In general, domestic cats love boxes. All domestic cats have the potential to love them. And if they don’t love boxes, they like to squeeze themselves into tight spaces for a snooze such as a flowerpot. The celebrity cat Maru is the world’s leader of box-loving cats. This desire is so strong that cats will obtain reassurance from lines drawn in a square or a circle on the ground. They equate boxes with a feeling of reassurance and can project that thought to a fake box.
Side pressure and security
In my considered view, the reason why domestic cats generally love boxes is because they receive reassurance from the side pressure of boxes on their flanks. And to a lesser extent they benefit emotionally from the security a box provides as a hiding place. We know that timid cats instinctively need and seek hiding places.
And the reason why adult domestic cats obtain a reassuring feeling from side pressure is because, subconsciously, it is reminiscent of their first weeks of life as a newborn kitten when they are crammed together in line while being nursed by their mother.
What I’m suggesting is that adult cats are often kept in a mental state as if they are kittens. This is because humans are their permanent surrogate mother and caregiver. This can suppress the emergence of an adult personality in domestic cats.
And in suppressing the adult personality the adult can revert to a kitten mentality in seeking that feeling of reassurance they get with side pressure applied by neighbouring siblings as seen in the photograph.
We can see the desire by domestic cats for reassurance from their human caregiver in several ways. For example, when a cat owner comes in from work after being away for many hours, their domestic cat will often greet them and rub against them to scent exchange. They do this is as a form of reassurance. They want to merge their scent with their human caregiver. It helps to bind them. And it is a calming process for the cat.
Domestic cats like to be in physical contact with their human caregiver. Obviously, it depends upon how good the cat’s owner is in discharging their duties but in a typical home with a good cat caregiver when their cat lies next to them, they may extend their paw to touch their owner. Normally it is a direct paw-to-hand touch or paw-to-arm touch so there is direct contact between cat and person.
This is another form of reassurance for the cat. The manufacturer of the artificial pheromone Feliway realise that domestic cats need reassurances and calming.
The desire to squeeze into a small box so that there is pressure against the flanks can be extended to other objects which they squeeze into. And I am pleased that one scientist, Gabriella Smith, a doctoral candidate in comparative animal cognition at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, agrees with me. She said that “What we know is that it is a form of comfort. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Side pressure is comforting.”
Incidentally, the manufacturers of the ThunderShirt for dogs works on the same principle. It is why cats go floppy when they are harnessed. I have a page on this. Click here to read it if you wish. Thunder shirts calm cats. The same mental process takes place as obtained from the side pressure of box walls.
Possible background stress
Arguably, domestic cats can quite easily become stressed in the human household. People often don’t recognise this potential. It doesn’t take an awful lot for a cat to become anxious. This is because despite being domesticated their personality is essentially that of their wildcat ancestors and living in the human environment with very large animals i.e. humans, around them all the time can be unnerving especially if there’s lots of noise, strange people and mishandling of companion cats.
A liking of boxes varies between cats. This reflects a natural difference in personality (timidity and confidence) in individuals. It is normal. Cats will find their own way to feel more content and less stressed.
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