Behavior
A gray cat peeking out of cardboard boxes.

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?

Angie Bailey  |  Feb 15th 2019


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: