Why Cats Love Boxes

Reasons Why Cats Love Boxes Photo by Calicocindy at en.wikipedia
Photo by Calicocindy at en.wikipedia

How do you catch a cat? Leave a cardboard box out. They will come.

All cat parents are familiar with this. There is an empty box of any type and any size in the house and your cat will find it and make it their playhouse. Cats absolutely love boxes. They’ll even try to fit in tiny tissue boxes, or lie for days in the cardboard box their expensive, new bed came in. It’s evident cats love boxes, but why?

The Box Dilemma

Boxes give cats places to hide and places from which to stalk their prey. Cat shelters and study researchers have been looking into why cats love boxes, and think that they need them to help to cope with stress and anxiety. Cats also seem to use them for warmth.  “Boxes help cats feel safe and protected. They are predators and like to be able to hide and pounce!” says Dr. Danel Grimmett, co-owner and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Sunset Veterinary Clinic in Edmond, OK.

Stress and Anxiety

One of the main reasons cats use boxes for is to reduce their level of stress and anxiety. Most people who live with cats understand that cats love tight, high spaces, and any kind of enclosure they can fit into (the smaller, the better).

Cats get a great sense of security and comfort from these small, high places. In studying shelter cats, veterinary scientists from Utrecht found that the amount of stress the cats carried reduced tremendously when the cat hid in a small box.

According to an article in Applied Animal Behavior Science, the researchers assert “The application of hiding boxes decreases stress in shelter cats, at least on the short term.” The primary researcher on the study was Claudia Vinke of Utrecht University. She has worked extensively with domestic shelter cats.

Vinke found that shelter cats who had access to boxes had significantly less stress than cats that did not. The need to hide appears to be so strong it can affect how and if the shelter cat adapts to its new environment and interaction with people. Specifically the cat’s reaction to stress and way of distressing includes hiding in boxes.

cat in box


Cats also use avoidance as another way of dealing with stress.  In this way they also use the boxes to shield themselves from whatever is causing them stress.

According to Vinke, “Cats do not appear to develop conflict resolution strategies to the extent that more gregarious species do, so they may attempt to circumvent antagonistic encounters by avoiding others or decreasing their activity.”

Dr. Patrick Mahaney, founder of California PetAcupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc., a Los Angeles-based, concierge, holistic, house-call veterinary practice, points out that “In the wild, cats would seek shelter in some form of protective layer, which could exist as a hole in a tree stump, and underground burrow, or even a cave. Indoors, a box serves to function as a safe location like that in which a cat would seek solace and security in nature.”


There seems to be one more reason why cats gravitate to boxes as a place to settle in and relax. It is not just boxes that cats seem to gravitate to, but as previously noted, it can be any small space that presents itself to them. How many times have you seen your cat sleeping in the bathroom sink?

In 2006, the National Research Council conducted its own research on cats and established that the body temperature of the cat is 86 degrees Fahrenheit to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. If your cat is hiding in a box it could also be because she is simply trying to get warm.

It seems that cats love boxes for a few possible reasons: to reduce stress, to hide from something or someone, or to warm up. Cats might also use boxes to hide from prey. Keep your boxes and let your cats play and hide in them!

Featured Image: Courtesy of Roanish via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Nicky LaMarco has been a freelance writer since 2001. Nicky is an experienced ghostwriter and copywriter. She also writes for a variety of magazines. Nicky lives in Maine with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. Learn more about her at www.nickylamarco.com.