Why Do Cats Like Boxes?

Let’s answer an age-old question — Why do cats like boxes? Do cats prefer certain types of boxes? What boxes should cats avoid? Do big cats like boxes, too?

A gray cat peeking out of cardboard boxes.
A gray cat peeking out of cardboard boxes. Photography ©Andypott | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Cats and boxes: never has there been a better match since peanut butter and jelly. They just go together, right? Anyone who knows the feline mind can attest to the magnetic power of the box, no matter the shape or size. Although we’re quite aware of this love affair, what’s the reason for it? Why do cats like boxes?

First, why do cats like boxes?

An orange cat looking up out of a box.
Why do cats like boxes so much? Photography ©Aksenovko | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

There are a couple of answers to the question, “Why do cats like boxes?” According to Live Science, seeking out confined spaces — like boxes — goes back to instinct. In the wild, these spaces let cats successfully hide and hunt. We don’t often get to see cats exhibit this behavior in the great outdoors, but they still look for ways to replicate this behavior inside our homes. This is where the box comes in.

When we introduce empty boxes to our domesticated cats, they first carefully investigate the object. They’re completely familiar with every square inch of their domain, so when something new enters, they’re obviously curious. Once their curiosity is satisfied, the instinct kicks in and they hop inside.

Some also note that the security of a box could mimic the snuggly warmth a kitten feels while cuddling her mother and littermates. As a result, it’s possible, that while box-sitting, a cat’s body releases endorphins that cause pleasure and reduce stress.

What kinds of boxes do cats like?

The next question you might have after, “Why do cats like boxes,” is — “What types of boxes do cats like? Do cats like boxes of any size, shape or form, or do they prefer some boxes over others?”

Although it would seem that cats would only like boxes that provide complete concealment, they enjoy time spent in boxes of any size, and even in representations of boxes. Remember this experiment that showed cats plopping themselves inside a circle created with tape on the floor? The theory behind its success is that cats still felt secure and enclosed, even though the “box” had no sides — or even a bottom. It wasn’t even a box!

Why do cats like boxes made out of cardboard especially? Cardboard boxes are the most popular and readily available types of boxes that cats like. Some experts say that cardboard might effectively retain the cat’s body heat, creating a cozy environment.

In a Dutch study, researchers gave one group of shelter cats empty boxes to use as retreats. Those cats adapted to their environment and appeared more relaxed than the control group who did not have the boxes. Science!

Are boxes just for domesticated cats?

When wondering, “Why do cats like boxes?” you might also wonder, “Do their big-cat cousins like tigers like boxes, too?” Domesticated cats aren’t the only ones who enjoy a nice box. Big cats are also fans, which makes complete sense, right? The only difference is — bigger cats, bigger boxes!

What types of boxes should you / should you not give your cat?

A brown and white cat peeking out of a cardboard box.
Make sure recycled boxes are safe for cats. Photography by kmsh/Thinkstock.

Another thing to consider when thinking, “Why do cats like boxes?” is what kind of boxes you offer to your cat. Giving your cat boxes is a great way to provide an enriching environment. Cat trees with high-up boxes and elevated hidey holes are feline favorites, while some cats prefer hideaways closer to the ground. Experiment to see what your cat prefers.

If you offer recycled boxes to kitty, keep her safety in mind by removing all hazards like staples, tape, handles, string and loose pieces — they could be choking hazards or, if ingested, could cause (sometimes fatal) damage to her digestive tract. Also, never shut your cat inside a box and leave here there. Cats don’t like to feel trapped and their anxiety produces feelings of insecurity — the opposite feeling they seek from the box.

So, go ahead and provide enrichment by offering your cat boxes of all shapes and sizes. Even stick some tape to the floor and see what happens! Just make sure your tiny tiger is safe while she enjoys her “secret” retreat.

Tell us: Why do you think cats like boxes? What sorts of boxes do your cats like best?

Thumbnail: Photography ©Andypott | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

This piece was originally published in 2018.

Read more about cat behavior on Catster.com:

37 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Like Boxes?”

  1. Pingback: There’s a scientific explanation to why cats love boxes so much – We love Animals!

  2. Pingback: When Do Cats Stop Growing? Here’s When Cats Reach Their Full Size – Info Body

  3. One of my cats, Smokey, is funny and different in many ways than any other cat I’ve ever had and I had cats my entire life. He likes to observe us doing things such as cleaning and other daily chores, loves to watch me paint (my other cats always wanted to play with the brush) and does these things at length and with unbelievable patience. He is also very attracted to water, the vacuum, and loves it when I do laundry and sweep the floor. Regarding the subject of this article, as most cats he loves boxes. Even more than boxes, he loves to lay in the bathroom sink. I’m sure he loves that for the same reason they love boxes, but there is one difference. The faucet in our sink drips every 10 seconds or so, meaning that the water is dripping on him constantly and he gets wet. Not only is he not bothered by that, but it seems like he really enjoys it! He also catches and drinks the drops of water during his time in the sink. He’s so much different than the majority of the other cat friends I’ve had, with the exception of my old boy, Chester, who was a Maine Coon cat that loved riding on the skateboard and being pushed around the house. Smokey is only about 7 months old and I am looking forward to many, many years of the kind of entertainment only he can provide!!

  4. Mary Anne Tufts

    My male orange tiger LOVES boxes. My male black cat loves boxes but only in taking the privilege of the box “territory” away from my orange tiger. Both of them LOVE the elevated round “perch” (free standing and carpeted) in the house and the actual round cat open-ended “tree enclosure” we have for them. We also have an elevated flat carpeted surface for them and they seem to love THAT because it sits near a window on the second floor–in full view of a tree that is filled with birds. In choosing between an actual cardboard box and the carpeted cat “perch” its a toss-up.

    1. Mary Anne Tufts

      One more note–both cats were feral to start with but have been highly socialized. They “chatter” like mad with us at various times–it’s hilarious!

  5. Patricia Horwell

    My 3-year-old rescue will not go into a box or a cave bed or a covered litter box. But if I lay a bag or even my briefcase on the floor, he lies on top of it. Mostly, he prefers my lap, his soft pet bed or my bed.

  6. I have two 7 year old sisters who I adopted two months ago. Their first person was an elderly woman with rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s. Neither cat knows her name or realizes that people are talking to them. They pay almost no attention to human activity. It appears that they never had any cat toys. Neither is interested in investigating sacks or boxes. Which I had thought was a sort of hard wired instinct in cats.

    So some of the play with boxes and sacks must be reinforced by previous social situations or interactions for most cats. Unless these two had a past negative experience that I have no way of knowing about.

    I am working on socializing them, though since they are 7 that is likely to be a long challenge. They do like to be petted and groomed, activities they are familiar with.

    1. Pamela J Scott

      Once they trust you enough they might surprise you! They will probably never act the same as cats who are totally socialized their whole lives but they could be near normal. They may have even had a normal relationship with their former owner and as she slipped into the fog of dementia they most likely didn’t understand which could make your job harder. They are most likely still mourning the loss of their old life with her too. Give them some time. Try different styles of toys presented indifferent ways. Watch how they interact with each other is there any types of play you can add to your efforts that would go along with that!?! Most of all embrace what makes them happy and go with it.

  7. My kitten was abandoned at 2 months with her mom and brother inside a closed up box in a park. No one knows how long they were there before they were found. She will have nothing to do with boxes. She is not curious at all about boxes and will not crawl in any. I built a structure (internal maze) out of cardboard and it took weeks to entice her inside. She will play in it if I am nearby and only to retrieve a toy I have placed inside. That early experience must have been very terrifying. I can imagine especially her mom franticly trying to get out. So there are cats who will have nothing to do with boxes.

    1. Pamela J Scott

      Might be worth trying baskets instead. Try different shapes. They will not the same shape or smell as a box so that might help!

  8. My first cat hated boxes of any kind. When we took him to the vet, we had to struggle to get him into the carrier after the appointment was over. The vet said she’d never seen that before!

  9. Part of this article is blatant plagiarism. Seriously, it’s okay to utilize other sources but credit that source and don’t take from other intellectual property without remorse. Very disappointing and discrediting to anything valid you have to say.

    1. Hi Karen,
      Thanks for reaching out. We take plagiarism very seriously. Could you please let us know what article you believe we plagiarized so that we can investigate? Please contact us here: https://www.catster.com/meet-team-catster

    2. Look at her paragraph that says “There are a couple of answers to the question, “Why do cats like boxes? According to Live Science, seeking out confined spaces — like boxes — goes back to instinct. ” So what did she plagiarize ? She clearly states “according to Live Science”. Read all the article before you start casting aspersions.

    3. Next time before you get rude with someone make sure you READ the article carefully!!!! By the way there are ways of talking to someone about an issue without being a complete jerk…YAH….it’s called being respectful!

  10. Pamela K. Jones

    I agree 100% that cats like the feeling of exercising their teeth and gums by chewing on the cardboard.
    BTW, I had a gorgeous calico cat who liked to add chewed up heavy weave cloth to her diet. I had to get rid of a Mexican blanket that she wouldn’t leave alone, being afraid that the yarn might clog her intestines!????

  11. Pamela K. Jones

    I agree 100% that cats like the feeling of exercising their teeth and gums by chewing on the cardboard.
    BTW, I had a gorgeous calico cat who liked to add chewed up heavy weave cloth to her diet. I had to get rid of a Mexican blanket that she wouldn’t leave alone, being afraid that the yarn might clog her intestines!????

  12. We foster rescues until they find their preferred family. No matter how small, they seem to have the mind set of “if it fits, I sits”…

  13. Barbara-Anne Cowan

    Cats not only like boxes but also bags – of any sort. I have to make sure any bags I use are put away if they have handles otherwise my two cats will immediately pounce on them and then crawl inside.
    Back when grocery bags were paper, I had a cat that would love to crawl inside one and then go to sleep.
    I’m thinking its anything that will give them comfort.

  14. At a repair shop, the owner had a cat that liked to sleep in a bin full of nuts and bolts. Go figure

  15. One question this very good piece doesn’t pose is one I’ve wondered about. Why do cats wrestle with and chew cardboard? I have a notion about that. Since house cats no longer get much (if any) opportunity to tug at and rip off the flesh of live prey, I wonder if this “struggle” with cardboard supplies some kind of oral satisfaction that kibble, canned food and even raw meat (no longer on the bone) just can’t satisfy. Any ideas on this?

    1. Michaela Conlon

      Hi there —

      Thanks for reaching out! To answer your question, we pulled some information from one of our articles that says:

      “Get them acclimated to proper scratching surfaces like sisal and corrugated cardboard. It feels good and will make them less inclined to scratch your furniture.”

      The article can be viewed through this link: https://www.catster.com/kittens/kitten-facts-things-to-know

      This article provides information about why cats prefer cardboard boxes: https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-behaviorist-interview-cats-sleeping-cardboard-boxes

  16. Domino, a 12 year old seal point Siamese, would rather chew the corners of the box. He’s never been a big fan of climbing into a box. He did enjoy climbing into laundry baskets when he was eight months old.

  17. Cats are wacko. Yeah, they love boxes but they also like to roost within the confines of a coiled power cord (not plugged in of course).

  18. There is a square piece of packing foam on my floor. I’m not even sure where it came from. But my cats love to curl up in it.

  19. It can be just that they like it, or it can be a security thing. I have 4 ferals, 2 of them are VERY skittish. When I have company, they tend to avoid open boxes and take refuge in the closed up boxes.

      1. I have added another one. He has his own hiding spots. One of my cats is lying on my lap. This is why I can’t wear “good” clothes! LUL

  20. Boxes and bags. Occasionally when sorting mail I’ll put a postcard on the floor of the living room and sure enough, one of my kitties will plop down on top of it.

    1. Cats like things to be clearly defined! They like to know where the edges are. If you put a cat in a room with a big rug that has a little tiny piece of paper on it (like your postcard), they’ll head straight for it. Failing that, they’ll seek out the edges of any design in the rug. The worst thing you can do to a cat is put her in the middle of a large flat space that’s all the same color. Makes ’em *really* uncomfortable.


  22. Isn’t it normal for cats to like boxes? They are comfy. (Considering I slept in a huge box when I was about 10 LOL) I have 4 cats. 2 American Shorthairs 1 Arctic Cat and 1 Bengal. My Bengal Cat and young male American Shorthair cat enjoy boxes. (My other two cats are outdoor cats and senior) I recently noticed my Grandpa who’s currently living with us had ordered a humidifier. I, Of course, Emptied the Medium-sized box and left it open for my cats to explore. My Bengal cat took a very long nap in it on the first day we got it, My American Shorthair literally attacked him and took his box. I wish he would stop bullying my Bengal. LOL anyways boxes are perfect for cats. Start buying some, Y’all.

  23. Pingback: Why Do Cats Like Boxes? | Speaking of Pets at Rescue Pet Supply

  24. Marie-Jose Bianchi

    Find a good butcher….chicken …pork …beef…..ect. raw is tastier and better for them…the buther pet mince has also the offal in it….intestines ect……more true to to nature wild food…. make sur they do not add preservetives…..my cats have a courtyard mansion…I share with them…so they cannot get things outside acces cats can…..add to their food….milk kefir or water kefir….magnesium chloride flakes…vit.c. pwder and m.s.m powder…..and a teaspoon celtic salt….one meal only….no milk…filtered water only…..if I cannot eat or drink it myself they dont get it either….the only junk food that is in there is tinned sardines…..not the tinned meat…that’s disgusting….
    and very suspicious…..its out there that the commercial pet meat is processed from the dead pets left at the vets disposal….check it out….coconut oil is a good medicine if they are sick….rub it on their fur…dont be scared to use it….very good for all skin conditions…..brings up immune systym…
    avoid chemicals and washing your cat..if its disgustingly dirty apply loads of coconut on him her and they will spend their time cleaning andgrooming themselves instead of being traumatized…
    if a cat does not want to eat…make a private quite place for it with a bowl of fresh filtered water in the room and kitty litter….fasting will totally heal them eventually…vet interferance….tests…drugs …ect. can be fatal….humans and animals are healed this way..check out intermittant fasting and total fasting….my ginger cat put herself on 3 week fast….the body is made to deal with disease from cancer to kidney stones…flue…….start checking out nature cures…..all the best…..


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