I’ve just visited my sister, who has added two kittens to her family mix. While at her house, I noticed how much the kittens love boxes; the children had to work around them as they sought out pieces from the Lego box and I had to turn the laundry basket upside down to remove one kitten long enough to get the laundry from machine to basket.
Cats are so keen to crawl into boxes and other small spaces that their antics have generated their own meme, with the caption… ‘if it fits, I sits’ and the internet is full of accompanying images of them curled up in the most unusual of places; the caption originated when someone snapped their cat sitting in an egg carton.
But the feline love of boxes is not simply some side-effect of domestication; large cats, like lions and tigers, have also been observed curling up in boxes in nature reserves.
Cats are curious and like to investigate anything new or novel in their environment, boxes included.
Cats like to be warm and cozy. They like warmer temperatures more than humans do. Studies have reported that a domestic cat’s thermoneutral zone (its comfortable temperature range) is about seven degrees higher than ours.
So cats may just find our homes a little cool sometimes and a corrugated cardboard box provides a nicely insulted space in which to lie, especially if that space is small and requires the cat to curl up and gain extra warmth.
Cats like to hide in places that will both protect them from possible predators and give them a good vantage point to spot, and pounce on, their own prey. A box can provide both those requirements.
Studies have been carried out on cats and boxes, in order to find the answer to the enigma. One such study examined stress levels in two groups of cats, both of which had been introduced to a new environment.
One group of cats were given boxes, which they could climb into, and the other group wasn’t. All the cats in the box group showed reduced stress in just three days, while for the cats in the other group it took three weeks for their stress to reduce.
Other studies, carried out on shelter cats, have reported similar findings; cats given boxes on arrival at the shelter exhibited fewer stress behaviours, adjusted more quickly to their new surroundings, and were more interested in human interaction that those that had no boxes to curl up in.
Cats may appear calm and aloof, but they are actually quite nervous by nature and can easily feel threatened and stressed. Cats feel more secure in enclosed spaces. Curling into such confined places puts them at ease.
So, next time you reach for your camera, when you notice your feline friend curled up in a tiny box, remember that they are not just trying to be cute, they are probably just pandering to their emotional, thermal, and curiosity needs.