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Feature June 2017 Issue

Thinking Inside the Box

Have you ever wondered why your cat likes to squeeze herself into the tiniest of spaces? Here’s why.

Cat inside box

© Nataliya Kuznetsova | Dreamstime.com

Recently, social media has been inundated by “tweets” of cats that seem compelled to position themselves in the center of squares of tape mapped out on the floor. These cats can’t resist the temptation of the #CatSquare.

What’s the reason for this, people ask? According to noted behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, Professor Emeritus at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, the reason is fairly simple: Cats simply like to squeeze themselves into small spaces where they feel safe and secure. For them, it is far better than being exposed to danger in wide-open spaces.

As kittens, they spent a lot of time cuddling with their mom and littermates, benefitting from the soothing comfort and necessary warmth, not unlike swaddling behavior in human infants.

Dr. Dodman believes that the close contact with a box’s interior releases endorphins, causing pleasure and/or reducing stress. With behaviorist Temple Grandin, PhD, Dr. Dodman researched this effect of “lateral side pressure” for cats.

It’s also important to realize that cats like to create nests when giving birth, finding small, private locations where moms feel they can best provide safety and sanctuary for their kittens. This behavior is not unique to any gender or age. Small spaces are simply in the repertoire of cats (the one exception seems to be the cat carrier, which often carries negative connotations, such as a trip to the veterinarian’s office).

Strangely enough, this “box” may actually have no walls, but merely be a representation of a box — and here we reintroduce the concept of the taped-in square on the floor. This virtual box is certainly not as good as the real thing, and yet cats are still drawn to it out of, perhaps, a misplaced sense of security and comfort.

Dutch researchers also put this theory to the test by providing cats boxes to shelter cats. According to the study, cats with boxes adapted to their new environment more quickly as compared to a control group without boxes. The conclusion was that the cats with the boxes were less stressed even in this high-stress environment.

This information should be a helpful tidbit to cat owners in understanding that their cats need boxes or other objects to provide this important sense of comfort as a way to enrich their environment. — Catnip staff

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