Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have determined that cardboard boxes can lessen stress in shelter cats. In their small study, 19 new cats in a Dutch shelter were randomly assigned to receive a box. Ten got boxes; nine did not.
The researchers, writing in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, say cats with the boxes adapted to their surroundings more quickly than the group without boxes — at least in the short term. Stress may cause more infectious diseases in shelters by raising cortisol levels, which may suppress the immune system, researchers note in explaining the study’s importance.
Both groups had the same stress scores at the end of the 14-day study, but those with boxes were notably less stressed by Day 3. The researchers conclude that having a box to hide in is an important enrichment tool that helps keep cats’ stress levels down and allows them to adjust to a new environment more quickly.