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If you’re a cat owner, you’ve probably purchased your pet a bright new toy only to have your feline express more interest in the cardboard box it came in. So what is it with cats and boxes? The answers can help us understand our feline companions and their behaviors just a little bit better.

A hunter’s blind

Cats are carnivores, and in the wild, they obtain much of their food by hunting. Like their larger relatives, domestic cats tend to stalk their prey, often lying hidden in wait. These instincts didn’t go away when cats were domesticated but rather became play behaviors. If you have more than one cat, you’ve probably witnessed some spirited “ambush play.” A box provides your cat with a perfect hiding place from which to plan its next “hunt.” Play is important for your cat. It helps keep its senses keen, muscles exercised, and brain alert. And besides that, it’s fun!

The search for warmth

Healthy feline body temperatures run slightly warmer than those of humans (99.5 - 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit), so for cats, keeping warm is essential. Cats’ fur serves some of this warming function, but our feline friends still seem to be on a perpetual search for the coziest place to curl up. A cardboard box makes the perfect den for those chilly days when your pet wants to catch up on its beauty rest.

Conflict resolution

If you’ve witnessed a cat argument, you’ve probably observed that cats are not the best at resolving conflicts. Often a screaming match will end with one cat simply walking off and hiding. This is where a box comes in handy. It provides a place for your feline to go when it’s having trouble getting along with the other animals in the house. Interestingly, having a box for your cat may decrease your animal’s stress level. One study introduced two groups of new cats to an established colony. One group was provided with boxes, the other not. Investigators found that the cats that were given boxes adjusted better and more quickly to their new surroundings. It’s thought that the box provides cats with a place to reduce overstimulation and to acclimate at their own pace.

The urge to explore

Cats are intensely curious animals, so your feline is likely to explore anything new that you bring into the house. A cat will naturally try to get in any space where it can fit its head. Using its whiskers as sensors, your cat can determine whether a space is cozy or just cramped just by exploring a little bit. Often cats will seek out a comfy place where their whiskers can touch both opposing walls at once. This seems to provide a sense of security that feeds into your feline’s natural den instincts.

Making a safe box for your cat

If you have some cardboard boxes handy, you may want to take the initiative and make a safe place for your cat. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that your cat’s box is cozy and safe.

  • Remove any staples or tape from the box to prevent injury.
  • Place the box in a safe location where it cannot fall.
  • Line the box with one of your cat’s favorite blankets for warmth.
  • Put the box someplace cat can feel safe when the house is busy or crowded.
  • Put one of your cat’s favorite toys in the box.
  • Use gentle aromatics (natural scents) to attract your cat to the box.

Cautions

We hope you find these tips helpful. As always, remember to watch for any abnormal behaviors in your feline. For example, excessive hiding or persistent isolation can be a sign of physical or emotional illness. Always check that your cat’s eating, toileting, grooming, and sleeping habits are normal. If you have questions about your cat’s behavior, contact your vet. They can answer your questions and help to determine the best course for your pet’s health.

At Figo, your pet’s health is vital to us. You never know when playing in their box could take a turn for the worst - especially if your cat isn't as acrobatic as they used to be. Get a quote today and discover how peace of mind feels.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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