Why Do Cats Love Boxes? The Science Behind Feline Fascination

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Why do cats love boxes? This is a question that many cat owners and lovers have wondered about. Cats seem to have a natural attraction to boxes, and they can spend hours playing, hiding, or sleeping in them. But what is the reason behind this behavior? Is it just a quirk, or is there a deeper meaning to it?

In this article, we will explore the science behind why cats love boxes, and how boxes can benefit their physical and mental health, as well as their social interactions. We will also look at some of the factors that influence their preference for different types of boxes, and how you can provide your cat with the best boxes for their needs.

The Benefits of Boxes for Cats

Cats love boxes for many reasons, and most of them have to do with their natural instincts and behaviors. Boxes can provide cats with security, comfort, curiosity, and territory, which are all essential for their well-being. Here are some of the benefits that boxes offer for cats:

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  • Security: Cats are both predators and prey animals, which means they have to be alert and cautious of their surroundings. Boxes offer them a safe and cozy place to hide from potential threats, such as other animals, loud noises, or unfamiliar people. Boxes also give cats a sense of control over their environment, as they can observe what is going on outside without being seen or disturbed. This reduces their stress and anxiety levels, which can improve their health and well-being. According to a study by Dutch researchers, shelter cats that were given access to boxes adjusted faster to their new environment, showed less signs of stress, and were more interested in interacting with humans. The researchers concluded that boxes can help cats cope with stressful situations, and suggested that providing boxes for shelter cats can improve their welfare and chances of adoption.
  • Comfort: Cats are thermoregulators, which means they can adjust their body temperature according to the ambient temperature. However, they prefer warmer temperatures than humans, and often seek out warm spots to curl up and nap. Boxes can provide them with insulation and warmth, especially if they are lined with soft materials like blankets or towels. Boxes can also conform to the shape of the cat’s body, which can make them feel more comfortable and relaxed. According to a study by Australian researchers, cats that had access to a hiding box before a cognitive test performed better than those that did not. The researchers suggested that the hiding box reduced the cats’ stress and enhanced their cognitive abilities.
  • Curiosity: Cats are naturally curious and playful animals, and boxes can stimulate their interest and imagination. Boxes can serve as toys, puzzles, or hiding places for cats, and they can have fun exploring, scratching, or chewing on them. Boxes can also trigger the cat’s hunting instincts, as they can pretend that the box is a prey item or a hiding spot for a potential prey. Cats can also use boxes to ambush or surprise their owners or other pets, which can be entertaining for both parties. According to a study by American researchers, cats preferred the cardboard and plastic boxes over the wire mesh and transparent ones, and they spent more time in the cardboard boxes than in any other type. The researchers speculated that the cardboard boxes provided more privacy, comfort, and fun for the cats, and that the transparent boxes did not offer enough protection or concealment.
  • Territory: Cats are territorial animals, and they like to mark their own space and belongings. Boxes can act as extensions of the cat’s territory, and they can use them to claim their ownership and dominance. Cats can also use boxes to communicate with other cats, by leaving their scent or scratch marks on them. Boxes can also help cats avoid conflicts with other cats, as they can retreat to their own box if they feel threatened or annoyed. According to a study by British researchers, cats that had access to multiple boxes in a multi-cat household showed less aggression and more tolerance towards each other. The researchers suggested that boxes can help cats establish and maintain their social hierarchy, and reduce the risk of fights and injuries.

The Science of Cats and Boxes

While the benefits of boxes for cats are clear, the science behind their attraction to them is not fully understood. However, some researchers have attempted to study this phenomenon and shed some light on the mystery.

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One of the possible explanations for why cats love boxes is based on the concept of optimal arousal. This is the idea that animals seek a balance between stimulation and relaxation, and that they have different thresholds for what is too much or too little. Boxes can help cats achieve this balance, as they can provide them with both excitement and calmness, depending on the situation. For example, a box can be a source of stimulation when the cat is bored or curious, and a source of relaxation when the cat is tired or stressed. Boxes can also help cats regulate their arousal levels, as they can choose to enter or exit the box whenever they want.

Another possible explanation for why cats love boxes is based on the concept of environmental enrichment. This is the idea that animals need a variety of stimuli and opportunities to express their natural behaviors, and that this can improve their physical and mental health, as well as their quality of life. Boxes can provide cats with environmental enrichment, as they can offer them different textures, shapes, sizes, and smells to explore and interact with. Boxes can also allow cats to exercise their muscles, sharpen their claws, and practice their hunting skills. Boxes can also enhance the cat’s environment, as they can add more complexity and diversity to it, and make it more interesting and enjoyable.

How to Choose the Best Boxes for Your Cat

If you want to provide your cat with the best boxes for their needs, there are some factors that you should consider. Here are some tips on how to choose the best boxes for your cat:

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  • Size: The size of the box should be big enough for your cat to fit comfortably, but not too big that they feel exposed or vulnerable. Ideally, the box should be about 1.5 times the length of your cat, and about the same height as your cat when they are sitting. This will allow your cat to stretch, turn, and curl up in the box, without feeling cramped or restricted.
  • Material: The material of the box should be sturdy, durable, and safe for your cat. Cardboard and plastic are the most common and preferred materials for cat boxes, as they are lightweight, easy to clean, and recyclable. However, you can also use other materials, such as wood, metal, or fabric, as long as they are not toxic, sharp, or harmful for your cat. You can also line the box with soft materials, such as blankets, towels, or pillows, to make it more cozy and warm for your cat.
  • Location: The location of the box should be in a quiet, secure, and accessible place for your cat. You should avoid placing the box in a busy, noisy, or crowded area, as this can stress or disturb your cat. You should also avoid placing the box near sources of heat, cold, or moisture, as this can damage the box or make it uncomfortable for your cat. You should also make sure that the box is easy to reach and enter for your cat, and that they have a clear view of their surroundings from the box.
  • Variety: The variety of the box should be diverse and appealing for your cat. You should provide your cat with different types of boxes, such as open, closed, round, square, or irregular. You should also change the boxes regularly, to keep your cat interested and stimulated. You can also add some toys, treats, or scents to the boxes, to make them more fun and attractive for your cat.


Cats love boxes for many reasons, and they can benefit from them in various ways. Boxes can provide cats with security, comfort, curiosity, and territory, and they can also reduce their stress and improve their cognition. Boxes are simple and inexpensive objects that can enrich the lives of cats and their owners, and they can also help shelter cats adapt to their new environment and find their forever homes. If you have a cat, or are planning to adopt one, make sure to provide them with some boxes to enjoy. You will be surprised by how much they will appreciate them, and how much fun you will have watching them.


  • Vinke, C. M., Godijn, L. M., & Van der Leij, W. J. R. (2014). Will a hiding box provide stress reduction for shelter cats?. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 160, 86-93. Link
  • Gourkow, N., Hamon, S. C., & Phillips, C. J. (2018). Effect of gentle stroking and vocalization on behaviour, mucosal immunity and upper respiratory disease in anxious shelter cats. Preventive veterinary medicine, 149, 98-105. Link
  • Walker, J. K., Bruce, S. J., & Dale, A. R. (2020). What’s in the box? A comparison of the behaviours of domestic cats when given a choice of four different types of boxes to sit in. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 104997. Link

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