Banner image for blog post: If I fits, I sits: why do cats love boxes?

If I fits, I sits: why do cats love boxes?

31 Dec 2020.


Following the festive season, your house may still be full of boxes. Which means the real fun has started for your kitty. Cats love boxes and will seemingly stuff themselves into any container they can. But what is the attraction between cats and cardboard? Cat in a Flat finds out.

Cats’ love for boxes is one of their most lovable characteristics. Few kitty lovers can resist cooing over the sight of their furry friend settling down for a nap in a box. Or thrill at Mr Whiskers stealthily waiting, hidden in a box, to pounce on a passing human or fellow cat. Even when your cat rejects their expensive bed in preference to napping in its box, it’s still an endearing trait. Especially when the box is slightly too small, leaving legs, tails and fur spilling over the edges.

Below, we look at where this fascinating behaviour comes from, whether wild cats love boxes, and whether and why kitties are obsessed with other materials such as paper and plastic.

There are few things cuter than a cat in a box. 📷 @litheen86

Boxes are a place for cats to destress

A 2014 study by scientists at the University of Utrecht discovered that boxes reduced stress in shelter cats. Kitties provided with a box were able to adapt to their new surroundings quicker, and showed fewer signs of stress. Kitty instincts tell them to hide when they are under threat, distressed or unwell. A box provides a welcome hiding spot for many cats whenever their surroundings feel a little overwhelming. 

Read our guide to moving house with a cat if you need some extra tips on introducing your furry friend to a new environment. 

Boxes make great hiding places for cats

As predators, cats are also programmed to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible. Being a great hunter also means being an expert at hiding. We all know cats can move around silently and sneak up on their owners when they want to (and when they aren’t experiencing a case of the 3am zoomies). Boxes can provide excellent opportunities for stalking, being stealthy and quietly observing. For Mr Whiskers, it might not be that he’s actively hunting anything, but he still enjoys the feeling of being hidden away and ready to pounce. 

Cats love boxes
Cats love boxes

Cats love the warmth of a box

Cats like being warm. If it were up to our kitties, they would exist in an environment that was always around 30-35 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, cats don’t need to burn extra calories to keep warm. Unluckily for kitties, this is around 10 degrees Celsius higher than humans tend to comfortable, so our furry friends often crave extra heat. Cardboard is an excellent insulator, and the close confines of a cosy box allow Mr Whiskers to curl up and use his body heat to create a lovely warm spot.

While cats might love getting in a box, getting them into a cat carrier is a different matter. Find out the best way to do it in this Cat in a Flat blog post.

Cats are curious

Kitties are real creatures of habit and so are sensitive to changes in their environment. Cats like to sniff out anything new, including any cardboard boxes. When discovering a new box, most kitties will realise it’s a brilliant spot for play and observing their domain. And while they are in there, cats might well discover that it’s a nice, warm spot for a nap. 

Big cats love boxes too!

It’s not just domestic cats that love a box. Our pets’ wild ancestors passed down the instinct that tells our cats to make their home in a cardboard castle. And the natural inclination remains with wild cats too. Many tigers, lions, leopards, panthers and lynxes have been observed sitting in and playing with cardboard boxes in much the same way as domestic cats. However, smaller big cats are more likely to sit in a box than lions and tigers. In their natural environments, lynxes and pumas aren’t usually the top predator and will shelter when injured or rearing young. A box for these felines is reminiscent of a shelter, in which they like to sit and relax. Lion and tigers are apex predators, so their instinct when they see a box is less to get in it, and more to investigate and play with it. 

How Maru’s love of boxes made him the “most famous cat on the internet”

According to Guinness World Records, Maru the cat is the most-watched animal on YouTube. His very first video was entitled “I love a box!” and Maru has continued to stay true to this theme ever since. The Japanese Scottish Fold’s passion for boxes and hilarious way of playing, sliding around and squeezing himself into them is key to his worldwide success. It seems we love seeing cats playing with boxes as much as they love getting in one.

Why cats love paper

It’s not just boxes that cats can’t get enough of: paper is another substance to which our kitties seem drawn. Curiously, the smallest amount of paper can become the sitting spot of choice for Mr Whiskers. The reason for this behaviour is similar to the reason cats like boxes. Paper is an excellent insulator and sitting on it keeps cats warm. Our furry friends also like our attention, so if it is your newspaper, book or work document they are sitting on; chances are it’s a plea for scritches or snacks. Take it as a compliment! 

Cats love sitting on paper. 📷 @jennandcats_

Why cats love chewing on plastic

Our kitties are attracted to the sensation of many different materials, including plastic. While there isn’t a definitive answer about why cats love to gnaw on this material, it is probably because the sensation, noise and texture appeal to them. Plus many plastic containers once contained food, and that excites the noses of our furry friends. Chewing can be an anxiety-induced behaviour, so watch out for this behaviour and talk to your vet if you are concerned. Another thing to look out for is pica, a disorder that can cause animals to crave and eat non-food items. Cats often express pica by chewing plastic, so this is also something to flag to your vets if you are concerned. Especially as pica can be an indicator of a more severe illness. Most importantly, keep plastics away from curious cats as ingesting even small amounts can be extremely dangerous. 

Why does my cat like sitting on things?

Cats love to sit on top of things. Place a freshly washed and ironed t-shirt on the bed, and Mr Whiskers will make a beeline for it. Kitties do this for several reasons. Firstly, cats like to leave their scent on everything in their territory. Lying and sitting on an item allows them to cover it in their pheromones. Secondly, as with sitting on your newspaper while you’re trying to read it, cats like attention. If they can sit on your keyboard and stop you from working, they will! Thirdly, cats will sit on anything that helps them stay warm: a hot laptop, clothes on top of the bed, a piece of paper. Our furry friends also like to get into small spaces that help them feel secure – like a cardboard box. We have all seen the videos of cats happily sitting in circles marked on the floor and refusing to move. The theory is that the perception of being in a smaller area makes a cat feel safe. The same goes for when kitties sit on top of something; it helps shrink their world to that item’s size so that they feel protected. 

Check out more articles on the Cat in a Flat blog for more fascinating insights into cat behaviour including why kitties hate water, like to chatter at birds, scratch the furniture, and what a purr means.

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