I’m going to tell you why I always wear pants at home. My cat Galdalf Carrot Cupcake loves to ambush me from inside a paper grocery bag or from under the dresser. Anytime I walk past, I sidestep to avoid his little swiping paws. If I forget, I’ll have a whole cat wrapped around my ankle, teeth sunk into the cuff of my pants.
It only took one pantsless attack to teach me to fold up my paper bags and keep my ankles covered.
When stalking prey, whether real live mice or menacing shoelaces, cats like a place to hide. Cardboard boxes and paper bags are the creme de la creme of kitty hiding spots.
But why is that? A few very good reasons.
1. Boxes are a territory all their own
As a fairly solitary species, cats like a lot of alone time. Research shows that cat’s don’t develop conflict resolution skills like dogs do, and they prefer to go off by themselves after a stressful situation arises. From the safety of a box, they can survey their territory and know if the individual who just caused offense is approaching
Cats also make nests for themselves and their kittens, and a box can be perfect nesting spots. As crepuscular (dawn and dusk) hunters, there is plenty of time for cat naps. Cats sleep 15-20 hours a day and boxes are an excellent place to feel safe, warm, and cozy.
2. Boxes are little sensory deprivation chambers
Few things are more stressful to a feral cat than being scooped up by animal control and taken to a strange, loud, bright animal shelter. Boxes to the rescue! A recent study found that providing hiding boxes to feral cats as they arrive at an animal shelter decreases their stress and reduces the time it takes them to recover from the transition.
3. Boxes are warmer
Cats like to be in warm rooms—warmer than most people prefer. This might be because they are descended from desert dwelling cats of ancient Egypt. And it’s definitely the reason that cats are magnetically attracted to warm spots like heating vents, sunny spots, and the top of appliances.
Boxes help keep heat in and make for cozy sleeping.
4. Boxes can feel like hugs
Cats relax in boxes for the same reason that people relax into hugs and pigs find gentle side squeezes to be soporific (sleepy-making), as animal Behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, PhD explained to PBS. These sensations of gentle pressure stimulate the body to produce endorphins, neurochemicals that boost pleasure, reduce pain, and create a sense of well-being.
Have you heard about the “hug machine” invented by animal behaviorist and animal welfare advocate Temple Grandin? She discovered this phenomenon early in her life, when she found that steady pressure on the trunk of her body was soothing, relieved anxiety and decreased feelings of overstimulation.
Grandin explains that there is a fundamental difference between the light touch of a tickle, and the deep touch of a hug or firm stroke. “In animals, the tickle of a fly landing on the skin may cause a cow to kick, but the firm touch of the farmer’s hands quiets her.” While a light touch alerts the nervous system and stimulates a reaction, deep pressure is relaxing and calming.
A downside to boxes?
A cat’s love of boxes can get them into some questionable circumstances.
“I was packing to move to a new house, and I started to get worried that I couldn’t find my cat Toast anywhere.” my cat-loving friend Texas told me. “Maybe he didn’t want to move? When I was loading the moving truck, I heard meowing from a box of sheets and towels that wasn’t taped shut. He’d probably been in there for 12 hours.”
So check your boxes before you chuck your boxes. And while you’re at it, make sure unused appliances and cabinets are firmly closed so they don’t turn into dangerous cat traps.
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