Veterinarian experts and behaviorist explain this feline obsession with the humble box.

When your cat pays extra-special attention to the remnants of your latest delivery, you may find yourself wondering what it is about that plain box thats so appealing. Why does your cat seem so interested in such an odd "toy?" As it turns out, it's inherent in their DNA, says Dr .Michelle Burch, DVM. Cats like to hide and play in boxes for a variety of reasons, from their hunting roots to plain old comfort. Here, our experts break down the top reasons your cat won't leave that box alone.

portrait of a kitten with a ball from the box
Credit: Kosmos11 / Getty Images

It feels safe.

This is the number one reason cats like boxes, says Sarah Hodgson, an animal behaviorist. Boxes create a safe space for cats that plays into their natural instincts. "As ambush hunters, cats prefer to look out onto the world from a secure and discrete location," she explains. This serves two purposes: stalking prey and avoiding predators that could potentially approach from any angle.

A box gives cats a hidden vantage point and allows them to remain vigilant towards prey, says Hodgson. A box also helps protect them from their own predators, since it limits all sensory input to animals outside the box—it blocks the cat's sound, scent, and visual. Though there aren't likely true predators in your own home, boxes give cats an ideal hiding spot to flee to, which helps ease their anxiety when presented with stressors, like a loud noise or a human or animal they aren't familiar with, says Burch.

It's comfortable.

Sleeping is a favorite pastime for cats, and boxes fashion the coziest beds, Burch explains. "Cats prefer temperatures around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to be comfortable and relaxed, and cardboard boxes provide a layer of insulation that helps hold this ideal temperature."

It has a pleasing texture.

Not all cats want to curl up and take a nap in a box though. Many cats love the texture of boxes to engage in healthy cat activities, like biting and scratching, says Burch. A box simply creates a safe, low-stress environment to do so.

It smells interesting.

It's not all about touch—boxes engage other senses like smell, says Yvette Berke, outreach manager for The Little Angels Project, a nonprofit animal rescue in California. Due to the porous nature of cardboard, boxes absorb the smells of the environments around them. When a box has been handled by other people or has been outside, cats can smell that. As a result, you might notice your feline friend cuddling up to the box or rubbing their cheeks against the outside. They're taking all the scents in, plus leaving their own scent mark, says Berke.


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