by Jill Fanslau
Those empty boxes may be trash to you, but your cat can't get enough of them. What's up with Fluffy's affinity for cardboard castles?
There are several reasons why cats love boxes, but the big one is safety and security, says Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant and owner of TheCatCoach.com.
"All animals have different coping mechanisms," she says. "This is a cat's way of dealing with stress. If she's feeling overwhelmed or in trouble, she can retreat to a safe, enclosed space where she can observe, but can't be seen."
In fact, a recent study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that boxes can actually help reduce a cat's stress levels. A group of new shelter cats were randomly assigned to either receive a box or not. After just a few days, researchers reported that the cats that were given boxes recovered faster and adapted to their environment more quickly than the cats without boxes.
So if you're adopting a new cat, bringing your cat to a new place, or leaving your cat for the day, Kreiger suggests setting up a few boxes. "It'll instantly give them controlled, secure hiding places where they feel protected and calm," she explains.
Another reason your cat loves boxes: warmth. A cat's normal body temperature can range from 100.5 to 102.5 degrees, which is higher than humans. That means that they're most comfortable in settings anywhere from 86 to 97 degrees, says Kreiger. Humans keep their homes around 72 degrees, though, so cardboard boxes provide insulation for your cat, she says.
So what's the best setup for your cat's cardboard box? Kreiger says to place the box a couple of feet from a wall with the opening turned toward it. You can leave treats inside and a towel, too. If your cat doesn't handle new situations or your absence well, you can leave a t-shirt or blanket that has your smell on it in the box.
Remember that safety comes first, Kreiger says. Remove any staples, tape, and handles from the boxes before letting your cat enjoy playtime.
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Image: Wolfgang Lonien via Flickr