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What is it about cardboard boxes that cats love so much?

Veterinary nurse Helen Crofts explores why moggies love squeezing themselves into tiny cardboard creations.

What is the best present to give your cat for Christmas? If you ask us, a cardboard box is definitely up there in the top five! Honestly, you can buy all the fancy toys and beds in the world but what a cat really seems to enjoy is a bog standard, unadorned, old fashioned cardboard box! The hours of fun that a box can provide are endless. A cat cannot only sit in it, they can climb on it, chew it or hide behind it should the mood take them. In fact the humble box is possibly the most versatile and desirable of possessions – if you’re a cat, that is.

tabby cat in cardboard box

Leave an empty box on the floor, turn your back for second and I can almost guarantee that your cat will have inserted themselves inside. Never mind that you may be needing to keep it for yourself to store your Christmas decorations in or keep your presents all in one place  your cat has decided that they want it and that will be that! Large or small, square or oblong, a cat will find a way to squish themselves inside.

So why the fascination? This slightly odd penchant for climbing into boxes or containers no matter the size or shape, can be explained by the fact that our domestic cats share ancestry with the African wildcat. The behavioural traits of wanting to find safe places to rest and looking for somewhere to get up off the ground, often as high as possible, are traits which hark back to the days when their ancestors had to employ such tactics to keep them safe while living in the African Savannah. When you are having to avoid being eaten by much bigger predators it is a very wise idea to try and find somewhere to sleep where you are hidden from view! Likewise it is a good idea to climb up somewhere high to keep out of harm’s way. Our own cats are still hardwired to behave in this way to keep themselves away from any perceived danger in a domestic setting.

ginger cat laying inside a cardboard box

For a cat, a cardboard box is brilliant because it can serve both needs. It allows them to find a safe and private place to rest, away from the busyness of modern life, such as noisy people and other pets, and, if turned on its side, it provides an elevated place to sit and watch said world go by.

Being able to control their environment in order to feel secure is something that makes a cat very happy. So don’t tidy away those boxes, leave them out and see if your cat wants to use them. How about making them comfy and festive by lining one with an old Christmas jumper? Recycling at its best! Forget the expensive plastic toys, happiness seems to come in a box!

Find out more about cat behaviour.

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