Cats love boxes — everyone knows that. So I’m surprised that so far there has only been one serious study on why. And it’s actually a really good bit of research because it benefits shelter cats. I found out about in this story on Bored Panda, but you can check out the actual study here.
The bottom line — and it’s pretty logical, really — is that boxes are stress reducers for cats. Cats, even the social ones, like privacy (or at least the option to be private). I’m sure most people can relate to wanting to get away from everyone else now and then. Why would us cats be any different? Cat behavior experts often recommend a hiding spot for the shyer or non-dominant cats in multi-cat households. And boxes are an easy and inexpensive way to give a cat her own little space.
Cats living in shelters often lack privacy, and that can be stressful for them. They have to live in cages, or in open spaces among a revolving group of strangers. It’s totally unnatural, and even though many cats manage to adjust in their own way, it’s not their preferred existence. The study, which focused on a Dutch animal shelter, looked at cats new to shelter life, and measured their stress levels with and without hiding boxes. The cats who had boxes to hide in had significantly less stress. Which is a very good thing, because less stress not only means a better emotional adjustment for the cats — it can also help reduce the spread of disease. Stressed out cats get sicker faster and more often.
Of course cats at home love boxes too, and hiding spots. And the more cats living together, the more important that is. But even in a one or two cat family, hiding spaces are necessary. It’s nothing personal, honest, but sometimes we just want a break from our humans. We do like interaction on our own terms, and having our own private spots guarantee that.
So why don’t I really need boxes? Well, I do have a few private spaces — my tunnels, and the cardboard cat scratcher houses in the living room. But I’m only attracted to boxes when there’s a toy or treats involved. I love stalking cat toys around a box, and one of my favorite games is when my human tosses treats into boxes. I’ll take any excuse to jump! But my human gives me as much private time as I want, Boodie keeps to herself, and I have little desire to hide. So as opposed to using boxes for hiding, I use them for social activities. Which, come to think of it, is a good use for them too.