The side-walls of a tight-fitting box reassures the domestic cat through pressure on the cat’s body and particularly the back, which triggers memories of early kittenhood, a time of security.
We all know that cats love boxes. You only have to look at the celebrated Maru jumping through and in and out of boxes to see further evidence. There are a number of reasons why cats like boxes, which I list below. I would also like to add a totally fresh idea to the debate.
Cats like boxes because they are an enclosed space which makes them feel secure. Cats can hide in a box and we know that cat like to hide sometimes. This occurs more in multi-cat households. It is a coping mechanism. Boxes also provide a place for a nap without being disturbed. Boxes also keep the cat warm as they provide a certain amount of insulation.
Cats don’t just like boxes. They like almost any enclosed space. It can be a bathroom basin, flowerpot, bowl or anything else that comes to hand which they can squeeze into. My belief is that cats particularly like boxes they can fit neatly into. They are the ideal. Big boxes don’t work. Sometimes you’ll see a cat trying to squeeze into a box which looks too small but which is, nevertheless, attractive to the cat.
I believe that this is because the domestic cat obtains a feeling of reassurance from the pressure that the side walls of the box places upon the cat’s back. This reassurance comes from the days when the cat was a kitten. Perhaps the pressure is similar to that obtained from their mother when their mother lay against her offspring. Or perhaps it is similar to the mutual pressure obtained between siblings of a litter of kittens when they sleep packed together. When they sleep close together they put pressure on each other through their contact with each other.
Why do I have this idea? I’m in the process of training my cat to wear a harness so that I can take him outside on a lead to introduce him the outside safely. The harness is almost like a coat, something in between the Thundershirt and a harness made up of straps. This harness puts a very slight amount of pressure on his back. It invokes what I call the ‘kitten response’ in my cat but not completely. By ‘kitten response’ I mean the response a kitten makes when his mother picks him up by the scruff of his neck. This causes the kitten to go limp. When I put the harness on my cat there is slight pressure on his back. He does not go limp but he becomes very passive, a little bit confused and a bit wobbly in the way that he walks because the pressure invoking the kitten response makes him want to lie down and become passive. There is no contact between the harness and his neck so I don’t see that being the cause. The Thundershirt works on the same principle of pressure, I believe.
I’m fairly sure that I’m correct and that this is a hidden and as yet undiscussed benefit of a cat lying in a box.
You may remember the craze recently of domestic cats being stuck inside circles drawn on the ground. The cat is free to move away but prefers to stay inside the circle. This is a variation on the box. The circle reassures the cat. A visual reassurance rather than a physical one but the result is somewhat similar.