A cardboard box creates an enticing sound when you move an interactive toy inside, on top or along the sides. The sound alone can be enough to alert a nearby cat that it’s playtime. Drop a toy inside a box and within a nanosecond someone will be happily hopping inside.
If you have a long box, open up both ends, place it on its side and it can serve as a fun cat tunnel. Very small boxes can be made into puzzle toys. Cut holes in the box that are a little larger than your cat’s paws, seal up the end flaps and toss a toy or some treats in there for your kitty to retrieve.
The ability to be invisible by having a convenient hiding place is a valuable coping mechanism when it comes to stress.
If your cat is unsure or nervous, the ability to disappear into a box can enable him to quietly observe the current conditions of the environment. If boxes are conveniently located, it can allow a cat to stay in the room while hiding instead of running off to a remote area of the home.
The ability to hide gives the cat the choice of how and when to start engaging. Having choice reduces stress levels.
Research was done at a Dutch animal shelter involving 19 cats. Approximately half of the cats were given hiding boxes and the others weren’t. The cats with the boxes started exploring their environment sooner and stress levels decreased.
Being in a box where a cat can rest his back against the sides helps him feel safer because he can’t be ambushed from behind. This may explain why some cats seem content to curl up in boxes that seem uncomfortably small. Feeling something solid behind them or around them might increase feelings of safety.
Since cats prefer to avoid engaging in physical conflicts, disappearing into a box is a good way to stay under the radar when sharing space if there are adversarial relationships between pets. For some cats, it may also be more comfortable to chill out in a box to avoid all the household traffic and chaos.