If you cohabitate with a cat, you’ve probably noticed the apparently addictive attraction felines foster for boxes. Minutes after I’ve emptied the contents of a cardboard container, one of our cats is sure to slink inside, defying all known theorems of geometry. The fact that cats are inexplicably drawn to climb inside boxes of all sizes and shapes is the plot of millions of online videos. Entertaining videos aside, veterinarians have begun to unwrap the mystery of why cats cherish cartons.
Why do cats like boxes: the predator drive?
The first thing you need to keep in mind when contemplating cats and cardboard is that felines are predators. The next thing you need to remember is my cats love to leap from boxes and grapple my lower limbs. Maybe this has happened so often I’m developing a phobia to boxes. Maybe you are, too. Regardless of my last therapy session, the feline predatory drive prefers places to prey from and hide in during rest. Bingo! A box!
Why do cats like boxes: keeping warm?
While that argument makes sense, it’s not as scientific as I’d like, and I like science. A cat’s normal body temperature is about 100°F to 102°F. Most homes are kept around 72°F. This temperature differential may offer another explanation of why cats like to curl up in small spaces — it’s warmer. My cats tend to cozy up against pillows, in-between chair cushions, and in any open container. My cat Itty Bitty Kitty’s favorite treat is a shoebox next to a window. Box full of bliss.
Why do cats like boxes: the angry kitty?
Another science-y conclusion for the “cat-in-the-box’” conundrum is the fact that maybe cats aren’t very good at forgiving. Anyone with a cat has observed them disappear for hours (or days) if they feel mistreated in any way. As in “I tried a new brand of litter” or “would you mind getting off that chair” type of mistreatment. Instead of talking through the conflict, cats are more apt to run off and hide – preferably in a box or similar container. Boxes are a “safe zone” that allow them to sleep, stew and eventually forget. Forgive? Never.
Why do cats like boxes: reducing stress?
Finally, hanging out in boxes may really reduce stress in cats. In the past I thought a cat’s cardboard contortions were akin to my anxiety-busting yoga stretches. While I still believe there may be something to that idea, research recently conducted on shelter cats, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, indicates hiding inside boxes helps reduce stressful behaviors and harmful hormone levels. The investigation also revealed having boxes around helped cats adapt faster and better to their new shelter environment. I’d encourage my fellow animal shelter advocates and volunteers to experiment with various boxes in your cat rooms and cages.
I admit veterinarians and scientists haven’t yet cracked the cat cardboard code. Cats are one of the most challenging subjects to scientifically study, and they’re horrible at completing questionnaires on time. Until we figure out feline mind reading, I’m afraid we’re left with our own best guesses at what motivates thousands of cats to fold themselves into all sorts of vessels (and attack my legs). They’re probably posting video of it on some secret feline website right now and laughing about it too—a lot.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Cats don’t like human music — play them this instead
Ever wondered why your cats don’t share your appreciation of Johann Sebastian Bach or aren’t as enthusiastic to rock out to an old Led Zeppelin record? Turns out, it’s not their style.
Cats, in fact, do enjoy music, but they don’t enjoy human music — at least according to new research. A study recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science believes that in order for our feline friends to enjoy music, it has to be species-specific music.
The trick for getting pets to listen is composing music that fits into how the animal communicates, writes University of Wisconsin psychologists and study authors Megan Savage and Charles Snowdon. “We have developed a theoretical framework that hypothesizes that in order for music to be effective with other species, it must be in the frequency range and with similar tempos to those used in natural communication by each species.”
To test their hypothesis, the researchers turned to musician David Teie to compose songs that would fit into those parameters, which resulted in the tracks, “Cozmo’s Air,” “Spook’s Ditty,” and “Rusty’s Ballad.” Testing 47 different domestic cats, the researchers played the cat-targeted songs and compared the felines’ reactions to two human songs: Bach’s “Air on a G String” and Gabriel Fauré’s “Elegie.”
A sample from “Cozmo’s Air.” SoundCloud file via i09
After their tests, the researchers found that the cats showed a “significant preference for and interest in” the cat-appropriate music compared to the two human songs, to which they didn’t respond at all. The study also found that the cat music also evoked better reactions from younger and older cats than middle-aged felines.
The research team wrote that these results “suggest novel and more appropriate ways for using music as auditory enrichment for nonhuman animals.”
Left: Cats don't care for human music, but researchers have found a new genre that felines enjoy. Photo by Flickr user Adria vidal
Cats Love Their Humans
Although cats are often depicted as solitary animals, they need love, attention, and companionship—and love to get it from their humans. The ways cats say "I love you" are just a little bit different than we humans.
Some signs your cat loves you include purring, bunting (or putting her head on you), sleeping on or near you, meowing, licking, and even sticking her butt in your face. Yes, really.
Friendly Felines: Cats Like People (Really!), Study Says
Do cats like being around people, or are they only using humans to open doors and operate can openers? A new study suggests that human contact is more important to cats than previously suspected (though, arguably, cat owners knew that all along).
While it is commonly accepted that dogs enjoy and seek the company and attention of people, there is less of a consensus about felines. Cats — which typically need more sleep and less daily maintenance than dogs — have earned a reputation (particularly among dog lovers) for being standoffish and nonchalant, and less interested in the affection and approval of people than canine pets are.
However, when researchers investigated cats' preferences for food, toys and social interaction with people, most of the cats sought human attention over everything else — even food. In other words, cats like us! They really like us! [6 Secrets to Unlocking Your Cat's Personality]
The study originated at Oregon State University's Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) lab. Prior research had explored cats' preferences for food, visual stimuli and scents, evaluating the impact these could have on the animals' behavior. But this new study was the first to also investigate cats' interactions with humans as a behavior that could affect the felines' quality of life, the authors said.
Scientists tested groups of adult cats between the ages of 1 and 20, gathering results from 19 cats that were living in shelters and 19 cats living with owners. For 2 hours and 30 minutes prior to the tests, the cats were isolated from social attention and food. They were then introduced one at a time to different stimuli, provided in separate sessions.
In one session, a person offered the cats vocal calls, petting and a chance to play. In another, the cats had free access to food, a toy mouse with a shaker inside, or cloths marked with the scents of catnip, another cat and a gerbil.
During the sessions, the researchers noted how engaged the cats were and how much time the animals devoted to the different activities. However, the final test offered the cats all of these diversions at the same time, to see which offering the animals liked best.
Overall, there was no significant behavior difference between the shelter and nonshelter cats. The scented cloths fascinated one cat. Four cats went for the toys first, and 14 cats were most attracted to food.
But 19 of the cats, 50 percent, chose people over all else, spending 65 percent of the final session time enjoying the company of humans.
"Although it is often thought [that] cats prefer solitude to social interaction, the data of this study indicate otherwise," the authors wrote. The researchers noted that even when the cats showed similar preferences for human affection as for other activities, the animals still exhibited a range of individual behaviors. This suggests that factors such as life experiences and biological predispositions could influence the cats' social interactions, the authors wrote.
"It is therefore possible [that] some populations of cats may display greater preference for social interaction than others," the authors concluded.
The findings were published online March 24 in the journal Behavioral Processes.
Your cat does hear when you call. It's just ignoring you, study says
"We took [attachment styles] from other previous studies and just thought, 'Do cats actually fit these different styles or not?'" lead study author Kristyn Vitale, a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon State University, said.
In the study, Vitale's team replicated the so-called strange situation tests designed in the 1970s to evaluate the parent-infant bond. But instead of parents and infants, they used 108 cats — 70 kittens and 38 adult felines — and their owners.
To start, a cat was placed in a room with its owner for two minutes. Its owner then left for two minutes and returned for another two minutes. The cat's response to its owner's return was assessed to determine the type of attachment style the pet had to its owner.
Those attachment styles included secure attachment and insecure attachment.
Secure attachments indicate that the subject trusts that its caregiver will look after its needs, and it feels comfortable exploring its surroundings.
"The characteristics of a secure cat, for example, [are] greeting their owner and then going back to what they were doing," Vitale told NBC News. "That’s how a secure human also behaves."
Meanwhile, subjects with insecure attachments tend to exhibit anxiety or fear toward their caregivers. Signs of insecure attachments among the cats included twitching their tails, licking their lips or avoiding their owners when they returned.
The researchers found that approximately 64 percent of the cats were securely attached to their owners, similar to what's seen in dogs and babies.
These findings are useful for debunking the myth that cats are standoffish and do not feel a strong connection to their owners, said Jackson Galaxy, a cat behavior and wellness expert and the host of Animal Planet's "My Cat From Hell."
"As humans, we maybe sometimes don’t give the animal world the dignity of sentient emotional existence," Galaxy told NBC News, adding that cats get an unfair reputation for being emotionally distant — especially when compared to their canine counterparts.
"We’re looking at cats through dog-colored glasses," Galaxy said. "We are disappointed in them because they don’t wag their tails, meet us at the door, demonstrate in a way that humans innately recognize that they love us."
To better understand their pets' emotional needs, cat owners can begin by getting a grasp on just how much their feline friends count on them.
"The majority of cats are looking to their owners to be a source of safety and security," Vitale said. "It’s important for owners to think about that. When they’re in a stressful situation, how they’re behaving can actually have a direct impact on their cats’ behavior."
The new findings come on the heels of a study from earlier this year from Tokyo that found that cats do in fact understand their own names — so if they don't come when you call, they're probably just ignoring you.