‘Cats’ and ‘boxes’, though apparently nothing more than an odd combination of two unrelated words, is among the biggest science mysteries of the modern times, that’s assuming you tend to be excited by anything that has to do with your cat.
Just in case you have been living under a rock for the past 5 decades and don’t quite know what the fuss is about, ask a cat owner, and be told how cats can’t be kept out of cardboard boxes or anything else that these little creatures are naïve enough to mistake for a box. Yes, that’s true even if a cat has the option of reclining on its special couch with Turkish upholstery, or has the coziest and most comfortable bed to rest on.
Why, in the name of everything cute and, do they fail to resist the temptation of hiding into the oldest, most discarded cardboard box left forgotten in your attic? Science claims to have hit upon some possible reasons, and that’s after some serious research activities directed at unearthing the answer to the puzzle. Learned vets and behavioral biologists have suggested quite a few explanations of a cat’s unflinching love for boxes. A hint – boxes might be a need for your cat, not an option!
Cardboard boxes – refuge of loners
Despite being among the more difficult test subjects, cats have been subject to some really stubborn and persistent behavioral research. An independent study conducted by Claudia Vinke of Utrecht University in Netherlands has some interesting conclusions.
The researcher targeted a Dutch animal shelter, more precisely a set of domestic cats that were new to the shelter home. Some of these new members were given hiding boxes, whereas the others were deprived of the privilege.
Claudia observed significant difference between the stress levels experienced by the two sets of cats. The ones that had their boxes gelled quicker with the new environment and were open to interaction with humans, whereas the others showcased visible reluctance towards the same.
When one thinks of how cats actually tend to hide away from change, the results of the study seem to be pretty credible! Even cats in the wild are on the lookout for well foliated tree tops, dark dens, and disconnected caves.
Domestic cats have a limited set of options, and cardboard boxes (a fairly common artifact of domestic life) lend themselves as easy alternatives. Hiding away into enclosed spaces is a natural course of action for cats, as this gives them time to adjust with the new environment, with the assurance that they have their safe refuge which they can scamper to when things get out of hand.
The ‘can’t face it, then run from it’ syndrome
With evolution, the sense of conflict resolution (more plainly stated as ‘guts’) seems to also have evolved for the feline family. How do tigers face conflicts? They chase it away, crush it, or just hunt it down.
How do cats face conflicts? They don’t; they prefer running away to safe distances. Call it anti-social, call it cowardice, call it laziness, call it a sheer lack of self confidence – that’s the truth, as has been asserted by animal behavior researchers, and authors of related works, an example being ‘The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour’. Rather than meet conflict, a cat would rather avoid the encounter altogether and choose the no-activity mode.
Boxes, in such situations, prove to be the perfect go-to destination for cats, as it represents a safe zone that’s cut off from harm’s reach, but gives the cat the advantage of leaping out anytime and catching others off guard.
For humans – ‘cardboard box’ equals packing material, garbage collection, DIY craft raw materials, etc. For cats, ‘cardboard box’’ equals immunity from undesired access, zero risk, zero hostility, zero anxiety, invisibility cloak, you get the point. So, if you’re finding it hard to get your pet out of the cardboard box, see if it perceives something as a conflict, and remove the conflict.
It’s just a matter of temperature
Here’s an explanation that not only makes sense of your cat’s love for cardboard boxes, but also all the other obnoxious hiding spots it enjoys – bathroom sinks, large coffee mugs, under the car, whatever.
In 2006, a study conducted by National Research Council concluded that the comfortable temperature zone for cats is 86 to 97 Fahrenheit. In comparison to humans, the range is almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher. So, what’s comfortable for you could be a bit too cold for your cat. What does the cat do to ensure that it doesn’t shrink because of the ‘cold’? You guessed it – it runs for the cardboard box!
Corrugated cardboard is a great insulator, which makes the micro-environment inside the box perfect for a cat to enjoy repose. The average living space for a cat is just above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so even for the non-fussy cat, that’s a good 15 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the comfortable temperature.
Unless there’s no cardboard box within reachable distance, you’ll invariably see the cat curl up and generate heat from the body. If, however, there’s a cozy box nearby, good luck pleading with your kitten to come out of it.