of the box, since saliva contains pheromones. Once he’s identified why your cat is chewing on the cardboard box, he can work on solutions.

“Set your cat up for success by keeping cardboard boxes in a safe place to avoid temptation for your cat, and find an alternative means of satisfying that need,” says Pankratz.

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Delgado recommends providing your cat with other activities to keep her busy and things to chew on, which may include:

  • Bird feeders to watch near a window
  • Climbing and scratching objects
  • food puzzle
  • cat grass
  • chew toys
  • dental croquettes

How can I get my cat to stop playing with the box?

The boxes appeal to cats’ evolutionary “predator and prey” responses, giving them a safe space to stalk and hide. Getty

At some point, you’ll probably want to recycle the box so it doesn’t clutter your home. So what can you do if your cat becomes unusually attached to the litter item?

“If you need to throw out a box that your kitty has become attached to, put other items in the box first,” says Bonk.

Pankratz agrees, adding that you should provide alternative options and let your cat “vote” on which item it spends the most time enjoying.

These items can include a soft blanket, a toy, catnip, a cat-scented towel, or a bed that your pet finds comforting. Once your pet has adjusted to the new item, try moving it to a place outside the box that is similarly closed, so your cat feels safe. If you are sure your cat is okay, you can dispose of the box.

But if your cat remains hidden in the box because she’s afraid of something, Pankratz says that “addressing the reason for her fear” would be better than trying to get her out of the box.

Other experts like Delgado say it might be harder than you think to entice your cat to sit somewhere else. Instead, you can try offering your cat several boxes at once. That way, as your pet explores and becomes familiar with a new box, you can recycle the old one. Many cats like to have multiple sleeping options, which will rotate based on the movement of the sun and the time of year.

“If they love cardboard, why not let them enjoy it?” Delgado asks.

De Voss agrees: “I leave the boxes outside while my cat seems interested in them.”

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