Can’t find your cat? Check all the little nooks and crannies in your house, from the U-bend under the sink to the top of the refrigerator to tucked under an armchair. This feline love of hidey-holes, boxes, and elevated perches isn’t just an isolated quirk—animal-care professionals utilize it to enrich cats’ lives, and scientists have even studied it.
Boxes Are Fun
“A lot of cats enjoy playing in boxes. They may drop a toy inside and practice their ‘hunting’ skills,” says Pamela J. Perry, DVM, PhD, behavior resident at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Boxes and other small, enclosed spaces offer an extra challenge when playing with a toy, or the cat can use a box as an ambush zone (just hope that you aren’t the target!).
The allure of boxes isn’t always about having fun. “In addition, many cats find boxes comforting because it gives them a place to hide from potential threats,” says Dr. Perry. “Thus, a box gives them a safe, secure place.” It makes sense: A box is a perfect spot to hunker down while assessing a new situation.
A Dutch study published in PLOS One in October 2019 looked at the stress levels of cats who had just arrived at an animal shelter. The study found that cats who were given hiding boxes in their living quarters adjusted to shelter life more quickly and had lower stress levels than cats who did not have hiding spots. And the cats who were not given boxes would often flip their litterboxes to create a hiding place of their own.
“Boxes also may aid in thermoregulation by acting as an insulator and keeping the cat warm and cozy,” says Dr. Perry. During cold weather, you may find your cat prefers to snuggle up in enclosed cat beds or to take over a box of clothes as her napping spot.
The Perch Advantage
“Many cats love to get up high in their environment where they have a good vantage point to observe their surroundings, which gives them a safe place to watch for threats,” says Dr. Perry. Cats often choose windowsills, the back of the couch, or even a bookshelf as a favorite spot to hang out and watch over their domain.
Napping in an elevated spot gives a cat in the wild a place out of reach of larger predators and allows them to see any threats that might be approaching their perch. On the flip side, the cat can keep an eye out for any tasty prey that might wander into view below.
While you might be concerned about your cat’s aerial acrobatics, seeking high perches is normal and usually safe. “Cats are very agile creatures and have excellent ‘righting’ reflexes, which allows them to land on their feet,” says Dr. Perry. “However, a fall from a high area can cause serious injuries. Use cat trees, condos, or perches that are sturdy and have good traction so that the cat is less likely to slip. If owners are concerned about falls, start out with perches and condos lower to the ground.”
Paradise at Home
It’s easy to accommodate your cat’s affinity for perches and boxes. “Provide boxes or small enclosed areas where your cat can retreat to take a respite,” says Dr. Perry. “If your cat prefers high areas, then providing cat trees, shelves, wall-mounted stairs, and window perches can give them areas from which they can watch their environment. Vertical space is often under-utilized in homes.”
Cat trees can be expensive, but you can build a playground for your cat on your own. “If you are reluctant to buy a cat tree, place a step ladder in the corner of a room or near a window to see if your cat enjoys it. If so, then investing in a cat condo or cat tree may be a great way to add enrichment to your cat’s environment,” says Dr. Perry.
Another option that provides your cat with a perch and plenty of visual, auditory, and scent stimuli is to build a catio. “Catios are a great way to give kitties a piece of the outdoors,” says Dr. Perry. “As with any structure, make sure that the window catio is solidly built with protection from the elements, including too much sun. In addition, never leave your cat in the catio when you are not home to monitor his safety.”
Even some simple DIY boxes and perches will bring your cat great joy and let him show off some natural cat behaviors.