You just spent more money on the latest luxury cat castle than your college tuition. You tear open the mail-order box and spend two hours assembling it. Your cat peers at it indifferently, twitches his tail, then jumps into the box his castle came in, batting at the flaps.
Fear not, cat lovers, there is some explanation as to why cats love boxes; those reasons may even lead you to stop breaking the bank on cat toys when all that your complex kitty desires is a simple cardboard box.
Stress reducer in shelters
A study conducted by Dutch ethnologist (someone who studies animal behavior) Claudia Vinke proves an interesting point. To see if boxes alleviated stress levels in an animal shelter, she divided 19 newly admitted cats into two groups: one with boxes and one without. She discovered that after three days the group with boxes had reduced stress levels, whereas it took the group without boxes up to full two weeks to calm down from the anxiety of shelter living. In short, it proved that boxes provide a stress reliever for kitties new to shelters where the abundance of new smells and noises can be overwhelming.
Content at home
It is yet to be determined if this decrease in stress levels carries over into felines already living in homes. However, because cats are normally quite solitary and avoid conflict as much as they can, a box at home can represent a microcosm of peace and quiet. Board-certified veterinary behaviorist, Leslie Cooper, DVM, DACVB who works at AAHA-accredited VCA San Francisco Veterinary Specialists says, “In a hospital setting, anything that is readily available that allows cats to hide out, whether it is a box or a cage door covered by a towel has the potential to reduce stress, if even by a little.” Because it helps in shelters and hospitals, it is likely boxes help your kitty feel less anxious at home too.
How about the simple fact that cats not only love sitting in boxes, but they also love playing in them? Have you ever been walking by a seemingly empty box when out pops a paw batting at your legs? Cooper says, “With most behaviors there are many potential causes that may be involved. From an adaptive standpoint, a small predator might find it useful to hide and in our modern world boxes are there to hide in.”
Perhaps your cat likes relaxing in boxes because it acts as a bit of an insulator keeping him or her warm. This could be another reason that demystifies a cat’s need to be encased in something, though there hasn’t been any actual research done on this.
The next time you’re considering doling out your life savings on a luxury cat castle, think twice. Those abandoned cardboard boxes in the basement might save you a few bucks and provide Captain Cuddles with all the entertainment, warmth, and security he desires.
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